End culture of hatred, says mother of man shot in US

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Rory died in Salt Lake City, Utah, a week after his 23rd birthday
By David Cowan
Home affairs correspondent, BBC Scotland

A Scottish mother whose son was shot dead in the US has called for an end to the country’s “culture of hatred”.

Detectives in Utah believe Rory Swimm was killed by a 15-year-old schoolboy who had been given a handgun by his grandfather as a gift.

His Glasgow-born mother Susan and his American father Robb want his death to lead to change.

Susan said his loss had devastated friends around the world.

Speaking from the family home in Colorado, she said: “It’s a tsunami of destruction that has spread to Scotland, to Switzerland, to Utah, to Seattle, to Washington, to Montana.

“There’s a lack of culpability in America. It’s totally fine that you can go out and shoot somebody because it happens all the time here.”

She says education needs to begin with young teenagers “to be kind, to have empathy for other people”.

Susan and Robb Swimm want something positive to come out of Rory’s death

Susan added: “I’ve had to tell myself hundreds of times a day that Rory’s been murdered, that Rory’s not going to come home, that my wee boy is dead because somebody shot him.

“I don’t believe for a single minute that we can change any of the gun laws in America, but I feel that today within the teenage youth there’s a terrible culture of hatred, instead of kindness.”

Rory, a dual UK/US citizen born in Dundee, died in Salt Lake City in Utah a week after his 23rd birthday.

His parents’ grief has been compounded by anger after they discovered more about the 15-year-old accused of his murder.

At a memorial service attended by hundreds of people, Susan Swimm’s American husband Robb asked mourners to cry out a single word: “Why?”

They want something positive to come out of his death, no matter how impossible that might seem in a country so divided over gun control and gun rights.

Robb told BBC Scotland News: “It may not be the biggest story or the worst or the most tragic, but it’s only because a gun was involved that there was a murder.”

Rory, seen here with his sister Maggie, was a passionate skier and snowboarder

The incident began with an early morning argument between Rory and his friends and three teenagers outside a 7-Eleven convenience store.

According to court papers detailing the investigation by the Salt Lake City Police Department, the two groups hadn’t even reached the stage of exchanging blows when a single shot was fired, hitting Rory in the chest.

His friends Jimmy Ledford and Will Griffith later showed Rory’s parents where he died.

Jimmy told them: “When the paramedics were trying to figure out what was wrong with him, they lifted up his shirt and that’s when we saw the bullet hole in his chest.”

Detectives say they found a spent 9mm shell casing 100ft (30m) away.

They used video footage to trace the 15-year-old at his home and discovered a 9mm handgun in a safe in his bedroom.

Jimmy Ledford and Will Griffith were with Rory when he was shot

The police report said the 15-year-old’s grandfather told them he had given the teenager the weapon as a present and took him shooting almost weekly.

The suspect is said to have told his friends that he had “shot into the air” instead of aiming.

Under Utah law, he can’t be named because of his age.

Rory’s parents moved from Scotland to the States when he was six weeks old.

He grew up to be a passionate skier and skateboarder. His family said they would always remember his wild stunts and acrobatics, and ear-to-ear grin.

Every year Rory returned to visit relatives in Scotland. His older brother lives in Glasgow.

Rory Swimm (front centre) with family and friends on their annual Scottish trip to the village of Elie in Fife

At the time of his death, Rory was the 14th killing in Salt Lake City in 2023.

Utah has one of the lowest homicide rates in the United States but it’s still twice that of the UK’s.

“There’s a gun culture in Utah specifically that we’re looking to expose,” said Robb.

“The biggest tragedy is this was so preventable in so many ways.”

He talks of a boycott of America over its gun laws, like the boycott of South Africa over apartheid.

“I don’t want my son to just be a statistic, I want him to be remembered in a way that’s positive,” he said.

“The repercussions of this little act of a finger pulling a trigger ripples in so many directions.”

Rory’s family placed a memorial wreath at the scene where he was shot

The Swimms said a court hearing in January may determine whether the teenager is tried as a juvenile or an adult, a decision which will have a major impact on potential sentences if he’s convicted. Either way, the death penalty would not apply.

The teenager has also been charged with illegal possession of the handgun. He has not yet entered a plea or made public his defence.

Allison Anderman from the Gifford Law Centre, a US gun control campaign group, said: “It is not illegal for someone to buy a gun as a bona fide gift for someone else.

“It seems as though, in Utah, the grandfather could have legally purchased the firearm for his grandson, provided the gun was used only as allowed under state law.”

Robb Swimm wants it made illegal to buy a firearm for someone aged under 18 or, failing that, for new restrictions on where weapons given to teenagers can be stored.

“I want to see if we can shake the tree a little bit with this,” said Robb.

“I want this whole city of Salt Lake to know who Rory Swimm was. I want everybody in this country to know who Rory Swimm was. And that he got stolen from us, by one bullet.”

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