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Latest updates: Shooting at Columbia mall

Shoppers leave the Mall in Columbia near the food court exit on Saturday. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

Shoppers leave the Mall in Columbia near the food court exit on Saturday. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

A day after a shooting at the Mall in Columbia that left three people dead, new details are beginning to emerge. We’re bringing you the latest updates here.

What we learned today and what we still don't know

Maryland State Police secure the area after a shooting at the Columbia Mall on Saturday. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Maryland State Police secure the area after a shooting at the Columbia Mall on Saturday. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

We’re winding down our live updates for the night. Here are key things we learned today as well as what remains unknown right now.

What we learned today:

  • Police identified the shooter as Darion Marcus Aguilar, a 19-year-old College Park resident who authorities say lived with his mother.
  • Aguilar was dropped off at the mall by a taxicab at 10:15 a.m. He opened fire about an hour later inside a Zumiez store, police said. 
  • Six to eight shots were fired using a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, killing Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson, both employees at Zumiez. Authorities arrived minutes after the shooting, finding Aguilar dead of what they said appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
  • The weapon was bought in Montgomery County in December.
  • The shooting occurred directly above the mall’s food court at Zumiez. One other person was injured with a gunshot wound: a woman who told police she was on the lower level of the mall, below the Zumiez store, when she was shot in the foot.
  • Aguilar attended Anne Arundel County schools for several years. He graduated last June from James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, officials said. He was admitted to Montgomery College but never attended, a spokeswoman for that school said.
  • Aguilar’s mother filed a missing persons report at about 1:45 or 2 p.m. Saturday — roughly two hours after the shooting — after having tried unsuccessfully to get hold of her son throughout the day.
  • Police found a journal in Aguilar’s home that described “unhappiness.”
  • Authorities have not yet found any connection between the gunman and the victims.
  • The mall will reopen on Monday at 1 p.m.

What we still don’t know:

  • The gunman’s motive.
  • Any connection between the gunman and the victims. Investigators have spent more than a day conducting interviews and delving into the backgrounds of the shooter and the victims, but they haven’t found any link between them so far, Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon said Sunday night at a news conference. (There have been numerous media reports saying that there was a romantic relationship between the shooter and one of the victims. McMahon stressed that these reports are speculative, saying that police haven’t confirmed any relationship or connection.)

Stick with our homepage for the latest developments and stories as they emerge.

Counselors meeting with Zumiez workers

Zumiez chief executive Rick Brooks said that counselors have met with grieving workers from the store where two employees were killed on Saturday.

 ”The emotions are very raw and real-and as co-workers and friends, we are pulling together,” Brooks said in a statement. “When The Mall in Columbia reopens tomorrow there will be Memory Books to sign in Center Court and those visiting will be invited to float flowers in the mall’s fountain in memory of Tyler and Brianna. We’re working to determine the best ways to help the Benlolo and Johnson families.”

The company would share details about ways to help the families of the victims on Facebook, he said.

Police release photo of Aguilar

Howard County police released their first photo of Darion Aguilar, named this morning by police as the gunman who killed two people and took his own life at the Mall in Columbia on Saturday:

Police located journal at gunman's home

Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon said at the news conference this evening that police located a journal at Aguilar’s house. McMahon said that the journal expressed “unhappiness,” but didn’t go into additional detail about the journal or what else it said.

Howard police: Aguilar didn't have a criminal history

Speaking at a news conference that ended moments ago, Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon said that Aguilar has no criminal history as an adult.

Police chief: "No known relationship" between victims, shooter

Investigators have spent the day trying to learn about why the shooting occurred, Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon said moments ago at a news conference.

McMahon said he knows the biggest lingering question is the motive behind what happened. But police haven’t been able to determine any connection between the gunman and the victims.  

“We have no known relationship between the victims and the shooter,” he said.

McMahon again addressed media reports about a romantic relationship between the shooter and one of the victims, stressing that police have not confirmed any relationship.

“It’s becoming very frustrating for the families of our victims to continue to hear this,” he said.

