AMARILLO, Texas - It was going to be the happiest day of Sulejman Talovic's life. On the night of Feb. 11, Talovic talked to his girlfriend, Monika, for hours on the phone. " 'Something is going to happen tomorrow that you'll never be able to forgive me about,' " the 17-year-old remembers Talovic saying. "He said it was supposed to be the happiest day of his life and that it could only happen once in a lifetime."
Monika pressed for details. "It involves everyone and everything," he said, except for her - he loved her too much. "I would never in the world want something like that to happen to you." At 10:44 p.m., Talovic hung up in Salt Lake City, telling Monika to sleep well. It would be the last time she heard the 18-year-old's voice. The two, both Bosnian refugees, had never met in person. On Feb. 13, around 2:30 p.m., an FBI agent calling numbers on Talovic's cell phone revealed the secret.
Talovic, the agent told Monika, had walked into Trolley Square mall the day before, carrying a shotgun, a .38-caliber pistol and a backpack full of ammunition. He had opened fire on nine people, killing five, before police killed him.
"I fell to the floor. I couldn't feel anything," Monika said. "I couldn't feel anything."
A month after the shooting, Suljo Talovic is no closer to understanding why the son he saw as shy and sweet boy became a murderer.
Two days after returning to Utah from the family's hometown of Talovici, Bosnia, where he laid his only son to rest, Suljo Talovic's unshaven face was pale and worn.
His wife, Sabira, is ill and has been in and out of emergency rooms. Saddened by any reminder of their son - his bedroom, his belongings - the Talovics have moved out of their west side home and are sleeping on the floor of a small, empty downtown apartment.
Their three daughters are having nightmares.
"We were best friends," said 14-year-old Medina, Talovic's oldest sister, as she hugged her knees and sobbed on the floor of her aunt Musa Smajlovic's apartment.
While federal and local investigators probe how Talovic obtained the .38-caliber revolver he used, Salt Lake City police are exploring how and why the shootings occurred for an eventual report to the community.
Chilling tapes of 911 calls released March 1 revealed the details of terrified shoppers and store employees hiding in kitchens, cramped closets, stairwells, storage rooms and freezers as Talovic walked through the mall, firing.
Left dead were Kirsten Hinckley, 15; Vanessa Quinn, 29; Teresa Ellis, 29; Brad Frantz, 24, and Jeffrey Walker, 52.
Carolyn Tuft, Hinckley's 44-year-old mother, and Walker's son, Alan "A.J." Walker, 16, were seriously injured. Survivor Stacy Hanson, 50, is paralyzed; Shawn Munns, 34, was left with scores of pellets in his body.
The Talovic family cannot comprehend why the rampage happened, Smajlovic said.
They pray for answers.
'It was easier to talk
Talovic first called Monika's small Amarillo home on Jan. 28. The teens, both Bosnian refugees who spent the early years of their childhood running from Serbian soldiers, were paired up by their uncles, longtime friends.
Monika's mother remembers the first time Talovic called.
"He's shy, he's talking slowly," she said. She offered to take his phone number. "He says, 'No, no thank you ma'am, I call her back.' "
Later that day, Monika and Talovic spoke for the first time. She says Talovic began to warm up to her and was happy, always cracking jokes. He called her "Mimi." She called him "Teddy Bear."
By Feb. 11, the two had burned through nearly 1,700 cell phone minutes - more than 28 hours.
"It was way easier to talk to him than just some person," Monika said. "I don't understand why, but it was easier to talk to him than my Mom sometimes."
Both had dropped out of school, Talovic from Horizonte High School in Salt Lake City, Monika from Cap Rock High School in Amarillo. She is now being home schooled and expects to receive her diploma in November.
Talovic told Monika he had few friends - he spoke of two he met at the construction site where he once worked with his father, and one from a mosque. He rolled mats on an assembly line at Aramark Uniform Services. Monika works at Burger King, her paychecks supplementing her mother's minimum-wage income.
Monika's mother and father separated after fleeing to the United States, victims of the stress and depression caused by the war, the mother said.
