SALT LAKE CITY — In the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Trolley Square mall that killed her husband, Jeff, and seriously wounded her son, AJ, a grieving Vickie Walker sat down and wrote a list.
“I started writing,” she said. “What I knew, what I’d learned and what possibly I could give to others.”
She wrote about where the system was helping her — and where it came up short. It was out of this experience, Walker created “Circle The Wagons.” It’s a program that offers advice, resources and support for victims of violent crimes and their families.
Now, the program is about to graduate to a national platform.
“I feel like I’m sending my child off to kindergarten for the first day,” Walker said in an interview Monday with FOX 13. “I am excited and nervous and happy. All of those emotions.”
Walker’s husband and son were at the Trolley Square mall on Feb. 12, 2007 — when 18-year-old Sulejman Talovic confronted them and opened fire. Jeff Walker was killed, AJ was shot in the head. Before Talovic was gunned down by police, he had killed five and wounded four.
Vickie Walker had no idea what to do next. Well-intentioned police officers and victim advocates gave her a photocopy of some phone numbers to call for help.
“You don’t really know what you need because you didn’t plan for something like this,” she said. “Also, it’s just too much information to absorb.”
In the years since the mass shooting, Walker has focused her energies on helping others. Circle The Wagons was created with the support of the Salt Lake City Police Department. She makes “cans of comfort,” a little can of candies, a personal letter relaying her experience and a “96 hour survival guide” for people in the aftermath of a violent crime.
“The resources are out there, just many people don’t know that they are,” Walker said. “So we basically are going to be a repository for critical information of victims of violent crime.”
Walker said it has taken her six-and-a-half years to make peace with what happened at Trolley Square. The motive for the killing spree remains a mystery, but Walker said she believes Talovic was a “disenfranchised youth,” who may have suffered from mental illness.
Her son, AJ, lost his sight in one eye, but she said he refuses to carry around what happened to him.
“He’s happy and you know what? He just doesn’t let this define him. That’s what makes me most happy and proud of him,” she said.
Circle The Wagons has grown quietly across the state, being adopted by a number of police agencies. Now, she and Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank will present it to the U.S. Chiefs of Police Association convention in Philadelphia.
“I am thrilled beyond words that we can actually make a difference not only in this community, but on a national level,” she said. “Because this is national issue.”