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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."
Lisa Earley Hresko January 26, 2014 at 04:59 PM
I definitely do not claim to be any kind of expert on guns or anything else..but as far as I know, anyone can go and buy a "shotgun" at Dick's or Bart's in Glen Burnie. Every report that I have heard and read says that the shooter was carrying a "shotgun". To me, a shotgun is a hunting gun. Is that not right?? Anyway, gun laws don't have anything to do with hunting weapons -- they don't apply. And as far as not going to Columbia Mall for a while....why?? I mean, this was obviously an isolated and personal thing. This guy had an issue with the employees at the store where he pulled the gun out. Whether he knew them or whether he had something against the store or company...still it has nothing to do with the fact that he is dead and won't be coming back to the mall. Our false sense of security at places like Columbia Mall has been shaken, but the security will be the same next week as it was a few weeks ago when I was there. I will return when the mall opens with no more reservation than I have about going anywhere in public these days....and just be aware of my surroundings. Everyone in this day and age should have a plan in mind in the event that something like this happens when you are out. If you have small children, let them know the plan. Seriously. In this day and age this kind of thing happens everywhere.
bill bissenas January 26, 2014 at 07:33 PM
Standby for a legislative full court press to infringe on the Second Amendment.
Marsha Tarbert January 26, 2014 at 07:38 PM
How does someone kill themselves with a 12 g? I am glad I live in VA where there is open carry. My permit is the Second Amendment.
Carol B January 26, 2014 at 08:15 PM
Whatever his "unhappiness" was, he had NO RIGHT to murder others. I am considering taking a job in this vicinity--not far from where the killings occurred. I will have to think twice and three times whether I want to be further exposed to the sort of people who think it's okay to take their "unhappiness" and frustration out on innocent others--or, for that matter, ANY others.
Chuck Burton January 26, 2014 at 08:18 PM
So, Marsha, how do you carry - shoulder, belt, leg, or just in your purse? Even most police officers, if they saw someone pull out a weapon and begin firing, would not instantaneously react by drawing their own weapon - they would need a few seconds, anyway. In that time, you and a few others might well be dead. And a 12g slug or buckshot is pretty deadly at close range.
diane rizak January 26, 2014 at 10:58 PM
I would prefer that the terms shooter and gunman not be used. Please use killer or murderer, and I do not need to know his lifestory. Maybe The Elkridge Patch will be the first media source that abstains from glorifying these murderers.
MG42 January 27, 2014 at 07:45 AM
Dancing Fish Girl, the parking garage is right next to the Columbia Bank.
Dean Smith January 27, 2014 at 07:53 AM
I know the Howard County Police are looking into solving this but why did this kid take a cab from College Park all the way to Columbia Mall which is about 20 miles away?
Mark January 27, 2014 at 08:29 AM
The problem with every citizen that wants to carry a gun, attend a class, and eventually takes that firearm into a public place is they don't have the "conditioning" to react in a very stressful, split second situation. I can just see it now a citizen carrying a hand gun into the mall, shots fired in an unknown direction, every person with a gun pulls it out and shoots the first person they see with a gun. Wow the Wild, Wild West sure does look as though it could make a come-back. Gee shooting someone because they text-ed in a movie theater (before the movie starts) would be next. Whoops already happened.
JasonB January 27, 2014 at 10:08 AM
Mark - you do realize that over 40 states have "shall issue" laws. Citizens carrying guns is very common place in most states including the states surrounding this one. What is not common is the "Ok Corral" shootout scenarios that you describe - they simply do not occur
Chuck Burton January 27, 2014 at 10:55 AM
To: All the depressed feeling people out there. I was discharged from the Air Force over 50 years ago because of Depression. I got help, and advise others to get help too; but eventually realized the doctors, the meds, the weed, are nothing but crutches, and fighting the depression is really a "do-it-yourself" kind of project, and, like any dependency, I am the one who has to beat it. What eventually helped me was, I found that I could "think happy thoughts" whenever I felt down. Sounds easy, yeah; but it ain't. Its hard work, even understanding when I feel down, and I'm still doing it in my 80's. It generally works, though - for me. YOU might find another way, but keep battling. It's one war that is worth fighting. Just don't take things out on other people, even those close to you.