'Take every day seriously'
Talovic's favorite color, Monika discovered, was turquoise; his favorite food, macaroni and cheese. He loved the outdoors and fishing with his father. He was listening to Korn, though which album, Monika isn't sure.
And then there were those things he didn't talk about: Guns. Politics. Religion. What he did at night after work.
Early in their conversations, Monika said, Talovic discussed death. He stressed the importance of living each day to its fullest. At the time, she didn't assign any meaning to it.
"I think of it as truth. Life is short. You never know when you're going to die," she said. "You should take every day seriously."
Talovic, police later discovered, had already legally purchased a 12-gauge shotgun in November at an area sporting goods store.
The teens daydreamed aloud about getting married. Talovic wanted to honeymoon in Tampa, Fla., Monika said; to someday settle down in Kentucky where he has relatives. Maybe have a son of his own. He hoped to someday buy a cabin in Bosnia, a place where he and his new wife could vacation.
They had shared their memories of Bosnia, Monika alone in her bedroom in Amarillo - in a remodeled garage - and Talovic alone in his basement bedroom in Salt Lake City.
Talovic was about 5 years old in the early 1990s, when Serbian forces overran Talovici.
Monika said Talovic described hiding in the woods over a period of three years, lying face down in the dirt to avoid watching as Serbs decapitated countrymen nearby. He told Monika of seeing people shot in the head or stomach. He did witness killings, his aunt said.
Talovic recalled his hunger pains, surviving on wild mushrooms and droplets of water that collected on leaves, Monika said.
"He was mad because when he didn't have a place of their own, they had to live in the forest. He used to be mad when he was a little kid, but said he got over that," she said.
Talovic once spoke of a clinic in their village where the wounded and dead were taken, Smajlovic said. He "remembered there was a little ambulance there," Smajlovic said. The aunt recalls hiding with the Talovic family in the woods. Eventually, the family left, walking hundreds of miles toward a free zone in Tuzla. On the way, they slept on the floor of schoolhouses without blankets. Talovic's grandfather was fatally shot. An infant brother and sister died.
"They didn't have food, they didn't have shelter, it was every man for his own," said Smajlovic. "It was horrible. They spent their time looking for food, a piece of bread. There was no time to talk about anything nice."
Talovic told Monika a story about an important revelation he had in Bosnia.
One evening, "as the sun was falling," Talovic heard a horse outside of his family's home in Bare, where they lived after they left Talovici. He walked out and, standing before him was a white horse "with two beautiful eyes," he told Monika.
"And he said, 'Look,' and his aunt [who was also outside] couldn't see it there," Monika said. It was at that moment she knew he was a "good-souled" person.
"He thought of it as only 'good-souled people' could see happiness and goodness," she said.
'He was very, very happy'
After the Talovics moved to Utah in September 1998, Talovic appreciated having nice clothing, a decent car, enough food to eat, his aunt remembers. "He was very, very happy. He had all of these opportunities here," Smajlovic said.
But he had nightmares, she added. And there were other signs.
Nasir Omerovic disputes family members' description of Talovic as a good child who rarely caused trouble. Omerovic was married to Talovic's aunt, Ajka Omerovic, and lived two houses down from the Talovic family on Edmonds Place for their first three years in Salt Lake City.
Omerovic said Talovic often tormented his son Safer, who was two years younger. Within the first few months of living on Edmonds Place, Omerovic said, Talovic grabbed Safer by the throat and choked him.
On another occasion, he said, Talovic packed a snowball with broken glass and threw it at Safer's head, drawing blood.
"For Sulejman, that was a game," said Omerovic, who no longer lives in Salt Lake City and separated from his wife in 2001. "All the trouble he was making, it was just a game."
Shortly after the family's arrival, Talovic pulled a knife on their landlord, Musto Redzovic. Redzovic felt Talovic may not have recognized him and may have been trying to protect his family.
In 1999, Talovic was referred to juvenile court for throwing rocks at a girl. He denied it, according to court documents, but a judge decided it was true. Omerovic said Talovic was sentenced to community service.
