Police ID Gunman in Columbia Mall Shooting; Explosives Disabled
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Updated: Jan. 26, 2014 at 10:36 p.m.
Original: Jan. 25, 2014 at 11:46 a.m.
COLUMBIA, Md. (CBSDC/AP) — The gunman who killed two people at a mall in Columbia, Md., was a teenage skateboarding enthusiast who had no criminal record before he showed up at the shopping center armed with a shotgun, plenty of ammunition and a backpack filled with crude homemade explosives, authorities said Sunday.
Darion Marcus Aguilar of College Park, Md., carried out the attack with a 12-gauge shotgun at a skateboard shop after taking a taxi to the Mall in Columbia, before killing himself, police said.
He went downstairs to a food court directly below the store, then returned less than an hour later, dumped the backpack in a dressing room and started shooting, police said.
Aguilar, who had concealed the shotgun in a bag, fired six to nine times.
Some shoppers fled in a panic while others barricaded themselves behind closed doors. When police arrived, they found three people dead — two store employees and Aguilar, who had killed himself, authorities said.
The shooting baffled investigators and acquaintances of the 19 year old who graduated from high school less than a year ago and had no previous run-ins with law enforcement.
Police spent Sunday trying to piece together his motive, but it remained elusive. The mall is expected to reopen to the public at 1 p.m. on Monday.
Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said Sunday night that they had taken a journal from Aguliar’s house, which he said expressed general unhappiness, but he did not give any specifics about the writings. Investigators do not believe Aguilar knew either of the victims, who were both employees of Zumiez, which is on the mall’s upper floor.
“Nothing is going to go back to normal. This mall will be different because of what happened,” McMahon said at a news conference Sunday.
Police identified the victims as Brianna Benlolo, a 21-year-old single mother, who lived half a mile away from Aguilar in the same College Park neighborhood.
Although they lived close to Maryland’s largest university, neither was a student there.
Aguilar was accepted last February to Montgomery College, a community college in the Washington suburbs, but school spokesman Marcus Rosano said he never registered or attended.
The other employee, 25-year-old Tyler Johnson, of Mount Airy, Md., did not know Aguilar and did not socialize with Benlolo outside of work, a relative said.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” McMahon said.
Aguilar purchased the shotgun legally last month at a store in neighboring Montgomery County.
It took hours to identify the gunman since he was carrying ammunition and a backpack containing homemade explosives, McMahon said. Officers searched Aguilar’s home Saturday night, recovering more ammunition, computers and documents, 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.
Aguilar and his mother were renters at the home. Sirkka Singleton, who owns the property with her husband and lives a block away, said they use a property manager to find tenants and they have never met the Aguilars. She declined to say who the property manager was.
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 Aguilar was not and never had been a student there. She said she had no information on the two victims.
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.”
The Prince George’s County Police Department said it received a missing persons report for Aguilar at about 1:40 p.m. Saturday, more than two hours after the mall shooting. Officers went to Aguilar’s home to speak with his mother about 5 p.m. and saw Aguilar’s journal. The portion 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.
A man who answered the phone at Johnson’s residence in Mount Airy, northwest of Baltimore, said the family had no comment. The victim’s aunt told a local television station that she did not believe her nephew knew Aguilar.
Sydney Petty, in a statement to WBAL-TV, said she did not believe her nephew had a relationship with Benlolo.
“Tyler didn’t have anything beyond a working relationship with this girl, and he would have mentioned it if he did, and we’re just as confused as anybody,” Petty said.
She said her nephew also worked at a drug rehabilitation center in Mount Airy, for which she served on the board.
Five other people were hurt in the attack, but only one was hit by gunfire — a woman who was hit in the foot upstairs near Zumeiz. All were released from hospitals hours later.
At the time of the shooting, the mall was busy with weekend shoppers and employees.
“There were a lot of people very close to where this happened,” Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said.
Police searched the mall with dogs overnight Saturday, and stores remained closed through the weekend.
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 giving birth to her son.
“She was all excited because she was the manager there,” 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?” he said. “You go to work and make a dollar and you got some idiot coming in and blowing people away.”
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