Columbia Mall Shooter Obsessed With Columbine, Mass Murder

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Aguilar took this photo of himself with the shotgun he purchased in December sometime in the weeks leading up to the shooting. (Howard County Police)

Aguilar took this photo of himself with the shotgun he purchased in December sometime in the weeks leading up to the shooting. (Howard County Police)

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UPDATED: 7:26 a.m. March 13, 2014

MARRIOTTSVILLE, Md. (CBSDC/AP) — The Columbia Mall gunman appeared obsessed with mass murder and may have fixated on the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, dressing like one of the shooters and timing his attack so that it occurred about the same time of day as the Colorado massacre, police said Wednesday.

Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon said during a news conference that investigators found no indication that 19-year-old Darion Aguilar knew the two people — 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson — he killed Jan. 25 at The Mall in Columbia. Aguilar killed himself soon after the shootings.

Investigators found thousands of searches on Aguilar’s computer related to mass murder, school shootings, guns and explosives. Aguilar showed “a particular fascination with the Columbine shooting,” McMahon said.

He also looked up websites for people with mental health problems, and he told a doctor he was hearing voices in the months before the shooting.

Several pieces of information led police to believe Aguilar may have had a fixation with the shooting at Columbine, where two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher and wounded 26 others before killing themselves in the school’s library. Police believe Aguilar may have waited inside the mall for over 40 minutes in order to begin his shooting about the same time that the Columbine massacre started. He also downloaded a video game based on the Columbine killing, though it’s not clear if he played it, McMahon said.

Security footage shows Aguilar walking around the mall before the shooting began. (Howard County Police)

Security footage shows Aguilar walking around the mall. (Howard County Police)

Just before he emerged from the dressing room of the Zumiez skateboarding and snowboarding store to begin the shooting, Aguilar took a picture of himself in the mirror and posted it to the social media website Tumblr. Some of way he is dressed, wearing a white T-shirt, boots and cargo pants with his shotgun in a sling around him, is reminiscent of one of the Columbine killers, McMahon said.

McMahon says Aguilar legally purchased a shotgun from a Rockville store on Dec. 10. He returned to the same store between Dec. 10 and Dec. 24 to buy ammunition. He bought additional ammunition at Bass Pro Shop at Arundel Mills Mall on Dec. 28.

The police timeline of the morning of the shooting, Jan. 25, is as follows:

5:15 a.m. Aguilar leaves his home in College Park
6:19 a.m. Visits a PNC bank in Beltsville
7:31 a.m. Boards a Washington area Metro bus (bus route ended in Burtonsville)
9:50 a.m. Gets a cab from a Burtonsville McDonald’s
10:10 a.m. Dropped off at Columbia Mall
10:16 a.m. Enters the mall near the carousel
10:18 a.m. Goes downstairs via escalator near the food court
11:01 a.m. Enters the Zumiez skate store
11:14 a.m. Takes photo of himself with assembled gun in Zumiez dressing room, uploads it to (now-deactivated) Tumblr account with this text:

“I had to do this. Today is the day. On previous days I tried this I woke up with anxiety, regret and hope for a better future this day I didn’t, I woke up felt no emotions no empathy no sympathy. I will have freedom or maybe not. I could care less.”

An entry in Aguilar's journal. (Howard County Police) Click to enlarge

An entry in Aguilar’s journal. (Howard County Police)
Click to enlarge

McMahon said investigators believe Aguilar took the picture to gain notoriety and intended for police to find it and show it to the public.

“We’re not going to help him have that notoriety,” McMahon said.

Police did release a different picture Aguilar took of himself holding the shotgun he used in the shooting, a picture believed to have been taken in his bedroom.

McMahon also talked about what has been described as Aguilar’s “journal.” McMahon said what police discovered was about 20 handwritten loose-leaf pages in roughly chronological order. In a portion police released, Aguilar makes an angry, expletive-laced statement in which he anticipates the killings in “a couple of hours.”

“Everything seems fake. I think that I may already be dead,” he wrote.

At another point in the papers, he acknowledged he needed to see a psychiatrist, McMahon said.

Aguilar told a doctor in April that he was hearing voices, but they were “nonviolent and nonspecific,” the chief said. The doctor referred him to a psychiatrist, but police could not find that Aguilar ever met with one. McMahon said the doctor told police he later followed up with Aguilar’s mother, but she does not remember the conversation.

A review of Aguilar’s Internet searches found visits to mental health sites, including ones for people considering suicide.

“He knows he’s sick. He knows he has problems that need to be addressed. He writes it in his journal. He writes in his journal he’s not comfortable talking to his mother about it,” McMahon said, adding that there was no indication he ever spoke with anyone about his concerns.

Police said they released more information about the case in an effort to bring closure for the community, including the families of Aguilar’s victims, 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson. They were both Zumiez employees.

Benlolo was mother to a young son and Johnson was the youngest board member of a Columbia-based non-profit Twelve Step fellowship center who planned to get a degree in counseling.

Memorial funds have been established for both of them. Brianna’s has been set up as a trust to provide for her son’s future health, education, support and maintenance. Contributions can be made at any Wells Fargo branch by referencing the Brianna Benlolo Memorial Fund or can be made by mailing a check to: The Brianna Benlolo Memorial Fund, P.O Box 1353, Lynnwood, WA 98046.

The Tyler Johnson Memorial Fund will benefit the Community Foundation of Howard County. Donations can be made care of The Tyler Johnson Memorial Fund, 10630 Little Patuxent Parkway, Century Plaza, Suite 315, Columbia, MD 21044 and online.

McMahon said the investigation is continuing, though no new significant information is expected.

(TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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