“I don’t want their ‘sorry.’ I want someone to pay for this.” — (The Des Moines Register)

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The Des Moines Register


February 19, 2005

Camila Zilic brought her children to the United States in the late 1990s to escape their war-ravaged Bosnian home.

Here, she said, were better opportunities, better education, better jobs. A better life.

Their new world, stitched together with threads of hope, was torn apart Thursday, she said, when an Ankeny police officer shot to death her son, Arman, in the family’s apartment.

Authorities said Arman Zilic, 20, was armed with a sawed-off shotgun and using cocaine when officers arrived in response to a 911 call about a suicidal man.

They say Zilic aimed the weapon at officers who tried to reason with him.

“I bring him here in democracy country to live,” Camila Zilic said Friday in broken English through an interpreter. “But he was killed by them.”

Police on 33 occasions over four years had either investigated a complaint, written a ticket, defused a suicide threat, or taken weapons from Zilic. Officers had talked him out of suicide only two weeks earlier and taken away a small-caliber handgun. Zilic was sent to an Iowa City clinic for a psychiatric evaluation. Camila Zilic said her son came home about 48 hours later with a prescription for medication that apparently was of no help.

“He couldn’t sleep from the pills,” she said.

Camila Zilic said she was unaware of mental problems her son might have had. He would say at times that he was depressed because he couldn’t find a job. “It was hard on him to not have a job and not have money,” she said.

She knew nothing about the alleged cocaine, or the guns authorities said her son would stockpile in their apartment.

“He had a darkness sometimes that I think he did keep to himself,” said Jackie Judge, whose son was Zilic’s friend. She said Zilic visited her home often, and recently told her he was determined to beat his depression.

Margaret Stout, executive director of the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Iowa, said friends and relatives might not know when a loved one is suffering from depression. That’s why it’s important, she said, that police are trained to handle distraught subjects. Ankeny dispatchers, knowing Zilic’s history, sent Officer Lincoln Schmeiser, Sgt. David Duval and Sgt. Makai Echer to the apartment on Southeast Belmont Drive. All were trained in methods to calm agitated suspects. All had done it before.

The 911 call came just before 7:30 a.m. Thursday. Camila Zilic said her son was home alone at the time.

She said she wished officers would have found a friend or relative to help calm her son. Maybe, she said, he’d still be alive.

“I don’t want their ‘sorry,’ ” she said. “I want someone to pay for this.”

Zilic, 53, said her husband died when Arman was 4 years old. The family endured years of war in Bosnia and once hid in their basement for a year. Then they went to California, and eventually moved to Ankeny, Camila Zilic said, because they have friends in the area and it’s a cheaper place to live.

Immigration officials confirmed Friday that Arman Zilic was in the process of filing for permanent resident status. Friends said his life ended as he was planning a bright future.

The Ankeny High School dropout had recently earned an equivalency diploma and had signed up for classes at Hamilton College.

“It just sounded like everything was going like he wanted,” Judge said.

His mother said their final conversation Thursday morning centered on Zilic’s determination to attend college.

“I am so proud of him – even though he is dead – that I have a son like that,” she said.

As her oldest son, Zulfo, 29, searched Friday for a cemetery for his brother, family friend Izet Burekovic wondered how the Zilic family will recover from its heartbreak.

“This is very sad what happened,” he said. “They killed the son, and they killed the whole family.”

Copyright 2005, Des Moines Register and Tribune Company