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3 Dead in Shooting at Columbia Mall, Gunman Identified

The names of two shooting victims and the deceased gunman have been released. Officials said the mall will re-open Tuesday afternoon and sites for memorials have been established.

Shoppers exit the mall after a shooting left three dead. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Shoppers exit the mall after a shooting left three dead. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
BY ANDREW METCALF, DEB BELT AND KYM BYRNES

(UPDATED, 6:22 p.m. Jan. 26)

Columbia, MD — Investigators still don't know what prompted Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, to bring a shotgun and homemade explosives to the crowded Columbia Mall Saturday, open fire and kill a man and a woman in their 20s before killing himself, according to Howard County police.

Aguilar lived on Hollywood Road in College Park and police have confiscated ammunition and computers from his address, Howard County police said. 

At a press briefing on Sunday evening, Police Chief Bill McMahon said investigators have not established a relationship between Aguilar and the victims, Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Mount Airy. A .12-gauge shotgun was used in the attack and a total of six to eight shots were fired, police said.

Aguilar, described as an avid skateboarder, was a graduate of James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Montgomery County Schools representatives confirmed. Authorities said he had no criminal record and purchased the shotgun legally.

At Sunday evening's briefing, McMahon acknowledged that searching for a motive was a top priority for police and the public. He said speculation online and by some media outlets about a motive has been frustrating for the families.

"We have no known relationship between the victims and our shooter," McMahon said. "There’s still speculation that there was some romantic involvement in this. We have not been able to establish this.”

While executing a search warrant at Aguilar's house on Sunday, investigators took a journal, computers and other materials. McMahon said in the journal Aguilar expressed some unhappiness with his life, but a motive is still unknown.

County Exeuctive Ken Ulman said Sunday that the mall will reopen at 1 p.m. Monday. There will be two memorials at the mall, one outside Starbucks and Sears near the fountain and one inside at Center Court near Lord & Taylor. 

"We may never quite be back to 100 percent normal, but we are a resilient community that will be back shopping and eating at the Columbia Mall tomorrow," Ulman said.

Police, who received 911 calls at about 11:15 a.m Saturday, said three people were found dead at a skate shop called Zumiez on the mall's upper level near JC Penney and Sears.

The shooting took place inside and outside Zumiez. Officers found three people dead from gunshot wounds, including the shooter. Police said Aguilar died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the people who lost their lives today," McMahon said. "This shouldn’t happen at Columbia Mall. There are three families grieving.”

Police reported Aquilar also had two crude devices which appeared to be made out of fireworks.

Five other people were treated and released from Howard County General hospital, McMahon said. One person suffered a gunshot wound to the foot, the others were treated for medical conditions or injuries caused by falls. They were all later released on Saturday, according to the hospital.

Police said Sunday the woman shot in the foot was hit by a shot fired downward from the second floor to the lower floor of the mall.

Investigators are working with mall security to review video footage of the store in hopes that it shows what led up to the shootings, the chief said.

McMahon said the shooter arrived at the mall by cab at 10:15 a.m. and the shooting took place at 11:15 a.m. In that hour between arriving and the shooting, police say Aguilar stayed in a confined space in the food court and outside Zumiez, where the shooting took place. 

Ulman said law enforcement arrived on the scene within two minutes of the first 911 call.

“These are the kinds of things our law enforcement train on and they did their job,” Ulman said. Tactical teams went through “every inch of the mall,” including storerooms, restrooms, dressing rooms and stores.

Ulman thanked the community at large for cooperating with authorities and helping each other.

“This was a very scary incident. There were a lot of people very close to where this happened. Thanks to everyone for their patience, sheltering in place … this is an incredibly large crime scene."

Officials said they didn't know how many hundreds, or thousands, of people were at the mall when the shooting occurred. 

Related - Witnesses Describe Gunshots, Chaos in Columbia Mall Shooting

Police worked throughout the afternoon to clear out people who were sheltering in place inside the large mall. By 4 p.m. they announced the mall was clear.

McMahon said the scene was initially chaotic and witnesses said it was a terrifying experience.

"I heard about three shots and then got to cover," said Christian Rodriguez, who was working at the Chick-Fil-A inside the food court.

"It was the scariest thing I've seen in a while," said Rodriguez.

Marta Zamudio, of Columbia, said she heard about seven or 10 shots, then got caught up in a scramble to exit the food court doors. She said she saw someone with blood coming out of his or her mouth.

Rogelio Arzamendia, 48, said he was sitting at a table with his boss in the food court near Chipotle when he heard a shot.

