Maryland Mall Reopens After Deadly Shooting

Police say the shooter was a 19-year-old Maryland man; was armed with shotgun, backpack of 'crude' explosives

Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014  |  Updated 10:25 AM EDT
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In a few hours, shoppers and employees can return to the Columbia Mall for the first time since this weekend's deadly shooting. The mall is set to reopen this afternoon at 1 p.m., along with two memorial sites for the victims of the shooting.

In a few hours, shoppers and employees can return to the Columbia Mall for the first time since this weekend's deadly shooting. The mall is set to reopen this afternoon at 1 p.m., along with two memorial sites for the victims of the shooting.

Photos and Videos

New Details on Accused Columbia Mall Gunman

News4's David Culver reports on the new details police uncovered about Darion Aguilar, the accused gunman in Saturday's mall shooting in Columbia, Md., including entries from the teen's diary.
More Photos and Videos

Two victims of a shooting at a popular suburban mall not far from Washington, D.C., are being remembered as the mall reopens for the first time since the shooting.

The Zumiez store inside The Mall in Columbia where the shooting took place was boarded up Monday. "In loving memory of Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson,'' a message posted on the white boards said, "please express your messages of hope and encouragement at the Mall's Center Court.''

Outside, a second memorial is set up with a banner that reads, "Forever in our hearts.''

Shoppers were sparse in the early minutes of business after the mall reopened at 1 p.m., though white flowers were already scattered in a memorial fountain.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman visited the food court Monday afternoon. Each had a cup of tutti frutti frozen yogurt. O'Malley said he was there as a symbol that everyone in Maryland is with the people of Columbia.

Ulman said it's important to get back to business. The shooting was shocking because of the community is generally a safe place, Ulman said, but he calls it a lesson that the county is not immune to gun violence seen elsewhere in the country.

On Sunday, police identified Darion Marcus Aguilar, of College Park, Md., as the gunman who shot and killed Benlolo, 21, and Johnson, 25, inside the Columbia, Md., store Saturday. Aguilar died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

One other person was shot and injured and four people were hurt as shoppers rushed to find shelter in the chaos after the shooting.

Police said late Sunday they had not determined a motive or a connection between the 19-year-old gunman and the two victims.

Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said while there has been speculation about a romantic relationship between the gunman and Benlolo, investigators have not been able to establish such a connection.

"At this point -- we still have more work to do, still have more interviews to do -- we have no known relationship between the victims and our shooter," McMahon said at a news conference late Sunday.

Surveillance video reviewed by police showed that Aguilar took a taxi to the Mall in Columbia in suburban Baltimore on Saturday morning and entered the building near Zumiez, a shop that sells skateboarding gear. He went downstairs to a food court directly below the store, then returned less than an hour later, dumped a backpack in a dressing room and fired six to eight shots from the shotgun, apparently purchased in December in Montgomery County, Md.

"I see people running, and I hear some people screaming, and I heard it again -- boom, boom, boom -- and people just started screaming and running" said one witness, who was shopping in Sears when he first heard a bang that shounded like gunshots. "It was just complete madness."

The two victims, Benlolo, of College Park, Md. and Johnson, originally of Ellicott City, Md. and more recently of Mt. Airy, Md., were employees of Zumiez.

A candlelight vigil will be held at the mall Thursday.

The Prince George's County Police Department said it received a missing persons report for Aguilar more than two hours after the shooting, at about 1:40 p.m. Saturday. Officers went to Aguilar's home to speak with his mother about 5 p.m. and saw Aguilar's journal. The contents the officer read made him concerned for Aguilar's safety, the department said.

Police began tracking Aguilar's phone and soon discovered it was at the mall.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions,'' McMahon said at another news conference, earlier Sunday.

Aguilar's body was found near a Mossberg shotgun and ammunition, police said. The backpack carried by the shooter contained homemade explosives that included flash powder and household items, police said Sunday. McMahon called them "not very sophisticated."  McMahon said it took officers longer to identify Aguilar because they feared his body may have been booby-trapped with explosives. Police used robots to help check the body.

Police searched the mall, including all its stores, with almost 20 bomb-detecting K9 teams. They did not find any other explosives. 

Authorities also have searched the Hollywood Road home in College Park where Aguilar lived with his mother, and seized some potential evidence.

So far, little is known about Aguilar. Police said he had no criminal record.

He graduated in 2013 from James Hubert Blake High School in Montgomery County, said Dana Tofig, a schools spokesman. Students who attended school with Aguila said he was an avid skateboarder. 

Blake High School Principal Christopher Berry released a statement on the shooting, saying the school will have counselors on hand Monday to talk with students.

"Although this incident did not involve our school in any way, many of us may have known this young man and, therefore may be upset or concerned," he said.

The five people who were injured were transported to Howard County General Hospital. The injured were treated and released Saturday, according to the hospital.

The mall was closed Sunday; it will reopen Monday at 1 p.m. There are two memorial sites planned Monday, one at the entrance near Starbucks, the other inside at center court.

The shooting threw the popular mall into chaos. Witnesses described hearing the shots shortly after 11 a.m., and watching some victims fall, while others fled. 

"They just kept shooting and it didn't stop," said one witness, who was getting a tea for her boss at Cartoon Cuts at the time of the shooting.

She said she heard what sounded like "something being dropped" and then realized the sound was gunshots.

She rescued one child and then ran back to her job at a children's hair salon to secure the others.

"And all of a sudden I heard ... it sounded like someone dropped something. And all of a sudden I see people fall, three people fall to the ground. I don't know what happened to them. And all I see is people going down to the floor and running," she said. "I just saw everybody run, so I ran."

Another eyewitness, a young woman, said she was in a PacSun store when the shooting happened. After a woman told them "there's a guy with a gun," she and a friend ran into a back room to hide.

"We were crying and we were just scared out of our minds, because our thought was that we were going to get shot," she said.

News4 spoke to one man who said he was in phone contact with his daughter, who was taking shelter in a Bank of America inside the mall, along with dozens of others.

"People were panicking," the man said.

Zumiez issued a statement on its Facebook page Saturday evening expressing deep sadness over the shooting: "The Zumiez team is a tight knit community and all of our hearts go out to Brianna and Tyler’s families."

The mall, which is officially named "The Mall in Columbia" but is widely known as Columbia Mall, is located in Columbia, Md., between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore.

"The Columbia Mall has a very unique place in the county," McMahon said Sunday. "It's not just an economic institution. It's really a place of community."

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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