3 dead in shooting at Columbia Mall

'It was a tough decision, but I hid'

wtopstaff | November 15, 2014 12:06 am

UPDATE 10:05 a.m. Sunday, 1/26/2014:

WASHINGTON – Howard County police have identified the man who killed two people and himself at the Columbia Mall on Saturday morning.

Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, of College Park, killed 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson with a shotgun at about 11:15 a.m., Chief Bill McMahon said at a news conference on Sunday morning.

McMahon added that police don’t know yet whether Aguilar knew his two victims, or what the motive for the shooting was. He also didn’t know whether Aguilar had a criminal record.

Aguilar was dropped off by a taxi at the mall at about 10:15 a.m. Saturday, McMahon said; the first call to 911 came in at about 11:15. The chief said Aguilar had a “very limited amount of movement in the mall.”

Six to eight shots were fired near the Zumiez store on the upper level of the mall, the chief said, and someone standing on a lower level was shot in the foot. McMahon said Aguilar used a shotgun he bought in Montgomery County last month.

Police executed a search warrant at Aguilar’s home Saturday night, where he lived with his mother and perhaps others; McMahon said; they recovered evidence including ammunition, computers and documents. Police will sift through the evidence for several days.

While Aguilar had several “not very sophisticated” improvised explosive devices consisting of flash powder and household items in a backpack, which slowed up the process of identifying him, McMahon said the body itself was not booby-trapped.

Related Story: Police identify Columbia Mall shooter

EARLIER:

WASHINGTON – Howard County Police are not yet releasing the identity of the man they say shot two people then turned a shotgun on himself at the Mall in Columbia on Saturday morning.

Police said Saturday night they have tentatively identified the shooter and are following up on “investigative leads,” but the motivation for the murder, and the relationship between the three individuals, are still unknown. There is another media briefing scheduled for Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. In the meantime, the mall will remain closed Sunday while police conduct a thorough search of the mall using K-9 units.

Police received the first call into 911 at 11:15 a.m. on Saturday. What followed was a dramatic unfolding of events in which they found Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, Md., and Tyler Johnson, 25, who recently moved from Ellicott City, Md., to Mt. Airy, Md., dead from apparent gunshot wounds. Both were working at the store Zumiez, a popular skate and snowboarding shop located on the upper level of the mall.

They also found the suspect dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, with a shotgun and ammunition at the scene. A search of the shooter’s bag revealed two “crude devices that appeared to be an attempt at making explosives using fireworks,” police said.

Police also reported that five others were taken to the hospital for treatment as a result of the shooting chaos. They have interviewed a woman who was shot in the foot during the incident but was on the lower level at the food court under Zumiez at the time.

Benlolo was working as an assistant manager at the store, according to reports. Rick Brooks, Zumiez CEO, in a statement on the company’s Facebook page, said they were a tight knit community, and were making arrangements for counselors on Saturday.

“As you can imagine, we are receiving numerous calls and are unable to respond to the flood of questions at this time,” he wrote. “We’re working with the Howard County police department and all information will come through them. We won’t be giving interviews or comments. Thank you for understanding.”

Benlolo’s photos grace her own Facebook page and in her Instagram bio she calls herself, “Mom. Daughter. Sister,” adding, “Forgive The Past. Love Like You’ve Never Been Hurt. Live Everyday For Today.” There are numerous photos of her with a little boy, presumably her son.

In an earlier news conference, county police chief Bill McMahon said that police didn’t believe there were any more shooters or victims.

He added that police had previously conducted drills in the mall for just such a situation.

County Executive Ken Ulman thanked the people of Howard County “for their patience. … This has obviously been a tremendously trying few hours.”

A mall employee named Shannon told WTOP’s Mike Murillo that no alarms went off, but people were running by her store yelling “Get out!” Shortly after that, the mall went on lockdown.

Shannon sheltered in place – “it was a tough decision, but I hid.” She didn’t see any victims. She soon heard helicopters outside, and the police sent a pre- recorded phone message to the stores.

One man who was in the food court at the time told WTOP that he was having lunch with his family when he heard four shots – “one shot, then two more, then a final one.” He says he and his group “huddled under a table” and then “booked it out of there.”

“It was kind of surreal,” he said, adding that he froze for a moment at first. “You hear about it on TV and you don’t think you’re going to be a part of it.”

Another man, who was driving toward the mall, told WTOP that he saw “a whole lot of people in big bunches running away” and “a whole lot of police driving into the mall from all over.”

The police were out in force after the shooting. At least 100 police officers descended on the mall from Howard, Anne Arundel and Montgomery Counties, as well as the Maryland State Police. SWAT units and officers in fatigues were walking around the parking lot and helicopters were flying overhead much of the afternoon.

On Saturday afternoon, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley issued a statement thanking the first responders and saying, “On behalf of the people of Maryland, I want to express my deepest condolences to the families of the victims and all those affected by this senseless act of violence. Protecting the public’s safety is our most solemn obligation.”

WTOP’s Ari Ashe and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter.


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