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Community gathers for healing, solace

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Three days after an 18-year-old ran through the halls of the Trolley Square mall shooting at innocent victims, the community gathered together with hope for the future.

Friends and family members of those victimized in the tragic events that unfolded on Monday were joined Thursday evening at the Salt Lake City Main Library by hundreds of area residents, some seeking closure and support, others there to shake the hands of officers who possibly saved their lives and the lives of loved ones that day.

Those in attendance were encouraged not only to pray for the families of people directly impacted by the rampage by Sulejman Talovic but also to remember his family "as they are also victims in this tragedy," said Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon.

"Most of us have never experienced a similar pain or despair," he said.

Efforts of health-care professionals and citizens alike — who continue to reach out to those in need — were praised in the wake of such horrible circumstances.

"We stand as a city united, and we extend every measure of sympathy and concern to those tragically impacted," Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson said. "We can never know the depth of their pain, but they can know the depth of our love and concern."

Bisera Turkovic, Bosnia-Herzegovina's ambassador to the United States, said that Monday was one of the saddest days in Utah's history and that the attack's effects have been far-reaching.

"The shock waves of this tragedy have gone beyond the borders of Utah and beyond the borders of the United States," she said. "The people of Bosnia watched in shock ..., and we feel the utmost shame that the perpetrator of this horrendous crime was of Bosnian origin."

Government leaders, though, asked the community to avoid stereotypes and to come together in honor of the memories of those lives lost.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said the state has been traumatized but that it is time to begin the healing process.

"Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and there are no easy explanations as to why," he said. In the words of Vickie Walker, whose husband, Jeffery, was killed and son, AJ, badly injured by the gunman, Huntsman said she "did not want her husband forgotten."

He said "turning our lives to simple acts of service, love and kindness, and renewing the commitment of making our communities a better place ... all in the memory of those whose lives were tragically taken," is what they would want.

"The pain will linger but our community will mend and be stronger. That's just who we are," Huntsman said.

A teary-eyed police chief represented the five Salt Lake City and Ogden officers who stopped the shooter from possibly hurting more people.

"This is the standard of excellence that polices your community on a daily basis," Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said. "There's a hero in each one of us, and circumstances like this bring it to the surface."

He asked that citizens identify ways to prevent such crimes from ever happening again.

"I believe that if we allow crime and criminal acts to cause fear, intolerance, bigotry and even hatred, that we have lost," he said.

Tears of sadness and memories of Monday night plagued many in attendance at the city's ceremony of community support and gratitude. Words spoken by government officials calmed the nerves of many but also provided a stepping stone for moving on.

"I felt a lot of what I needed — connection, support, healing and compassion from what was said," Shawn Stradley, a Trolley Square employee and neighbor of the shooter's family, said. "I'm surprised at how well we're all doing after what happened there."

Megan Stevens, an employee at Trolley's Cabin Fever gift shop, where many of the victims were shot, said she was seeking closure from the vigil. She returned to the store to help clean up and expected the violence to still be there.

"It actually felt positive, there's a good energy there," she said. "It wasn't scary, and it wasn't different than any other day that I've been in there to work."

It's the hope of many who spoke Thursday that the community can heal quickly and become stronger from the experience.

"We join together tonight as a remarkable community in mutual welcome and respect to care for those who are affected by this tragedy," Anderson said. "To thank those heroes who saved lives and who keep our community safe and strong and to bring peace, friendship and love to all those around us."

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com