The 18-year-old gunman who shot dead five people in a Salt Lake City shopping mall was a survivor of the siege that ended in the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, a cousin said on Wednesday.
Sulejman Talovic, who was killed by police after Monday’s shooting spree in which he also wounded four people, fled his village with his family during the Bosnia war to Srebrenica, a U.N.-protected enclave, Redzo Talovic said.
They spent two years in the town, during which Bosnian Serb forces besieged the enclave and Sulejman’s grandfather was killed by shellfire, Redzo said.
When the Bosnian Serbs overran the town in 1995, taking away and massacring some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, Sulejman and his mother were evacuated by the United Nations and later reunited with his father, Redzo said.
“They were a good, quiet family and I remember that he was a nice kid when he was four or five, maybe a little bit playful,” he said, standing in front of the burnt-out shell of Sulejman’s family home in the village of Talovici, eastern Bosnia.
“No one could have supposed that he was going to do such a thing,” Redzo said. “Who knows what made him do that?” He could not say what marks Sulejman’s childhood memories of wartime Bosnia had left on him.
Redzo said he was in shock when he heard the news.
“I couldn’t believe it. I heard that his parents are dumbfounded, they can’t believe he did that,” said Redzo, one of the few villagers to have returned to Talovici.
Sulejman and his family never visited Bosnia or kept in touch after moving to the United States as refugees in 2000, Redzo said.
Police said Sulejman and his mother had lived in Salt Lake City for a few years, during which he had four minor incidents with police as a juvenile.
The teenager, dressed in a trench coat and carrying a shotgun, a .38 caliber pistol and what police said was a “backpack full of ammunition,” opened fire at random on Monday evening, sending terrified shoppers running for cover.
Salt Lake City police chief Chris Burbank said the gunman seemed determined to “shoot as many people as he possibly could.”