Nearly four months after two employees were shot and killed, the skate apparel and accessory shop Zumiez reopened on Monday in The Mall in Columbia.
The store has been closed since Jan. 25, the day Darion Aguilar, 19, gunned down two store employees at the store, Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson. Police said he then turned the gun on himself.
“After consulting with our employees and the victims’ families, we decided to completely remodel and reopen the store,” Zumiez officials said in a statement. “We all continue to keep the victims and their families in our hearts and, together, remember and honor them in many ways.”
Company officials said the remodeled store “quietly recognizes Brianna and Tyler with two simple tiles that bear their initials: ‘B’ and ‘T.’ “
As Zumiez opened Monday, the Maryland mall was sparsely patronized. Howard County police said they would have a “presence” at the mall as a precautionary measure, but a spokeswoman did not elaborate on the department’s plans.
A half-dozen people were in the store late Monday morning, looking at merchandise and taking in the design — an entrance of wood paneling and glass, racks of sneakers and pastel T-shirts at the door and some skateboards in the window. Zumiez company officials declined to allow staff interviews.
Reached at home, a woman who identified herself as Johnson’s mother said her family was aware of the store’s opening but did not wish to provide any statements. Benlolo’s family could not be reached.
At the nearby Columbia SkatePark, operated by the Columbia Association, Michael Veltre, 18, of Sykesville, said he’s eager to return to Zumiez, where he was a regular patron.
“The people working there were always nice,” Veltre said. “I’ve been back over to the mall about 10 or 12 times since [the shooting]. It was definitely pretty ominous and somber, pretty quiet for a while.”
Brett Bartek, assistant manager at the Columbia SportsPark, which includes the SkatePark, said the association might look to partner with Zumiez on skate-related events now that the store is reopened.
After an extensive investigation, Howard County police said in March that Aguilar did not know his victims and had planned a mass shooting inspired by the 1999 Columbine High School tragedy.
A journal he kept showed that Aguilar acknowledged symptoms of mental illness, and police said he saw a general physician. But investigators don’t believe he followed up by seeing a psychiatrist as the doctor had recommended.
He also kept his illness and plans from his family, police said.