Watch: Police news conference

The Howard County police are planning to have another news conference at 6 p.m. You can stream it here:

Video: Shooting witness shares story

Columbia, the mall and an evolving place

Mall employees and patrons wait in a theater lobby. (Reuters)

Mall employees and patrons wait in a theater lobby. (Reuters)

The shooting at the Mall in Columbia brought an all-too-common violence to a quiet suburb nestled between Washington and Baltimore. It also struck at the heart of a community, a gathering place that had served as a de facto downtown for Columbia.

The mall itself is meant to be a gathering place:

Columbia, one of the nation’s first planned communities — where people could live, work, play and be entertained — first housed residents in 1967. The mall opened just four years later.

In the mornings, there are moms with strollers stretching their legs as they walk their young children around the mall. Columbia’s older residents sip coffee at Starbucks or Panera, where they are likely to run into a few county police officers grabbing caffeine before their shifts. The mall also is a place for teenagers to socialize; many of them get their first job folding clothes at one of its many shops or waiting tables at its restaurants.

The mall is simply part of the daily routine. That’s by design.

For the people in the mall, it was simply another Saturday before the gunshots rang out:

Customers raced away from the food court screaming, gunfire interrupting their lunches, their facials and their girls’ days out at the Mall in Columbia. They crowded together in the back of stores. Employees locked doors and pulled gates shut, hoping to keep the “active shooter” from getting to them….

Whatever the reason, the echoing shots provoked terror for those in the mall, igniting fears of yet another mass shooting in a public place that, until now, they considered safe.

Columbia itself is a place that has come of age, changing over the decades to see a rise in crime as well as a surge in affluence. Former Post reporter Allison Klein, who grew up there, chronicled this in a 2005 story:

While Columbia is far from crime-ridden today, it doesn’t seem as secure as it was back then. Now I have seen the community change in other ways, too. It has become far more affluent, with million-dollar homes sprouting up in the wealthier villages, such as River Hill. The Mall in Columbia has morphed into a collection of more upscale stores, and the trees surrounding it have been hacked down in favor of pricey townhouses….

As lofty as it sounds, Columbia was founded on the concept of equality and cultural integration.

Ulman: Howard police had no prior contact with Aguilar

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman was asked Sunday if the Howard police had prior contact with Aguilar.

“No, none. Absolutely none,” he said. “And it doesn’t appear that he had a criminal record at this point. We’re working with our colleagues in Prince George’s County on this, but nothing so far. No record at all.”

— Paul Duggan

Mall to reopen Monday at 1 p.m.

The Mall in Columbia will reopen on Monday at 1 p.m., the mall announced on Twitter minutes ago.

Aguilar attended schools in Montgomery, Anne Arundel

The home of Columbia mall shooter Darion Marcus Aguilar in College Park, Md. (Ian Shapira / The Washington Post)

The home of Columbia mall shooter Darion Marcus Aguilar in College Park, Md. (Ian Shapira / The Washington Post)

Darion Aguilar attended Anne Arundel County schools for several years, including Four Seasons Elementary School from 2004 to 2006, and Arundel Middle School for the 2006-2007 school year, schools officials said.

Montgomery County schools officials said he graduated last June from James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring. He was admitted to Montgomery College but never attended, a spokeswoman for that school said.

— Donna St. George

A visit to a play area, then gunfire

Brandon Cole said he had just taken his daughter’s shoes off so she could run in a play area in the lower level of the mall when the shots began.

“We were sitting there quietly admiring our young baby daughter and the innocent joy that is childhood,” he said of standing with his wife, Taylor Cole, watching their 19-month-old play.

And then they heard shots ring out.

“I said, ‘that’s a gun …we need to move, we need to get out of here,’” said Cole, 36, of Greenbelt.

Cole, who works for the Army, said he vaulted over a wall as his wife grabbed his daughter and they rushed inside J.C. Penney, and then to an adjacent building. He said he left his wife, along with another mother and her young child, on the third floor of the building while he ran to get their truck.

“I just reacted, I didn’t think,” he said. He picked up his family and drove the other woman and her child to their car.  ”I was never scared. And I really only was overcome by emotion when I knew we were safe and I was able to put hands on my wife and daughter, and just know how close we were to being injured or hurt.”

Wiping tears away with the back of his hand, he thought about what could have been.

“It ripped my soul out thinking about…had the guy been 50 meters closer to us, near the play area, and decided to shoot in that direction, who knows what would have happened,” he said.

