Valentine's Day wasn't for another two days, but Officer Kenneth Hammond of the Ogden (Utah) Police Department and his wife, Farita, were celebrating early.
The Ogden couple had driven earlier in the day to Salt Lake and checked into a bed-and-breakfast hotel. As part of the motel's Valentine's Day promotion, the Hammonds received a $50 gift certificate redeemable in any one of five area restaurants. They opted for the familiar confines of one of their favorites, a Brazilian steak house named Rodizio's Grille located on one of the end wings of the Salt Lake Trolley Square.
Farita was well into her first trimester with their first child, and between bites the couple discussed plans for the future. The dinner was proving to be everything Ken had hoped it would be. The Hammonds decided to stick around to share some dessert. That dish of cake and ice cream would prove fateful.
By 7:30, the dessert was done, and it was time to go shopping for the expectant couple's first child. Stepping outside the restaurant ahead of his wife, Hammond took a momentary respite on a wooden bench to clear his head.
Not Construction Noise
Sitting there, Hammond became dully aware of banging emanating from elsewhere in the mall. He thought it odd that mall construction should be taking place at such an hour.
When Farita rejoined him, Hammond rose to his feet and the couple began walking toward the center of the mall. The sporadic reverberations of the bangs continued. At first, Hammond was not alarmed. But as he neared the center of the mall, he looked down to his left from the second-floor walkway.
That's when he saw bloodied bodies lying on the ground below.
Then he saw the reason for the carnage: a trenchcoated man wielding a pump-action shotgun on the opposite side of the downstairs hallway. Hammond momentarily cursed the deceptive acoustics of the mall, as he realized that the bangs he'd heard were those of an active shooter navigating his way through the mall.
Hammond hurriedly pushed his wife back in the direction of the restaurant.
"Go back inside. Lock the doors. Call 911!"
Hammond didn't say anything more. There wasn't time. He comforted himself with the knowledge that Farita, a dispatcher for Weaver Consolidated Dispatch, would do what was right, advising Salt Lake's dispatchers of the active shooter and letting them know that an "off-duty" officer was present.
Hunter and Prey
Hammond knew he had to do something as quickly as possible. He drew the Kimber .45 semi-automatic that he carried as an off-duty gun and quickly inventoried his surroundings.
Several onlookers were staring at him. He could almost read their thoughts: Was he yet another shooter? The wary regard was mutual. Might any of them be part of this problem, Hammond wondered? A lay-off man? Yet another off-duty officer?
No matter. Hammond knew what he had to do. He immediately yelled out who he was, identifying himself as an off-duty officer.
That announcement made Hammond target number one for the shooter. The gunman raised the pump-action shotgun and fired. Hammond fell prostrate on the floor, plastering his cheek against the cold tile as shotgun pellets peppered the scenery about him.
Hammond comforted himself with the thought that if he couldn't see the suspect, the suspect couldn't see him, either. The offset provided him with both cover and concealment.
He was about to get up when-BAROOM!-the suspect cranked off another round in his direction.
Hammond's sense of vulnerability went beyond being off duty and without a vest. He knew he was at an extreme disadvantage. While he'd patronized Rodizio's on previous occasions, his ventures into the mall proper had been few, and he wasn't familiar with the lay of the land. He doubted that the suspect suffered such a liability, and he knew the gunman was better armed. Nonetheless, Hammond was determined to keep the suspect in sight and do everything he could to keep the man from shooting anyone else.
First, he had to get a bead on the man. Hammond slowly rose to his feet and peered over the ledge. The man was nowhere to be seen.
The possibility occurred to Hammond that just as he was trying to get a bearing on the suspect, the suspect might be tracking him as well. He wondered where the stairs or escalators were. He didn't want to risk the blind exit of an elevator, or the possibility of getting trapped therein.
And other factors competed for Hammond's attention. He knew he was committed to taking the suspect out, if possible. But he also knew he'd have to have the presence of mind to continually evaluate the situation for any possible layoff men, potential collateral casualties, and uniform officers arriving on scene who would not know who he was.[PAGEBREAK]
The suspect had no such distractions. Hammond knew that, to the gunman's way of thinking, killing another civilian or cop would be just fine.
Hammond was determined not to let that happen. But just as the off-duty officer was about to venture downstairs and engage the shooter, he caught sight of a Salt Lake City Police Department officer, Sgt. Andy Oblad, arriving on scene downstairs.
For a tense moment, the off-duty cop and uniformed officer regarded one another. Hammond yelled down to Sgt. Oblad, again identifying himself as an off-duty Ogden police officer. Oblad's facial expression relaxed and Hammond realized that the sergeant and he were on the same page. Using hand signals, he communicated to the sergeant that he was coming down to join him.
As Hammond placed his hand on the back of the sergeant, the two men made their way in the suspect's last seen direction, quickly realizing that the suspect had barricaded himself inside a Pottery Barn Kids store, availing himself great cover and an angle on the two officers.
The only cover and concealment immediately available to Hammond and Oblad was a six-foot decorative wall pillar located near the epicenter of the mall. After taking momentary cover behind it, the two officers forked off from one another, with the sergeant moving to a forward position behind an exterior wall of the Pottery Barn Kids, and Hammond gravitating to a wood and brick support column facing the store. The officers found themselves in an L-shaped configuration against the suspect, minimizing potential crossfire with one another.
Just as Hammond reached the back side of the column, the suspect fired two more bursts of shotgun fire at him. Hammond took a quick glance around the right of the column, then recoiled as still more shotgun pellets sprayed its opposite side.
