SALT LAKE CITY – An off-duty police officer having an early Valentine's Day dinner with his wife was credited Tuesday with helping stop a rampage in a crowded shopping mall by an 18-year-old gunman who shot five people to death before he was killed by police.
A day after the shooting, investigators struggled to figure out why a trench-coated Sulejmen Talovic opened fire on shoppers with a supremely calm look on his face.
The teenager wanted to "to kill a large number of people" and probably would have killed many more if not for the off-duty officer, Police Chief Chris Burbank said.
Ken Hammond, an off-duty officer from Ogden, north of Salt Lake City, jumped up from his seat at a restaurant after hearing gunfire and cornered the gunman, exchanging fire with him until other officers arrived, Burbank said.
"There is no question that his quick actions saved the lives of numerous other people," the police chief said.
Police said it was not immediately clear who fired the shot that killed Talovic.
Talovic had a backpack full of ammunition, a shotgun and a .38-caliber pistol, police said. Investigators knew little about him, except than he lived in Salt Lake City with his mother, the police chief said. He was enrolled in numerous city schools before withdrawing in 2004, the school district said.
"I feel like I was there and did what I had to do," Hammond told reporters. After spotting the gunman, he told his pregnant wife to take cover in the restaurant and went to confront the suspect.
Talovic's aunt, Ajka Onerovic, emerged briefly from the family's house to say relatives had no idea why the young man attacked so many strangers. She said the family moved to Utah from Bosnia.
"He was a such a good boy. I don't know what happened," she told Salt Lake City television station KSL.
Talovic drove to the Trolley Square shopping center — a century-old former trolley barn with winding hallways, brick floors and wrought-iron balconies, and immediately killed two people, followed by a third victim as he came through a door, Burbank said. Five other people were then shot in a gift shop, he said.
Four people who were wounded remained hospitalized Tuesday, two in critical condition, two in serious.
One of the wounded shoppers, Shawn Munns, 34, was alone outside the mall after a meal with his wife and two stepchildren when Talovic blasted him with a shotgun, according to sister-in-law Jodie Sparrow.
With dozens of pellets embedded in his side, Munns staggered into a restaurant and warned diners about the gunman, Sparrow said.
Outside the mall, candles and flowers were left as memorials to the victims, who were identified as Jeffrey Walker, 52, Vanessa Quinn, 29, Kirsten Hinkley, 15, Teresa Ellis, 29, and Brad Frantz, 24.
Hammond's boss, Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner, said the state Senate wants to honor him.
"Thank goodness he was there," said Greiner, who is also a state senator. "You don't want to ever say it's good we were there and killed somebody, but it's probably good someone was there."
Accountant Jeff Barlow was on a date at another restaurant when he looked outside and saw the gunman firing from the hip.
"I thought it was some kind of joke — some kind of movie or stunt," Barlow said. "I didn't believe it was happening. And then I saw a man go down in a courtyard. I realized this was serious. These are real bullets flying around."
His date, Stephanie Bronson, added: "Just crazy. Absolutely terrifying."
David Dean, who owns a greeting-card store at the mall, said three or four people died inside his store, which was packed with Valentine's Day shoppers.