—Victoria St. Martin

Victim's family still waiting for answers

A relative of Tyler Johnson said police told the family during a visit to the house Sunday that they remain perplexed about the gunman’s motives and are continuing to investigate.

“They’re just saying they’re clueless,” said Maggie Sliker, Johnson’s aunt.

Sliker said her nephew was not romantically involved with Brianna Benlolo, his slain coworker.

— Donna St. George

Hiding together in a dressing room

Courtney Birkmeyer was at the mall with her mom, trying clothes on in a dressing room when the shots rang out.

“We heard a loud bang and we thought it might be a clothing rack falling over,” said Birkmeyer, 22, of Catonsville.

Seconds later, they heard two more. Birkmeyer said they realized they were hearing gunshots, and “the survival mode took over.”

“We got into the dressing room as quick as we could,” she said. “And we crouched on the little bench where you can rest your garments, so our feet weren’t seen just in case someone was waking around.”

They huddled there for 80 minutes before a tactical squad told them it was safe to leave. Birkmeyer said she spoke to her dad on a cell phone, keeping in contact with him while he was in another part of the mall near the lower level food court

“We were kinda safe and contained in our little dressing room,” Birkmeyer said, her eyes turning glassy and red. “So the panic was setting in but luckily we didn’t have any of the visuals we have to get over.”

Her mom, Sandy Birkmeyer, said the experience was terrifying.

“We weren’t sure if it was a random shooting or if there was more than one shooter, so hiding seemed to be the best option,” said Birkmeyer, 49.

— Victoria St. Martin

What to expect when the mall reopens

Emergency vehicles respond to a shooting Saturday at the Mall in Columbia. (Emma Brown/The Washington Post)

Emergency vehicles respond to a shooting Saturday at the Mall in Columbia. (Emma Brown/The Washington Post)

The mall could reopen by Tuesday, and possibly earlier, authorities said Sunday. And when it does re-open, Howard County police chief William J. McMahon said there are plans to have an increased police presence so that “people feel comfortable and safe shopping here.”

“Columbia Mall is a very unique place in the county,” he said during a news conference Sunday. “It’s not just an economic institution, it’s really a place of community.”

There will also be grief counselors available at the mall, officials said.

— Victoria St. Martin

Video: Mall workers describe the shooting

Workers describe their experiences Saturday at the mall:

Maryland lawmakers expect discussion of gun laws

Maryland lawmakers who lead the committees that shepherded through last year’s gun-control legislation said Sunday that they are carefully studying Saturday’s shooting to learn what might have prevented it. Once that is learned, there could be legislation introduced to further tighten the law – but they said that it’s still too early to know.

“I don’t know what the motive was,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) who heads the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. “I don’t know what the mechanism was. I don’t know if the person was mentally ill… I don’t know if this was a domestic dispute. There are lots of things that might have prevented it, but I don’t know enough about it.”

Frosh added that last year’s legislation, while expansive, will not prevent every act of violence in Maryland, and lawmakers could find that new legislation is not be warranted in this case.

“We passed a bill last year that will address thousands of situations but it won’t cover every one,” he said.

Del. Kathleen M. Dumais (D-Montgomery) agreed and said: “We’ve got some pretty tough gun laws.”

There will likely be a lot of discussion of the shooting in Annapolis this week, said Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He also expects discussion about the laws surrounding shotguns, which generally have fewer restrictions than handguns.

“It’s too early, but I’m sure there will be something,” he said. “We call it ‘Sixty Minutes’ legislation – something happens and legislation is introduced.”

—Jenna Johnson

Aguilar graduated from Blake High School

Montgomery County schools officials confirmed that Aguilar graduated last June from James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring. He was admitted to Montgomery College but never attended, a spokeswoman said.

Shooter's mother filed missing persons report

A law enforcement source said Aguilar worked at a Dunkin’ Donuts in the College Park area and was supposed to open the store Saturday morning. He did not show up for work, though, and a manager had to open the store, the source said.

The source also said Aguilar’s mother filed a missing persons report about 1:45 or 2 p.m. Saturday — roughly two hours after the shooting — after having tried unsuccessfully to get hold of her son throughout the day.

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