In 2001, Talovic was again referred to juvenile court for allegedly swiping a knife toward a girl. The girl's mother pulled her away before he could make contact, according to court documents.
Omerovic said the girl was Talovic's cousin, the daughter of his aunt, Hasija Cumurovic. Cumurovic, who now lives in Florida, declined to comment.
Often absent, then gone
Suljo Talovic was a kind father who was reluctant to acknowledge his son's problems, Omerovic said. "He never punished his boy for his troubles," he said. "Every time he blamed somebody else."
Sulejmen Talovic's father has declined to discuss the court cases in detail. The boy stayed clear of the court system after 2001.
Suljo Talovic said his son often moved between schools because the family moved three times in Salt Lake City. But Talovic often had a spotty attendance record.
Talovic attended eighth grade at Hillside Intermediate during the 2001-02 school year. Math teacher Virginia Lee said he seemed disinterested in class and was often absent. When she called his mother to ask why, she was told Talovic was sick, Lee said.
The next year, he entered an alternative program at Highland High School. Teacher Danny Schwam said he rarely attended class. When he did, Schwam said, his head was often on his desk. Talovic was released after fall 2002 due to poor attendance, Schwam said.
For a time, Talovic attended West High School. He started classes at Horizonte High School in fall 2004, and dropped out in November. His father has said two boys with knives at the school threatened to kill him.
All the schools have declined to release Talovic's records. Freed from classes, the teen went to work.
Talovic and Monika never saw photos of each other. But as they grew closer, their parents were delighted. Suljo and Sabira Talovic looked forward to their son becoming a husband and father. Suljo Talovic offered to buy Talovic a plane ticket, or drive him to Texas himself, so he could meet Monika in person.
Talovic told them, "I want to get married soon, I will tell you when we need to get started with the wedding," Suljo Talovic remembers. The father said he responded that when they got married, he would buy them a $1,000 gift, "something gold."
"I was hoping for a wedding, not this," he said.
On the morning of Feb. 12, Talovic reported to Aramark on time and left at 5 p.m., as usual. He went home, took a shower and left in his brown Mazda.
Shortly after 6:30 p.m., Talovic left the car in a Trolley Square parking deck and walked toward the mall's west entrance. Wearing a tan trench coat, Talovic walked through the mall and fired at random.
Six minutes later, Talovic died in a barrage of police gunfire.
Enes Kadic, who grew up near Talovic in "Little Bosnia" in Salt Lake City, was stunned.
"When I first heard it was him [who fired at Trolley Square], I kind of lost my breath," he said, as he sat eating cavopi at the Cafe on Main Street on a recent evening. "I wish I could wake him up and make him tell me [why he did it.]"
At least for now, police have not determined Talovic's motive, leaving friends and family to speculate.
"But probably we will never find out," said Sulejman Sulejmanovi, the imam for Talovici, who spoke at Talovic's funeral. "Only Sulejman and dear God know the reasons why. The real truth is buried with him."
Even Monika, perhaps the only person Talovic confided in toward the end of his life, is at loss.
"Why would anyone want to kill people?" she asks. "Why would you take someone else's life?"
At night, she still takes her phone to bed, wishing he could call.
Talovic's girlfriend says he anticipated 'happiest day'
By Joe Bauman
Deseret Morning News
The day before he killed five people and wounded four at Trolley Square, Sulejman Talovic told the girl who loved him that the next day would be the happiest of his life.
Monika, a 17-year-old fellow refugee from Bosnia who now lives in Amarillo, Texas, did not know what he meant. (At her request, the Deseret Morning News is not using her last name.)
"His exact words were, 'You're going to be mad at me, but ... tomorrow's supposed to be the happiest day of my life."'
She asked him about that statement and he replied, "Oh, no, you should be happy."
"And I was like, 'So what does it involve?' He goes, 'It involves everything but you."'
She could not imagine he was talking about his last day. His shotgun-and-pistol rampage ended when police officers killed him.
