COLUMBIA, Md. – Hundreds held hands, lit candles and shed tears on Thursday evening for the two victims of Saturday’s deadly shooting at the Mall in Columbia.
Mourners gathered around a flowerful memorial outside the mall as religious leaders said prayers and encouraged strength among attendees in memory of 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson.
Police say the two were killed at the hands of Darion Aguilar before Aguilar took his own life outside the Zumiez store where the victims worked. Police say there was no connection between Aguilar and his victims.
“Whenever young people are struck down, it strikes each of us,”said Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation.
Patric Centorbi was a friend of Benlolo’s and told the crowd she was an amazing person and a loving mother to her young son. “She always managed to brighten my day whenever she would come by my store, keep me company on breaks,” Centorbi said.
Over the past few years, Johnson had kicked a drug addiction and gotten his life back on track. Joan Webb Scornaienchi, the Executive Director of HC DrugFree, said she witnessed Johnson’s transformation and his desire to help others struggling. “Tyler’s life was dedicated to helping others any hour of the night or day, and really looking out for everyone,” Scornaienchi said.
Scornaienchi attended Johnson’s funeral earlier in the day and delivered a message to the crowd from Tyler’s father on behalf of the family: “The outpouring of love has just been overwhelming and he hopes it continues throughout the community.”
After the speakers concluded, one by one candles were lit and a moment of silence was taken.
Alex Linebloc, of Cheverly, Md., worked at the mall and recalled the shock of learning his friend Brianna was one of the victims. “Once the names were released,” he says, “it broke me.”
Linebloc works at the mall and remembers that “whenever I would go into her store, she’d always keep me happy. If I was in a bad mood, she’d always boost my spirits.”
Rosmarie Churchwell came out with her daughter Cheyene; her nephew was good friends with Johnson. “I have teenage children, and my daughter spent a great deal of time at the mall,” Churchwell said.
Cheyene says she is still nervous about entering the mall. “I was afraid to know who it was because I am friends of most of the people who work there.” Of Benlolo, she says, “She was an all around caring, nice person.”
But mother and daughter entered the store together after the vigil.
“We’re gonna go in, and we’re gonna show people that we’re not going to let this change who we are or our neighborhood, or how we shop and how we interact with the people in our community,” Rosemarie Churchwell said.
Others in attendance are not at that point. Courtney Harris, of Columbia, works at a candy store in the mall and is not sure whether she can set foot in the building again. “I did feel safe before but now I am just not so sure,” she said.”I am not sure if I want to come back here and work, actually.”