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.
In case you’re just catching up on the new developments in the Columbia mall shooting, here is what we have learned on Sunday.
Police identified the shooter as Darion Marcus Aguilar, a 19-year-old College Park resident.
Howard County police chief William J. McMahon, speaking at a news conference Sunday morning, said Aguilar was dropped off at the mall by a taxicab at 10:15 a.m. He got out of the cab at the mall’s upper level and was seen going down to the lower level. Police say he didn’t move around much before going upstairs and opening fire about an hour after he arrived.
Six to eight shots were fired using a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, killing Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson, police said. The weapon was bought in Montgomery County in December. Authorities arrived minutes later, finding Aguilar dead of what they said appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Police said they found the shotgun next to Aguilar’s body, along with a lot of ammunition and a backpack. The backpack contained what they described as two crude devices that seemed meant to use fireworks to make explosives. After disabling the devices, police searched the entire mall with K-9 units.
The shooting occurred directly above the mall’s food court at Zumiez, a clothing store for skateboarders and snowboarders. Benlolo and Johnson both worked there. One other person was injured, 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.
A law enforcement source said the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive led the search of Aguilar’s home Saturday night in the 4700 block of Hollywood Road in College Park. They were looking for more explosives, among other things.
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.
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.
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.”
Workers describe their experiences Saturday at the mall:
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
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
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
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