The Mall in Columbia reopened at 1 p.m. Monday, two days after a gunman killed two mall employees and took his own life. We’ll bring you live updates from the scene.
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Around 1:30 p.m., 17 people were lined up to sign memorial books for Briana Benlolo and Tyler Johnson and throw white flowers in a mall fountain.
Some mourners cried. Others hugged each other and spoke in hushed tones about their departed friends. One woman picked up a flower, made the sign of the cross with it, bowed her head and then flung it in the water.
The mall had only been open 30 minutes, but already dozens of flowers bobbed in the pool, where patrons tossed pennies and nickels on happier days. But the mall itself bore few signs of the shooting. Shoppers streamed around her and dance music blared from stores, but the scene was different.
Caitlin Davis, 17, of Columbia, brought flowers to lay at the memorial of her friend “Bri.” Davis remembered Benlolo as “being the nicest person I’ve ever met.”
Davis said it could just have easily been a memorial for her — she was slated to work as seasonal worker at Zumiez this winter. It didn’t work out, but she is employed at the mall’s Game Stop, which is around the corner from the scene of the shooting.
“Standing outside the food court, I was almost crying,” Davis said. “I was almost in tears walking around. This is just unreal.”
Patric Centorbi, 20, of Arbutus, Md., was also friends with Benlolo, who he called “happy [and] energetic.” He said they had made plans to go snowboarding shortly before her killing. Centorbi works at the Hot Topics next door to Zumiez, and he said Benlolo would come over and hang out with him on breaks.
“They were two of the sweetest people I know,” Centorbi said of Benlolo and Johnson.
— Justin Jouvenal
As the doors flung open at the Mall in Columbia two days after this weekend’s deadly shooting, one place connected to the incident stayed shuttered: the white barn-style house in College Park where officials say 19-year-old Darion Marcus Aguilar lived with his mother.
Reporters camped out in front of the house all morning and afternoon, hoping family members or anyone who knew the teen who fatally gunned down two people at the mall before shooting himself would be inside or come by the home. They rang the bell, left notes at the door and walked around the neighborhood looking for any hint that could explain how a young man whom friends have described as a quiet and a good person could be responsible for the violence in Columbia.
Neighbors were just as curious. Some in cars slowly drove past the house, craning their heads to stare at the property before speeding past news trucks.
“I was shocked,” said Francisco Gregorio, 72, who passed by the house a few times on a morning walk. Gregorio said he heard of the shooting on the news. “It was unbelievable.”
Gregorio and another neighbor, David Keer, said the house has long been a rental property, housing University of Maryland graduate students in the past. Residents refer to the neighborhood as “Hollywood on the Hill,” said Keer, who also knew little about the people who have lived in the home.
“I think I feel most for the 2-year-old of the girl who was killed,” said Keer, referring to the young son of victim Brianna Benlolo, 21.
Benlolo was slain along with Tyler Johnson, 25, in the shooting Saturday.
Police are trying to determine a motive. Law enforcement and public safety officials were at the house several times over the weekend: at least once to answer a missing persons report from Aguilar’s mother and again to sweep the house for possible explosives when police determined that he was the shooter.
In May, the Prince George’s fire department answered a call at the home for an unrelated accidental attic fire, officials said. Aguilar was home at the time the fire was being extinguished, Prince George’s County fire spokesman Mark Brady confirmed Monday.
“Nothing unusual was noted about any of the occupants’ behavior,” Brady said of the May fire, which he described as routine. With the sun dipping lower in the sky and the weather chilling, reporters remain at the end of Hollywood Road, looking for answers.
— Lynh Bui
The Mall in Columbia reopened this afternoon. Here’s a look at the scene:
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley pledged his support for the people of Columbia during an appearance this afternoon in the mall’s food court.
He said he visited the mall about an hour and a half after it reopened to show that “we’re all in this together.”
“Everyone in Maryland is with the people of Columbia today,” O’Malley told reporters.
After his remarks, he grabbed a cup of frozen yogurt from Tutti Frutti with Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and mingled with several shoppers in the food court.
— Patrick Svitek
— Ken Ulman (@kenulman) January 27, 2014
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley arrived at the Mall in Columbia a short time ago.
Christi Ng, 19, arrived as the Mall in Columbia opened at 1 p.m. and went directly to Zumiez, where she regularly worked with Brianna Benlolo.
Although Ng did not work this weekend, she said the shooting felt surreal as she closely followed it on TV.
“It’s definitely more real today now that the mall is open,” said Ng, who lives in Laurel.
Ng remembered Benlolo — or “Bri” — as “really, really hardworking,” a talented worker who rose to a management position within months of starting at Zumiez. “That tells you what kind of girl she was,” Ng said.
— Patrick Svitek
There are almost three dozen people waiting to get into the Apple store, including Isaac Miller, 77, a longtime Columbia resident.
He called the shooting a “sad event” but said “this is happening everywhere now,” including a mall that he feels is an important part of the community.
“It’s a place to come. It’s a place to hang out,” he said. “It means a lot to people around here.”
Saturday’s shooting doesn’t change his belief about the mall: “It’s a safe place. This can happen anywhere.”
— Mike Rosenwald
— Tom Fitzgerald (@FitzFox5DC) January 27, 2014
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings addressed shoppers as they prepared to head into the Mall in Columbia shortly before 1 p.m.
Ulman said the community has shown “true character” in dealing with the shooting, citing mall patrons who “grabbed folks they never met before” and rushed them to safety Saturday.
Cummings called Howard County one of the safest counties in the country. Still, the shooting shows violent acts know “no boundaries,” he said.
— Patrick Svitek