"I heard a pop over my head on the upper level," said Arzamendia, "We ran away and hid in the Chick-Fil-A kitchen."

Arzamendia said he stayed there for an hour until police came and said it was OK to leave. Three hours later he remained in the mall parking lot, waiting to get a laptop and documents he left in the food court.

Mall employees have practiced for this type of situation, McMahon said, and he praised the response from mall personnel and outside law enforcement.

"This was an incredibly well-run, thoughtful operation tactically. We've had help on the ground from virtually every police department in the region," McMahon said.

County Executive Ken Ulman thanked police who quickly ran to the scene.

"This has been a tremendously trying few hours," said Ulman.

At the scene, hundreds of police from multiple agencies swarmed, a helicopter flew overhead and an alarm could be heard coming from the mall.

The Mall in Columbia is an upscale shopping center in the middle of the city. It is home to restaurants, a movie theater, a large food court and over a hundred stores. The mall, which is owned by General Growth Properties, is currently undergoing a 70,000 square foot expansion.

Steve Johnson, of Columbia, said he arrived at the mall as first responders began to swarm into the food court. He said he wasn't shocked a shooting happened at the mall.

"I don't put too much on the Columbia part," said Johnson, "because it could happen anywhere."
Chuck Burton January 29, 2014 at 02:14 PM
Sorry, Valarie, I just meant that there is no evidence the shooter had any relationship with Brianna, unless it was as a shopper at the skate shop. Don't think that has been established. That she dropping him was about as unlikely as you doing something of the sort. Sorry I was clumsy about it. And the cop you talked with was off the wall.
Carol B January 29, 2014 at 02:47 PM
This is all speculative, including the comment about how long it should take the police to establish evidence of a relationship. The murdered boy's aunt swore that he had no relationship with Breanna--but given that she was an unwed mother who became pregnant at a rather young age, perhaps he wasn't too anxious to introduce her to the family. And perhaps the shooter had a mad crush on her, but she wouldn't give him a tumble. And perhaps he just wished he "had Jesse's girl" and decided to destroy their happiness because he had none of his own. And perhaps the boy had nothing to do with it at all--he just got in the way, when he went after the girl from his neighborhood (they lived 1/2 mile from one another in Silver Spring, according to the reports). And perhaps perhaps perhaps. The only benefit to ANYONE of knowing "why" is closure. It won't bring the victims back--and judging from recent history, it won't change anything the next time some disgruntled kid decides he has the right to take his misery out on the rest of the world.
Steven Spiegel January 30, 2014 at 12:00 PM
Everyone tries to figure out what was going through the kids head before he went out and committed this horrible act of violence when the truth is no one will ever know but the killer himself. I just don't understand what is going on these days . I am 49 years old and went to High School in the late 70's early 80' and back then this was unheard of . I guess pledging to the allegiance to the flag and a Morning prayer did wonders. Maybe we should bring back some of the ways that we were brought up !! Such as smacking a kid up along side the head when he disrespected his parents . Know they threaten to call 911 . We have no way of teaching family values to kids and without punishing them like we did in the old days . A good butt whipping never hurt anyone. These kids are out of control and when they reach a certain point it turns into a suicide Mission. Parents teach your children that love means more then sex !!! Teach them how to express there feelings without being embarrassed . My father passed away on Dec 31 2013 this year and he whipped my butt as a child and as a young teenager and I love him for having the strength to be able to whip me when needed . He taught me that you have to pay for the wrong things that we do in life . And if a child has no fear of being punished then they tend to do what they want and that's part of the problem these days.
Chuck Burton January 30, 2014 at 12:19 PM
Great points, Steven! Nowadays, people think government should do everything for us, including teaching discipline and responsibility for our actions. Why even have families anymore, if we leave them nothing to do except support just the most basic needs of kids until they can steal for themselves. And that is what government is essentially teaching, these days. Take what you can, and damn what anyone says!
Stephanie Smith February 02, 2014 at 07:39 AM
I INVITE THE GRIEVING FAMILIES, LOVED ONES, FRIENDS & ALL TO LISTEN TO MY INSPIRATIONAL RADIO SHOW (SOUL FIREZ ...WITH STEPHANIE ) .. THAT THIS WEEK IS DEDICATED TO THE VICTIMS OF THE COLUMBIA MALL TRAGEDY. THIS & EVERY WEEK...TUESDAYS 6PM REPEAT SAT...12PM EST. UNDER SPECIALTY SHOWS PODCAST LATER. BLESS ALL, THANKS...LISTEN AT www.howardcc.edu/hccradio

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