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Talovic motive elusive

Isolating reason for actions is tricky, chief says

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Sulejman Talovic may have simply snapped.

"That's what it looks like at this point," Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank says. "Something in his makeup, his experience, everything else, caused him to think that this was a way to deal with his problems or emotions."

In an interview with the Deseret Morning News, Burbank acknowledged that the motive for Talovic's homicidal rampage at the Trolley Square mall may be something that the killer took to his grave.

"I think at the end of the day, we will have an idea of contacts and influences in his life," Burbank said Friday. "My fear is we're not going to be able to point to any one thing and say, 'This is what caused him to do what he did."'

Detectives have been able to eliminate a number of potential motives. Police have questioned schoolmates, co-workers, family and friends of the 18-year-old to gain insight into his life.

"I think it will be a collective of all of these influences that may have led him down this road," Burbank said. "But what makes an individual choose that, such a violent act and such an apparently random act?"

Profile of a loner

Homicide detectives and FBI agents have been building a profile of Talovic. A picture is emerging of a quiet "loner guy" who didn't interact with a lot of people. One of the biggest influences in Talovic's life appears to be his childhood in war-scarred Bosnia, the chief said.

"Some of the things he experienced and may have seen and been involved in. I think coming to a new country, being a refugee, trying to fit into schools, (the) language barrier," Burbank said. "All of these things go into that. You never know how that affects an individual."

Police said it appears Talovic had very little access to a computer. There was no video-game system in his home. Authorities don't believe he had any links to gangs or was trying to join one.

Burbank said they also do not believe there are any links to terrorism. To be sure, the chief said the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force ran Talovic's name through national security databases to determine if there were any possible ties.

"We're not seeing any of that," he said.

Numerous interviews have not produced any evidence that anyone even knew what Talovic was plotting. Salt Lake City police said the shooting appears to be completely random. Talovic had no connection to his victims or even the mall itself.

"It could have been something he decided that day or something he decided a year ago," Burbank said.

The only one who apparently had some kind of clue is a 17-year-old Bosnian refugee living in Amarillo, Texas. Monika (who asked the Deseret Morning News not to use her last name) had an over-the-phone relationship with Talovic. The night before the Trolley Square massacre, she spoke with him. Talovic told Monika she was going to be mad at him the next day.

"And I was like, 'So what does it involve?' He goes, 'It involves everything but you,"' she recalled.

Killing spree

On Feb. 12, Talovic worked his regular shift from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Aramark Uniform Services, an industrial laundry facility. He rolled up recently cleaned floor mats. Talovic had been on the job since December, working as a production-line general laborer.

"He pretty much stayed to himself," Aramark general manager Trent Thorn said in a February interview.

After work, Talovic went home.

His father, Suljo Talovic, told the Deseret Morning News in an earlier interview that he came home from his construction job and encountered his son. They both went to shower.

"I go in bathroom, he go other bathroom," he said in broken English.

Sulejman then went into his bedroom while his father watched TV in the living room. When the news broke about the Trolley Square shootings, Suljo Talovic said he looked outside and noticed his son's car was gone.

Sulejman Talovic parked his green Mazda 626 in the Trolley Square parking terrace. Wearing a brown overcoat, a bandolier of shotgun shells around his waist and a backpack full of ammunition, the young man stepped out of his car and encountered Jeffrey Walker, 52, and his 16-year-old son Alan "AJ" Walker.

Armed with a 12-gauge shotgun and a .38-caliber handgun, Talovic raised the shotgun toward the Walkers.

"My dad said, 'Oh my gosh,"' AJ recalled in an interview with the Deseret Morning News last week. "He did it so quickly."

AJ was shot in the head and ankle. His father was shot in the back, shoulder and head. Jeffrey Walker was killed.

Talovic moved closer to the mall, wounding Shawn Munns, 34. Inside the mall, he killed Vanessa Quinn, 29, outside the Bath and Body Works store. Moving into the Cabin Fever card and novelty shop, he killed Teresa Ellis, 29; Brad Frantz, 24; and Kirsten Hinckley, 15. Hinckley's mother, Carolyn Tuft, 44, was wounded. So was Stacy Hanson, 53, who remains hospitalized.

Burbank said Talovic may not have been very experienced with the guns.

"From the distance that you are, you don't have to be pretty good," he said.

The police chief confirmed to the Deseret Morning News that Talovic did indeed shoot — and hit people — with the .38-caliber handgun. He would not be more specific, saying it was out of respect for the victims.

Within three minutes, police said Talovic had killed five people and wounded four others. It was then that he encountered off-duty Ogden police officer Ken Hammond, who was having dinner with his wife at Trolley Square. He got into a shootout with Talovic until Salt Lake City police officers arrived.

"We put ourselves at risk. We place officers in harm's way in order to protect the public," Burbank said. "That's what happened. As the gunfire happened, he (Sgt. Andy Oblad) walked towards the gunfire."

Talovic was cornered inside the Pottery Barn Kids store, where he shot at the officers.

"He shot no one after the officers arrived," the chief said.

Talovic swore at the officers just before he was killed.

Looking back on the shooting, Burbank said that if the police hadn't responded so quickly, the death toll would have been much higher.

"Had he gotten into one of the restaurants or movie theater ..., there's no question given what he did in the first three minutes of it that he would have continued," the chief said. "It's one of those things that he gave no indication that he would have stopped. As he encountered people, he shot them or shot at them."

The weapons

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been investigating where Talovic got the guns used in his killing spree. The 12-gauge shotgun was purchased legally about five weeks after his 18th birthday. The .38-caliber weapon was originally purchased out of state and then stolen. It changed hands several times, and then Talovic acquired it last summer, when he was 17.

Three people are being investigated in connection with the handgun. While police believe they did not know that the gun was going to be used in the mall massacre, Burbank said criminal charges are likely.

"We want to hold these people accountable for their part of it," he said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Utah would not comment on whether it planned to seek a federal grand jury indictment. The ATF is expected to present a case to federal prosecutors soon.

Even after leads are exhausted, police will still investigate any new leads that come in the future. Burbank wants a report prepared by homicide detectives and released to help give some closure to the victims and the public at large. He gave no timeline for when that report would be released.

However, the most glaring omission will likely be why Talovic committed mass murder.

"Ultimately," Burbank said, "his motive may have died with him."

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com