Sulejman Talovic apparently had a desperate need to belong.

Those who knew him recall a lanky teenager who wanted to be accepted, while keeping his feelings to himself. He had few friends and talked mostly about "normal school stuff."

"I think he was just lonely," said Enes Kadic, who went to school with Talovic in the seventh grade.

Talovic is expected to be buried Monday near Sarajevo, in his homeland of Bosnia-Herzegovina. His parents, Suljo and Sabira Talovic, will fly there for the funeral.

In an interview with the Deseret Morning News Monday, the family said they were thankful to the many Utahns who responded kindly to them in their grief over the slayings.

"They understand our pain," said Ajka Omerovic, Sulejman's aunt. "We're just realizing that we have to continue our life."

Kadic is stunned that the 18-year-old would go on a shooting rampage inside the Trolley Square mall, killing five and wounding four others before dying in a shootout with police.

"I still cannot believe it was him," he said. "It's pretty crazy to me he did that. He's the last person on Earth I thought would do that."

His eighth-grade math teacher at Hillside Intermediate School remembers him as a lower-end-of-average student who only did about half his work. Virginia Lee said Talovic had a need for social approval.

"That was higher on his agenda," she said. "He wanted to belong."

Violent video games?

Kadic described Talovic as a quiet boy who wasn't very talkative. He said Talovic kept mostly to himself and didn't leave his house after school. At least once a week, however, Kadic would convince his friend to watch movies at his house or play video games at Talovic's house.

"Combat games, fighting games, Super Mario ... " Kadic said, recalling the types of video games they would play.

Talovic also seemed to like movies with violence, he said.

"He liked watching fighting movies. He liked watching those fist-fighting movies and movies where they shoot each other. He liked watching those type of movies," Kadic said.

In hindsight, Kadic believes Talovic did seem to have a fascination with violent video games and movies. Although Kadic claims to have played video games in Talovic's home, police said that when they searched the home they found the family did not own a video game system, any games or a computer.

Police said they are still investigating the shooting spree and trying to learn a motive.

"We're making progress," Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank said Friday. "I feel we're getting somewhere, but I have no answers to give out right now."

Burbank told the Deseret Morning News that investigators have found nothing that shows violent video games were a motive. The chief said police have also not "found anything that has religious or political motivation" or shows Talovic's ethnicity was a factor. The Bosnian refugee is Muslim.

Kadic is not convinced that violent video games and movies are solely to blame, although they may have been a factor.

"I think someone pushed him to do it, and he just went for it. He probably just said, 'Screw it. My life's not worth it.' He was just pushed to do it," he said. "I think a lot of that (video games and movies) had an effect. But at the same time, I think someone pushed him. The first thing that came to my mind was the video games and movies he watched."

Talovic's family believes someone gave him the shotgun, pistol and ammunition, pushing him to commit the killings. They don't know who that person is.

Talovic's teacher remembers a different type of child than the isolated young man described by others.

"Sulejman was ... he smiled, he laughed. There was a bit of a tease in him," said Lee, who taught math for English as a Second Language students at Hillside Intermediate School in 2001.

Lee said Talovic liked to be social and wanted to be accepted. She recalled Sulejman always working on math problems with other Bosnian teens, their laughter often so loud she'd chide him to tone it down.

Although Talovic came from a war-torn country, he wouldn't talk about his past, Lee said.

"He would have his moments when he was withdrawn and quiet," she said. "They didn't rise to the level of concern. They didn't trigger concern on my part as some other students' behaviors."

When she found out that Talovic was the man who shot and killed five people inside Trolley Square, she said she had a cold feeling.

"There was that cold, in the pit of my stomach when I heard his name," she said. "It was a familiar name, and then I recollected that he'd been a student."

Her voice choking up with tears, Lee said she has been feeling a little guilty for not doing enough to help Talovic.

"I'm hoping in time all things pass," she said. "Everyone feels, 'Gee, if I had done as much.' Maybe if I hadn't resigned, I might have learned more about Sulejman."

Talovic's family said they are trying to move on with life. Sabira Talovic, who was hospitalized when she learned of her son's shooting spree, has begun eating again, Omerovic said.

"I think she's feeling better, too. But she is terribly sad," she said.

In his home village of Talovici in Bosnia-Herzegovina, family members remain stunned by the crime.

"I barely can remember Sulejman face because he is so young when they went to Utah," said Redzo Talovic. "Complete family was peaceful and nobody could imagine that Sulejman was able to commit such a crime."


Contributing: Slobodna Bosna

E-mail: bwinslow@desnews.com; preavy@desnews.com; bau@desnews.com