Latest updates

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.

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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.

Mark Berman
January 26, 7:11 pm
  • Mark Berman January 26, 7:11 pm

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.

Mark Berman
January 26, 6:50 pm
  • Mark Berman January 26, 6:50 pm

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:

Mark Berman
January 26, 6:24 pm
  • Mark Berman January 26, 6:24 pm

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.

Mark Berman
January 26, 6:18 pm
  • Mark Berman January 26, 6:18 pm

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.

Mark Berman
January 26, 6:16 pm
  • Mark Berman January 26, 6:16 pm

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.

Mark Berman
January 26, 6:10 pm
  • Mark Berman January 26, 6:10 pm

Watch: Police news conference

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

Mark Berman
January 26, 5:47 pm
  • Mark Berman January 26, 5:47 pm
Mark Berman
January 26, 5:38 pm
  • Mark Berman January 26, 5:38 pm

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.

Mark Berman
January 26, 5:15 pm
  • Mark Berman January 26, 5:15 pm

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

Mark Berman
January 26, 4:56 pm
  • Mark Berman January 26, 4:56 pm
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