Bosnians Fear Backlash After Utah Shooting

Salt Lake City is mourning the loss of five people killed in a crowded shopping mall on Monday. The shooter was a Bosnian-born Muslim teenager. Messages of pain and grief are being accompanied by concerns that the incident could trigger retribution against Bosnian refugees, who already say they face harassment.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Memorial services are scheduled today for two of the five people gunned down at a Salt Lake City shopping mall this week. A public memorial was held last night. It included the Bosnian ambassador to the United States.

The shooter in the attack was an 18-year-old Bosnian Muslim who was killed by police. His religion has some people convinced that the shooting was the work of a terrorist.

Local officials are urging calm as NPR's Howard Berkes reports.

HOWARD BERKES: Police say they still don't have a motive for Monday's shooting at the Trolley Square Shopping Mall, but some people think they know what happened. On Tuesday, radio talk show host Michael Savage sensed a terrorist conspiracy.

Mr. MICHAEL SAVAGE (Talk Show Host): The shooting in Salt Lake City last night, conducted by Sulejmen Talovic, a Bosnian Muslim refugee, is this part of a pattern? Are these just random crazy people? Or is somebody triggering these? Are these controlled people?

BERKES: Some are more direct, in e-mails to Salt Lake City's Deseret Morning News with phrases like this: He was a Muslim terrorist, this was Islamic jihad. Since the shooting, six Utah Bosnians says they've been targets of harassment.

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson denounced those making harsh judgments.

Mayor ROCKY ANDERSON (Salt Lake City, Utah): They are the purveyors of hatred and intolerance. They're making things far more dangerous, and there is no evidence whatsoever that what happened at Trolley Square was the result of anybody's race, view of politics, or religion.

BERKES: Anderson sat in the cramped back room of a Bosnian restaurant, joined by Bisera Turkovic, the Bosnian ambassador to the United States, who says Bosnians are shocked and saddened too. This, she says, is very big news in Bosnia.

Dr. BISERA TURKOVIC (Bosnian Ambassador to the United States): They can't believe that somebody of Bosnian origin can do something like that, especially not in this country, because we owe this country. We owe it for our freedom, for prosperity, for building normal Bosnia. So to do it to people who help us and who welcomed us, it's really shocking.

BERKES: Eighteen-year-old Sulejmen Talovic survived the war in Bosnia, escaping Srebrenica before 8,000 Muslim men and boys were massacred. His family found refuge in Utah. Nothing is known about why Talovic fired a shotgun at random Monday night, shooting his victims at they rate of two a minute. He died in a gun battle with police.

Last night his victims were remembered by Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.

Governor JON HUNTSMAN (Republican, Utah): Teresa Ellis, Brad Frantz, Kirsten Hinckley, Vanessa Quinn, and Jeffrey Walker. The pain will linger but our community will mend and be stronger.

BERKES: Huntsman spoke before hundreds of mourners with candles in the skyscraping atrium of the Salt Lake City library. In the crowd below, teacher Mattie Quail(ph) was thinking about two kinds of pain: the horrors of wartime and peacetime for Bosnian refugees here and a lost sense of security for children.

Ms. MATTIE QUAIL (Teacher, Salt Lake City): My brother-in-law wrote a blog about how his children were so afraid that night that they slept on his bedroom floor. And I'm hoping to be able to go and tell my nephews that, you know, you don't need to be afraid. Bad things happen, you know that. But at the same time, you help those people who are grieving, and you're here for them. And I just hope that I can kind of take some of this healing and maybe help my nephews along.

BERKES: Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson closed last night's ceremony with the same sense of hope.

Mayor ANDERSON: Let us carry on this expression of support, caring and generosity throughout every day of our lives. Thank you.

(Soundbite of bagpipes)

BERKES: Some people lingered, including a group of about 15 teenagers holding teddy bears and balloons and each other. They formed one large knot of hugs, sobbing for the friend they lost and holding tight to the lives they still shared.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, Salt Lake City.

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