Brook Hubbard January 27, 2014 at 11:37 AM
Mark, as pointed out, that "doomsday" scenario does not exist and is fallacy to think it is. A quick look at the amount of states that issue CCWs and the amount of firearm-related violence committed by CCW permit holders reveals that there is no correlation between the two. Maryland (and DC) as well as Delaware both have high gun laws and are "May Issue" states and yet rank higher than anywhere but Tennessee for firearm-related crimes. North Dakota, Idaho, and Utah have lax gun laws and are "Shall Issue" states and yet rank in the top 10 lowest firearm-related crime rates. So no, having people carrying firearms for self-defense does not turn every situation into the "Wild, Wild West".
Brook Hubbard January 27, 2014 at 11:46 AM
Also, some interesting data shows that over the past 7 years, approximately 554 people have wrongfully died at the hands of CCW permit holders (i.e., not in a self-defense related manner). Out of those, around 38 of these killers committed murder-suicides. Compare that to the estimated 6 million CCW permit holders in the US (as of a few years ago). Your chances of a CCW permit holder killing you are less then being struck by lightning, let alone other forms of firearm-related violence.
Brook Hubbard January 27, 2014 at 11:47 AM
Given there is no statistically significant chance of wrongful use of a CCW permit, then why not allow them? Wouldn't it be better to have the tool on you, even if there is only a small chance of saving life with it... then to not have it at all and have no chance?
Chuck Burton January 27, 2014 at 12:03 PM
The problem, Brook, is that just about all - maybe all - of the publicized shooters have suffered from some degree of Depression, and took their sense of worthlessness out on others. That's why I told a bit of my story, above. I want them to know there is always a possibility of finding a way to deal with it. I want people to deal with the cause of the violence, not just the aftermath.
Roger January 27, 2014 at 12:04 PM
That's your best argument to make me think 554 Americans per year is well worth the price?
Brook Hubbard January 27, 2014 at 12:16 PM
I didn't say 554 Americans per year. I said 554 people killed in SEVEN years. And we can sit here and say, "Well, just 1 is enough!" but that sort of erroneous thinking is behind all of the ridiculous bans and lawsuits that plague our political and justice system. Instead of blaming a tool, that has been in public hands for over a century, we might look at the underlying factors that have caused an increased misuse of these tools over the past few decades. Crime? Mental Health? Desensitization? Glorification? Maybe target ~these~ factors instead of limiting everyone else because of the behavior of the few. Unless you're suggesting we should make judgment on the majority because of the minority?
MG42 January 27, 2014 at 12:17 PM
Roger, tens of thousands of people die in car accidents each year. We could reduce that to zero by making the speed limit strictly enforced at 5 mph. Is you getting to work on time worth the tens of thousands of lives that die as a result of car crashes?
Chuck Burton January 27, 2014 at 12:25 PM
Any weapon is merely a tool, after all. It can have the valid purpose of providing food (if you are a meat eater), or of providing protection against a threat (by threatening display, or sometimes by use), or it can be a means of acting out feelings of depression and/or aggression. War, of course, is the ultimate manic/depressive reaction, and nukes perhaps the ultimate weapon. Fortunately, the average shooter can't access nukes (so far)...
MG42 January 27, 2014 at 12:44 PM
If guns kill people, then your child's pencil is an honor student.
Valarie January 28, 2014 at 10:16 AM
It just seems too coincidental that Brianna lived near Darion in College Park. I spoke with a police officer in Baltimore County ,MD. He told me that Brianna broke up with Darion to go with Tyler new boyfriend. (Her coworker) Could be true since Darion took a cab all the way there... There has to be a connection. Maybe one of Brianna's or Darion's friends know something.
Chuck Burton January 28, 2014 at 10:38 AM
Dream on, Valarie. You speak with some cop not associated with the case, and he/she spreads rumors (should be disciplined for that). Maybe YOU are wanting to break up with a significant other to take up with some coworker. Hmmm?
Valarie January 28, 2014 at 11:23 AM
I am not dreaming. We will eventually find out I'm sure... I believe the officer. The officer should not be disciplined at all! They talk to each other, and I don't think it's a rumor. No, I don't want to break up with a significant other... Did you read what I said? Hmmm?
Valarie January 29, 2014 at 11:55 AM
Chuck your comment about me was not called for... The more I read it I realized you were trying to turn everything around I said... SAD
MG42 January 29, 2014 at 12:11 PM
*If* it turns out to be true that the shooter dated Brianna, and the police took this long to figure it out, that is totally unacceptable standard of police work. The keystone cops could have done it faster.
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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