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Bus Slasher A Troubled Croatian

There was little in Damir Igric's quiet youth in Croatia to predict violence, say residents of his hometown, stunned at news that he attacked a bus driver in the United States last week and caused a deadly crash.

Igric slashed the throat of a bus driver Wednesday, causing an accident that killed Igric and five other passengers. Thirty-five others were injured in the wreck near Manchester, Tenn.

"It was like — it just cannot be Dado," said a friend, Zeljka Valjetic, recounting the disbelief that accompanied news of the attack.

But authorities say there is no doubt Igric, known to his friends in Slavonski Brod as Dado, was the assailant. Fingerprint tests have confirmed it.

Local media reported that he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, common among Croatian war veterans.

And a report in the daily newspaper Vecernji list described Igric as a mental wreck in the weeks before the attack, citing a Franciscan priest who said he answered the knock of a "frightened young man" at the Croatian monastery of St. Anthony in Chicago.

"He was nervously waving with his hands, mumbling that he's being hunted," Priest Pavao Maslac was quoted as saying in Sunday's early edition. "He looked pitiful ... and miserable."

Others at the monastery drove Igric to a Chicago shelter for the homeless, and that was the last they saw of him, Maslac said.

Still, those who knew him say the image of Igric-turned-violent killer is hard to imagine. They described a quiet young man whose passions included handball and playing the guitar.

"He stayed out of the trouble," said a friend who only gave his first name, Zeljko. "I don't know if he ever joined a simple, innocent brawl like we others did."

At the age of 19, Igric volunteered to fight in Croatia's 1991 war for independence from Yugoslavia, participating in battles that left psychological scars on many of the ex-fighters.

"Americans should know how it is: Their guys had problems many years after coming back from Vietnam. Our guys have them now," said Stanko Soric, a wartime commander of Igric's brigade.

He did not remember Igric himself — 6,500 people passed through the brigade — or any particularly horrible incident.

"War is ugly," he said. "That's all."

But Igric never sought help and was not registered as suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Back home, he was caught once with a small amount of marijuana during a raid in a discotheque. Police also knew that he kept — illegally — a weapon left over from the war. But neither led to formal charges.

Other possible traumas predate the war. Igric's father, Zdravko, was an alcoholic who neglected his family and died when Igric was a child. He lived with his mother, a stepfather and a half brother.

Friends also believe that something might have happened with him in America. He left for the United States in 1999 on a one-month visa, never to return.

Valjetic, 28, who spoke by phone to hm a month ago, said he "was lonely and sad there."

No clue is forthcoming from the Igric's family. His mother sought medical help for shock after news of the attack. Now she and the rest of the family refuse to speak to reporters.

Igric lived in Slavonski Brod, nearly 120 miles east of Zagreb, for most of his life. At the age of 14, he began playing handball and was "one of my best, a talent," remembers Petar Vidovic, his first coach. As a teen-ager, he had a rock band — "Sanatorium" — that played at parties and other local gigs with Igric on guitar.

Coming back from the war, Igric, a locksmith, found a depressed city of 65,000 struggling to recover from months of shelling and an economy in shatters.

He worked part-time as a barman in a local inn. Pay was poor, so he worked two shifts. A neighbor with connections to agencies hiring crews for cruise ships promised to look around on his behalf.

After getting a U.S. visa, he worked as a ship waiter for the Miami-based Apollo Ship Chandlers, according to U.S. news reports. After losing that job, he dropped out of sight, and friends said they knew only that he lived in New York City.

"When he was here last time, he came to be with me when my dog was delivering puppies," Valjetic remembered. Frowning, she asked:

"Are you sure it was Dado?"

By IVO JAGATIC
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