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The 18-year-old killer pulled his car into an open...

February 14, 2007|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — The 18-year-old killer pulled his car into an open spot in the parking lot of the Trolley Square Mall in Salt Lake City, stepped out, drew a shotgun and fired at two nearby shoppers.

He walked through the mall's west doors and shot a woman. He kept walking and shot five more people who were standing in a gift store packed with Valentine's Day shoppers. If it wasn't for off-duty Ogden Police Officer Ken Hammond dining with his wife nearby, police said, Sulejmen Talovic would have killed far more people in Monday night's shooting rampage.

As soon as Hammond heard the gunshots, he dashed from his table, intercepted Talovic and started a "shootout" with the heavily armed teen, police said. Outgunned and without extra ammunition, Hammond kept Talovic occupied until a team of four Salt Lake City officers stormed into the mall and shot Talovic dead.

Police on Tuesday said they did not know why the Bosnian refugee launched his apparently random shooting rampage. Little was known about Talovic, who also had carried a pistol and a backpack full of ammunition into the mall. His aunt emerged from the family home briefly Tuesday to tell a local television station that relatives were stunned.

"We want to know what happened, just like you guys," Ajka Onerovic said. "We have no idea. He was such a good boy. We don't know what happened."

Salt Lake City was still reeling Tuesday from the carnage, and the popular mall -- housed in an old two-story trolley barn downtown -- remained closed. "This is something in our community that is really unheard of," Police Chief Chris Burbank said at a midday City Hall news conference. "We don't have incidents like this occur in Salt Lake City."

Mayor Ross C. "Rocky" Anderson urged anyone who had witnessed the attack to seek counseling, and he tried to calm residents. "Notwithstanding what happened last night," he said, "this is a very safe place."

Burbank said Talovic arrived at the mall parking lot at 6:44 p.m. He "had one thing on his mind," the police chief said, "and that was to kill a number of people."

Witnesses said Talovic, clad in a trench coat, displayed no emotion and was silent as he blasted through the shopping center. As gunshots echoed through the cavernous building, shoppers and diners dashed for the exits, hid in restrooms and restaurant kitchens, and began flooding 911 with calls for help. Hammond, a traffic officer and six-year veteran, ran toward the shooter.

Hammond "contained him until other officers could arrive," Burbank said. "He basically prevented [Talovic] from going throughout the mall and killing other people."

When it was over, six people, including the shooter, were dead and four others injured.

Fifteen-year-old Kirsten Hinckley was among the dead; her mother, Carolyn Tuft, was critically wounded. Jeffrey Walker, 52, also was killed; his 16-year-old son, A.J., was shot in the head and underwent brain surgery Tuesday.

According to the Salt Lake City School District, Talovic left high school in 2004, apparently to work at a uniform distribution company. Police said he lived with his mother.

Elvis Haldzialijagic, who owns a local Bosnian restaurant, said many in the tight-knit community were astonished that someone whose family had sought refuge from civil war in the 1990s could engage in such violence in his new home.

"To have something like that from someone from a family that came to this country seeking a better life, it's unbelievable," Haldzialijagic said.

nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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