"I thought he was going to have a child or something like that," she said.
Talovic had courted a girlfriend almost a year before, she said, and she thought the girl might be having his child, although he never said so. Actually, that wasn't the case, Monika added.
Monika was interviewed by telephone on Tuesday and Wednesday. She is home-schooled and works during the day.
Monika and the 18-year-old Talovic "met" long distance on Jan. 28, introduced through a relative of his and a relative of hers who happened to know each other.
They began talking incessantly on the telephone, day and night. They talked every day, always for hours. She said the shortest conversation they had was on Feb. 11, the day before the shooting — and that discussion went on for five hours.
"He was a funny person. He liked to joke a lot," Monika said.
Often he would call her about 6 p.m. and they would talk until 3, 4 or 5 a.m.
He was going to make plans to visit her in Amarillo, she said. That was supposed to happen on March 12. Meanwhile, they had exchanged photographs via cell phone and had discussed marriage.
"I didn't know when or where or anything like that, though we did talk about it," she said. Both felt serious about marriage, she believes.
Talovic had "two or three" friends, according to Monika. She did not know their names. "He talked about friends, but he never mentioned names."
He had friends at work and had had friends at the first school he attended in Utah, Monika said.
Talovic also knew one man through his mosque in Utah.
"I don't know if he was his friend, but he liked to talk to him," she said. They only saw each other during services at the mosque. "They only saw each other like three or four times."
Asked if that person could have influenced Talovic to carry out the shootings, she said, "I don't really think so, no."
She did not believe anyone had pushed him to carry out the shootings. Nobody had wanted him to do anything wrong, she believes.
Was Talovic thinking that he would become a martyr for his Muslim religion? "I don't think so," she said. He never mentioned he had guns and never seemed violent. "He was actually a happy, nice person."
During that last talk, "he was actually pretty happy," Monika said. Besides his expected happiness the next day, he talked about a sister he dearly loved, who was his best friend. He did not seem angry or filled with concern.
Their conversations were in English, as both spoke the language well.
"He was real happy that he came to the United States, he told me, because it wasn't like over there."
The Talovic family and Monika's family were refugees from Serb aggression during the war in Bosnia, 1992-95, and she believes the young man was deeply affected by the violence.
"After a while he had to take some counseling and get stuff out of his head," she said.
Although the war ended when Talovic was only 7, he recalled large open graves where victims were thrown in and shot. He did not see that happen, she said, but "he saw dead people around them in those holes" while the family was hiding in the forest.
Also, he told her about seeing a horrific murder: He saw a woman with her child, "and there was a soldier just coming up behind her, and, like, shooting her in the head." The soldier threw the child "and he started to shoot it."
While the Talovic family hid in the forest, he told Monika, they lived on wild food, mushrooms, and drank dew from the ground.
Speaking of Talovic's grandfather, she said, "He told me that he was killed in the war," but did not say how. He also lost a brother and a sister.
Ajka Omerovic, an aunt of Sulejman Talovic who lives in Salt Lake City, said the little girl died before the war and the boy died during the war. The boy's death apparently resulted from a lack of medical care caused by the conflict.
Today, the parents — father Suljo and mother Sabira Talovic — live in Salt Lake City with three daughters.
"He remembers when his little brother and sister died from the war and how tragic it was," Monika said. He also recalled "how they didn't have anything to eat, when they were in the forest."
Asked if the boy was afraid at that time, she replied, "Yeah, he was really afraid."
Monika and Sulejman Talovic talked about the war in Bosnia only twice, she said. Most of the time they covered ordinary teen topics, "what we liked, what was our favorite music, colors, whatever."
Talovic only listened to one CD, she said. She did not know its name, but the band was Korn, whose music is somewhere between a heavy metal and an industrial sound. He had bought the CD a long time ago "and that's all he listened to."
Some of Korn's lyrics are nihilistic. According to the "Lyrics on Demand" Web site, among its albums are songs with lines about being eaten up inside and wanting to die, voices in one's head, enjoying playing with lots of pain, rottenness, and the loss of something inside.
