CRIME

Columbia mall shooting: Suspect kills self, two others

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COLUMBIA, Md. (WJLA/AP) - Police have identified the shooter in the Maryland mall shooting as a 19-year-old man from College Park.

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Brianna Benlolo, 21, had a 2-year-old son. Photo: Facebook
Tyler Johnson, 25, had worked at the skate shop since November. Photo: Facebook
Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, graduated from James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring in 2013. Photo from high school yearbook.

Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said Darion Marcus Aguilar arrived at the mall shortly after 10 a.m. on Saturday armed with a Mossburg 12-gauge shotgun and used it to kill two people, both in their 20s, at a store on the upper level of the Mall in Columbia before killing himself. He had legally purchased the shotgun last month in Montgomery County.

McMahon said police are trying to determine whether Aguilar knew either of the victims.

Police identified the victims as 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo of College Park, Md., and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson of Ellicott City, Md. Both worked at a skateboard shop called Zumiez.

Benlolo had worked at the store since 2012 and was a young mother. According to Facebook, Johnson had worked at the store for about three months.

It took hours to identify the shooter since he was carrying ammunition and a backpack and police thought he may have had explosives.

"When we originally found the shooter, he still had a lot of ammunition on his person," McMahon said.

McMahon said he didn't know if Aguilar had a criminal record. No motive has been given for the shooting. Police believe he lived with his mother.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions," McMahon said.

Officers searched Aguilar's home Saturday night, recovering more ammunition and other evidence, police said.

The home is a two-story wood-frame house in a middle-income neighborhood called Hollywood, just off U.S. Route 1 and near the Capital Beltway. No one answered the door Sunday morning at the house, which had a Christmas wreath on the front door, signs that read "Beware of Dog" and advertised an alarm system.

Residents described the neighborhood as a mix of owners and renters, including some University of Maryland students.

Katie Lawson, director of communications at University of Maryland, said campus police told her that was not and never has been a student there. She said she had no information on whether the two victims had attended the school.

Aguilar graduated in 2013 from James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, said Dana Tofig, a Montgomery County schools spokesman.

A person who attended the high school with Aguilar told The Associated Press that he was an avid skateboarder.

Tydryn Scott, 19, said she was Aguilar's lab partner in science class and described him as tall, skinny and quiet. She said he was interested in skateboarding and hung out with other skaters.

She said she was stung by the news that he was the shooter.

"It was really hurtful, like, wow - someone that I know, someone that I've been in the presence of more than short amounts of time. I've seen this guy in action before. Never upset, never sad, just quiet - just chill," Scott said. "If any other emotion, he was happy, laughing."

Chaos as shots rang out

The mall was buzzing with weekend shoppers when the shotgun blasts rang out on the upper level.

Panicked patrons ducked into nearby stores while others hid in inventory rooms or barricaded themselves behind locked doors until police arrived.

Joan Harding of Elkridge, Md., was shopping with her husband, David, for a tiara for their granddaughter's 18th birthday. She said she heard something heavy falling, followed by gunshots and people running.

"My husband said, 'Get down!' and the girl that worked in the store said, 'Get in the back,'" Harding said. That is where they hid until police searched the mall and signaled it was safe to leave.

Five others were injured in the mid-morning shooting and its aftermath. All had been treated and released from Howard County General Hospital by Saturday evening.

Benlolo's grandfather, John Feins, said in a telephone interview from Florida that his granddaughter had a 2-year-old son and that the job at Zumiez was her first since she went back to work after her son's birth.

"She was all excited because she was the manager there," he said.

He said he had spoken with his daughter, Brianna's mother, earlier in the day, but didn't know who the gunman was or whether the person knew his granddaughter.

"It's senseless. It's totally, totally senseless," he said.

He described his daughter's family as a military family that had moved frequently and had been in Colorado before moving to Maryland about two years ago. He said his granddaughter was on good terms with her son's father, and they shared custody.

"I mean what can you say? You go to work and make a dollar and you got some idiot coming in and blowing people away," he said.

The mall is at the center of the town that's a suburb of both Baltimore and Washington, and it typically opens at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. It was busy with shoppers and employees when the shots rang out before noon.

Tonya Broughton of Silver Spring, Md., was with a friend getting facials for a "girls' morning out," she said. "The only thing I heard was all the people running and screaming and saying 'There's a shooter! There's a shooter!'" she said.

Wearing a gel face mask, she and her friend hid in a Victoria's Secret store, as her anxious thoughts turned to her family.

People were directed out of the mall and into a parking lot, where some boarded a bus and others walked toward their cars. Police cars blocked off various entrances to the mall as SWAT officers and law enforcement vehicles gathered in the expansive parking lot. Some people were seen crying and hugging and at least one woman was carrying a baby. McMahon said detectives were interviewing witnesses as they emerged from the mall.

Laura McKindles of Columbia works at a kiosk in the mall. She said she heard between eight and 10 gunshots, followed by people running and screaming. She ran into the backroom of a perfume store and locked the door.

Allison Cohen, who works at the apparel store Lucky Brand Jeans, said she always felt safe at the mall.

"I truly never thought something like this would ever happen here," Cohen said. "It's really, really shocking."

 

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