Wednesday, July 22, 2009

COG 77 - The Shooting at Salt Lake City Family History Library

The topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is: "Disaster". As human beings, our very existence is proof of the survival skills, faith, or just plain luck our ancestors possessed in order to persevere through millenia of disasters: epidemics, wars, pestilences, famines, accidents, and acts of nature. Tell about a disaster that one or more of your ancestors lived through. Did they survive a hurricane, flood, tornado, train wreck, sinking ship, plague, genocide, explosion, mine collapse, or some other terrible event? How did they survive? Research the details of the disaster and explain how it affected your ancestor (guilt, fear, faith, gratitude, etc.), your family's history, and even yourself!

When I first thought to write a posting for this topic, I immediately thought of my parents. They've both lived through many hurricanes, having spent the greater portion of their youth and early adulthood in Miami Florida. I've spent most of my life in Pennsylvania and we don't get a lot of extreme weather here, tiny earthquakes, a tornado here and there, typically F1, and hurricanes have usually lost their oomph by the time the get up the coast to us. Mudslides and brush fires are also pretty rare. We're like the anti-California. Probably our worst natural disaster is flooding from rivers.

While I was quizzing them on their memories, another topic came up. My dad was in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City when the shootings happened in 1999. I wonder if any genea-bloggers were there as well?

He's taken a few trips out to the library in Salt Lake, I've only been there once, but do plan to go back.

So, on the morning of Thursday, April 15, 1999, he was happily ensconced at a carrel on the first floor of the library. He says he heard some pop-pop-pop noises.

To get out of the open, he quickly headed towards a room to the far side of the floor away from the popping noises which he recognized right away. Along the way, he gathered two little old ladies that were also researching and the three of them entered the room. There were already some people hiding in there, it was some sort of scanning room/office that was for library use only. The door was closed and my dad said he stood, didn't sit.

Eventually, a library employee came to the room and said, okay, c'mon, let's GO and he led them to the left out the door (to the right would have been to go back to the main room of the floor). They followed him down some back stairs and they all found themselves in the back alley between the library and the hotel next door, where the garbage trucks come through. They all went in to the hotel and sat in the restaurant where they were eventually interviewed by police. My dad said that he veered off along the way to a pay phone (remember those?) and called my mom. He told her, "Look, I'll tell you all about this later, because you're going to be hearing some really odd stories about what's going on here, but I wanted to let you know that I'm all right."

My dad says it was a long time before anyone was allowed to go back into the library to gather their belongings, naturally everyone had pretty much jumped up and left all their research and stuff behind. He said he was upset with himself later when he realized he should have grabbed his briefcase and papers. They were told that the Library would be closed for a few days. So he ended up taking long bus trips to the Brigham Young University Family History Library in Provo. At that library he discovered the series "Germans to America" which lists the transportation details of German national to the US. It also happened to list his Polish ancestors too, which was a bonus. So even without all his papers, he was able to find something while on the trip.

When he went back in finally to gather his things at the Library, my dad says he has a picture imprinted - it's strange the little things your mind picks up and refuses to let go of - he remembers seeing a roll of nickels. This was back when you actually needed the coins to make the copies, they didn't have the little cards to put money on. So there was this roll of nickels, laying there and one side had opened up, and the nickels had come out in a little perfect cascade. It's one of the those crystal clear picture memories that we sometimes get to keep, all the other normal memories get all mushed up and revised and forgotten. He remembers thinking, wow, with all the investigators and police in and out of the library, nobody moved or bothered that little roll of nickels.

The shooter was a man named Sergei Barbarin. He was an older man, 70-71 years of age, and his family said he was a diagnosed schizophrenic who had gone of off his medication.

No one knows why he chose the Library, no one who knew him had ever heard him say anything bad about the Mormons or the library. He was known to hassle people that happened to cross his path, but that was it.

That day he killed 2 people at the library and wounded 4 other patrons. Certainly the last place you would expect to be harmed or killed would be while you were doing genealogy research, it's such a gentle pastime. But you just never know what's going to happen. The police killed him shortly after the shooting started.

Some links to stories that are still out there on the internet are here:,5143,660195182,00.html

And me? My thoughts on the whole thing? I'm just glad he wasn't in the lobby that day. I'm grateful he's still here so we can repeat lines from AIRPLANE! to each other ad nauseum (you can tell me, I'm a doctor), drink gin and tonics in the heat of the midday sun (british tonic please, Bombay gin (no, not Bombay Sapphire, ptuh, yuck, gak)), and watch Family Guy on Tivo when we think my mom isn't paying attention (she doesn't hate the show, she just dislikes it with the heat of a thousand suns). Yep, he's definitely my favorite Dad and all in all, I'm lucky to have him.


  1. That was very nicely done, you managed to tie disasters, genealogy and your Dad all into one package. Well, they are pretty much inseparable. ;->

  2. Fascinating account - I had never heard of this shooting. Your dad's memories and your vivid descriptions really bring it to life. And genealogy-related, too.