Talovic's favorite movie was the 1992 film "Malcolm X" about the late black nationalist leader who was the spokesman for the Nation of Islam movement involving black Americans.
Talovic's favorite color was turquoise. "He said (it was a) calming and soothing color."
He was pretty happy with his family and never discussed fights or troubles with his neighbors or at work. However, others have told the Deseret Morning News about conflicts in one Salt Lake neighborhood where the family lived.
He never discussed playing video games or talked about weapons, Monika said. He did not tell her why he had dropped out of school.
"He said like there was drugs and violence going on, he didn't want to be part of that in his first school. I don't know what happened in the second school after he moved, I don't know what happened there."
She advised him, "if he can't get a high school (diploma) he should go get his GED, and that's what he was planning on doing." A General Equivalency Diploma could open the way to a career, they both felt.
"He was talking about going into business," she said. "He wanted to become a business manager."
The young man did not talk about mental problems or hallucinations. He told her he never took drugs. He never acted crazy or seemed upset. "He never told me about hurting nothing. I mean, he was nice to everybody."
Sometimes he would smoke cigarettes, "but not all the time," she said. "And I asked him, 'Are your parents OK with it (smoking)?' He said, 'Yeah."'
Their conversations ended on Feb. 11. On Feb. 13, after not hearing from Talovic for two days, Monika tried to call him.
"I called his cell phone and an FBI agent answered it," she said. The agent asked for her name and identified himself as with the FBI in Salt Lake City.
She complied, so he told her Talovic had been in a shooting and had died.
"I asked who was the shooter and he goes, 'He was.' ... I guess he tried to talk to me. I was on the floor after that ... I was in so many tears.
"One point, my mom actually put me in a car, took me to the hospital."
Her heart was broken, she said. "It's pretty sad."
Monika may have been the closest person to Talovic in the days immediately before his murderous attack. Asked about the possible cause of the shootings, she said:
"There's countless number of people right now suffering the same stuff with the past war." Her father had six brothers, for example, "and only two survived the war, and they weren't even like soldiers in the war."
Because of the war, she said, one relative "went totally crazy. He's been in a mental institute."
Talovic's rampage in Salt Lake City, she believes, had some connection to the bloodshed in Bosnia.
Utah killer rewarded with Islamic burial in native Bosnia
March 03, 2007 8:34 AM
TALOVICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina-The teenager who killed five people in a U.S. shopping mall and died in a police shootout was buried Saturday in his native village in eastern Bosnia.
The father of Sulejman Talovic said his son "wounded the hearts of all our family" when he opened fire on Feb. 12 at the mall in Salt Lake City, Utah, killing five people and wounding four.
"I feel sorry for my child, but I also feel sorry for all the innocent people he has killed," the 18-year-old's father, Suljo Talovic, told The Associated Press.
Suljo Talovic spoke while standing where his family's house once stood in Talovici, an eastern Bosnian hamlet that still bears the scars of the 1992-95 war, including houses pocked with machine-gun fire or, like Talovic's, reduced to rubble by shelling.
Moments later, several hundred people gathered at the nearby cemetery for Sulejman's open-casket funeral. His crying mother, Sabira, collapsed after touching her son's face and was carried away.
Suljo Talovic said he would not make excuses for his son, but did not understand how a teenager could buy a gun in the United States.
"The authorities are guilty for not alerting us that he bought a gun. In the U.S., you cannot buy cigarettes if you are underaged, but you can buy a gun," he said.
The Talovic family had left for the United States in 1998 following years of violence and upheaval, after fighting broke out in 1992. Serb troops laid siege to Talovici, bombing it for a year before invading in March 1993.
Sulejman was just 4 when he, his three siblings, his mother Sabira and his grandfather fled on foot to Srebrenica, while his father Suljo hid in the mountains with other men from the village, relatives said. For more see:http://www.serbianna.com/news/2007/01302.shtml
Report: Utah Killing was Jihad http://www.serbianna.com/news/2007/01377.shtml