When it came to keeping the suspect from firing at others, Hammond was being very successful. All of the fire was coming for him.
He shifted to the left of the pillar for another peek. Another shotgun blast peppered the column.
Hammond knew that the gunman's 12-gauge clearly outclassed his eight-round Kimber. Otherwise, he had great faith in the weapon. He was, however, concerned about his ammo's ability to penetrate window glass at 20 yards. The other question was how long he and Oblad could continue to engage the suspect before the gunman ran out of ammunition.
Hammond wasn't going to waste rounds, but he wasn't going to just continue dodging shotgun pellets, either. Moving back to his right, Hammond went for a double tap on the suspect's center mass, and fired. As he retreated back behind the column, the suspect fired back.
Five seconds passed, a lull that doubled as an eternity. Suddenly, Hammond heard the sound of semi-automatic gunfire and the crackling of shattering glass.
The gunfire ceased. Hammond peered once more to the right of the column. This time the gunman didn't target him.
Instead, Hammond got a good look into the Pottery Barn Kids. The last shards of glass in the display window were falling, enabling him a clear view of the suspect. The gunman was slumped over.
Quiet settled over the scene, and Hammond finally got a look at the man who had been trying to kill him. Sulejman Talovic, an 18-year-old Bosnian refugee who'd recently dropped out of school, was sprawled beyond the display window, dead. Nearby lay Talovic's pistol and shotgun.
Later, Hammond would be briefed on what had happened: Salt Lake City SWAT officers Sgt. Joshua Scharman, Det. Dustin Marshall, and Det. Brett Olsen had entered the store behind the suspect via an outside entrance. Having made their way through the business, they approached the suspect from the rear, calling out, ordering him to drop the gun. When Talovic spun in their direction and pointed his weapon at them, the combined firepower of the officers' weapons-two MP5s and an AR-15-cut him down.
Talovic was dead, but his violent rampage had taken a deadly toll: nine people shot, five dead.[PAGEBREAK]
During the incident, Hammond never hit Talovic, but his quick response to the shooter likely saved many lives and bought time for the uniformed police to arrive. And the proof of this is easily demonstrated: Not a single additional victim was injured once Hammond intervened.
But looking back on the situation, Hammond reserves his praise for the Salt Lake City police officers.
"I've been labeled a hero by a lot of people, but those Salt Lake officers are my heroes because I couldn't have lasted there much longer," Hammond reflects. "They came in and did an amazing job, and the way they handled themselves throughout the whole thing is just something that I've never seen before. They could teach a lot of people a lot of very important things about how to do the job as far as being SWAT and tactical police officers. They were just a class act bunch of guys. Those four guys-Sergeants Oblad and Scharman, and Detectives Marshall and Olsen-were to me the most important ones."
Hammond also lavished praise on the professionalism of the Salt Lake City PD as a whole. "The rest of the Salt Lake City Police Department that showed up had just as much impact on me as those four officers. If it wasn't for the rest of them, clearing the business, securing for medical, it wouldn't have happened as well as it did."
As for his own actions, Hammond is thankful for his training, and his mindset, one which he'd consciously worked on acquiring during his years on the job.
"My best friend worked the SWAT team here for quite a few years," he explains. "We went on a lot of calls together and talked quite a bit about a lot of different things. The things he told me were: You never want to be on the defensive, you always want to be on the offensive and packed. I just kept thinking that I can't fall back. I've got to go and hunt this guy out. And that was at the back of my mind."
As for the future, Hammond says the incident taught him that he has much to learn about tactics.
"Needless to say, the next active shooter class that comes around, I'll probably be going, so I can work out how I screwed up and everything else that I could have done differently. I look back on it and say to myself, 'I did what I did and I can't change anything, but it seemed like it worked because nobody else was hurt besides him.'"
Hammond has one final piece of advice for off-duty cops when it comes to mindset and being prepared to respond to critical incidents.
"I know there are hundreds of officers who walk out of the house and think, 'Should I take my gun? No, I'm just going to the store.' If you have to ask yourself, 'Should I take my gun?' that tells you, 'Yes. You should take it.' You shouldn't have to ask yourself that. It should just be second nature because I've been there and I'm thankful that I had my gun. I will never leave my house without it again."
What Would Do?
Consider the circumstances that faced Officer Kenneth Hammond of the Ogden (Utah) Police Department when he engaged an active shooter at a Salt Lake City mall. Now ask yourself these questions:
- What type of training have you conducted to prepare for the possibility of dealing with an active shooter on duty? Off duty?
- Do you carry off duty? If so, do you do so out of personal preference, because it's mandated by your agency's policy, or for some other reason?
- What would you have done if faced by the circumstances Hammond faced in this incident? What kind of alternate tactics might you have considered using?
- Hammond was able to evaluate different variables of the situation simultaneously and act in a proactive manner. Beyond the normal concerns such as not getting shot, what would weigh on your mind if you were faced with such a situation?
Honors Bestowed on Officer Kenneth Hammond
For his valor and quick thinking during the active shooting incident at a Salt Lake City shopping mall, Officer Kenneth Hammond of the Ogden (Utah) Police Department received the following awards:
- Ogden Police Department Medal of Honor
- An official citation from the Utah legislature in honor of his heroism
- Ken Hammond Appreciation Day and Trolley Square Heroes Day of Appreciation declared by Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.
- Nominated for this year's America's Most Wanted All-Star Award for his outstanding service to the community during the Trolley Square tragedy.