A child of violence: Talovic survived genocide

Published: Thursday, Feb. 15 2007 12:00 a.m. MST

"We want to know who signed for the guns and all the things that he had with him," Omerovic said. "We don't have any ideas how he get all that. We want to find who did that."

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating where Talovic got a .38-caliber pistol, which is illegal for an 18-year-old to possess.

A child of war

The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina forced the Talovic family to live as refugees. From 1993 until they emigrated to the United States in 1998, they were on the run, moving from village to village.

They lived near Srebrenica, where more than 8,300 Muslim boys and men were killed in 1995 by Serb forces loyal to ex-Yugoslavian leader Slobodan Milosevic. Sulejman Talovic was 7 years old then.

The atrocities of war and "ethnic cleansing," and the pressures of daily life in a new country after he immigrated to the United States, could have created immense pressure on Talovic, according to Greg Jurkovic, a psychology professor at Georgia State University who has studied Bosnian teenagers in both Atlanta and Sarajevo.

"What we're finding is that so many of these kids are suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)," he said. "What seems to be most important is what they were exposed to, their war exposure."

Jurkovic said it is not being a victim of violence that automatically causes some people to perpetrate it. Instead, he said it is the constant "everyday stressors" — including poverty and the effects of losing ties to family back home in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"It's not just that you have war trauma, and then you go blow people's brains out," said University of Illinois at Chicago psychiatry professor Sevan Weine, who also has studied Bosnian teenagers. "I think it's tempting to make the statement that they've been traumatized and now they're violent. But I would resist that kind over oversimplification."

Weine said there is a range of Bosnian teens, with some who are bright and well-adjusted and others who are at the bottom.

"There aren't many in the middle," he said.

Hopes for a better life

About 93 miles from Sarajevo, in the village of Bare, the Talovic family moved in 1994 for awhile to a small house with a dirt floor, no water, no electricity and a piece of nylon for a window. The house had belonged to a Serb family who had abandoned it when the war started.

The Talovic family often went hungry during the war, said neighbor Zijad Cerkic. Sulejman's father, Suljo Talovic, worked for a dollar or two for local farmers, and his wife, Sabira, would work with him and take the children with her, because there were no babysitters.

"They always dreamed about America," Cerkic said. "Sabira and kids moved in 1998 because she had a brother and relatives in the USA. After one year, Suljo moved, too. The only hope was a better life. They could not live normally here. They even did not had enough clothes."

But life here in Utah has been a struggle for the family.

"We came here to America to survive from war and to be good with every people," Omerovic said.

Relatives said that Suljo works constantly. Sulejman was pulled out of school in November 2004 by his mother, when he was barely 16 years old.

"The only reason she put on there was, 'to work,"' Salt Lake School District spokesman Jason Olsen said Wednesday.

The Talovic family would send money to people still living in Bare.

"They were sending money and papers needed to enter the States," said Safet Bajric. "I don't know what would happen with them now."

In Cerska, the neighbors fear that the U.S. government will kick the Talovic family out of the United States for their son's crimes.

'He stuck to himself'

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