Columbia Mall Shootings Hit Home

Mall Shooting in Columbia Hits Home

By Price Benowitz Staff Writer
Jan. 28, 2014

A 19-year-old man with no apparent motive shot two people dead and wounded another in a Columbia, Maryland, mall before taking his own life this past weekend.

Darion Marcus Aguilar took a taxi to the mall, located about 20 miles west of Baltimore, on Jan. 25, and proceeded to the Zumiez skate and snowboard shop, where he unloaded as many as nine rounds from a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun, Howard County Police confirmed. Two Zumiez employees were killed: Brianna Benlolo, 21, a single mother who lived in College Park; and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Mount Airy, Maryland. Another person, standing on a lower level in the mall, was shot in the foot and four other people suffered injuries as a result of the pandemonium of panicked shoppers and employees rushing from the scene of the slayings. Many fled to nearby stores, where they hid until police secured the area.

Zumiez is one of over 200 stores located in the enormous shopping complex. Known simply as The Mall in Columbia, it was crowded with shoppers at 11:15 a.m., when the shots erupted. Police arrived within two minutes of a 911 call for help. The two dead victims, and one surviving gunshot victim, were found in the mall. Aguilar’s body was discovered next to a backpack stuffed with a large supply of ammunition and homemade explosive devices, which led to speculation that his body may have been booby-trapped. Responding police officers exercised an “abundance of caution,” according to Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon. They disabled the makeshift bombs and used specially-trained dogs to search the mall for more explosives. An overnight search of Aguilar’s residence resulted in the seizure of computers, documents, and more ammunition.

Police have yet to release the motive in the slayings. One of the victims lived in College Park, where Aguilar lived with his mother. “We don’t know if there’s any connection there or whether that’s merely coincidental,” said McMahon told reporters earlier this week. Police did confirm that Aguilar had no criminal record of any kind. They said a journal he kept indicated a “general unhappiness with his life.”

Though the mall reopened promptly at 1 p.m. Monday — amidst a memorial to the victims, reassurances from police, and heightened security measures — the Zumiez store remained closed. Its entrance was blocked by a “memorial wall” with a message saying: “Zumiez is closed until further notice. In loving memory of Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson, please express your messages of hope and encouragement at the Mall’s Center Court.”

The news of the shooting sent shockwaves throughout Maryland and nearby Washington, DC; and well beyond. As family and friends of the victims and the shooter grapple with the enormity of the tragedy, local leaders and authorities are now tasked with determining what exactly went wrong. Baltimore-based “Pit Bull Lawyer” Seth Okin is among those devastated by the carnage wrought so close to his home. Mr. Okin — and all the attorneys and staff at Price Benowitz – joins the thousands of individuals who have expressed their heartfelt condolences to all those affected by the slayings and we hope everyone in the community can pull together to heal, and learn, from this senseless event.