A TROUBLED young man armed with a shotgun took two innocent lives, and his own, at the Mall in Columbia on Saturday — an unspeakable, unbearable crime. It occurred in a relatively affluent suburb, in the anodyne precincts of an upscale shopping mall, amid a planned community known more for its cultural diversity and harmonious race relations than for violent crime. The murders appeared inexplicable; the gunman, 19-year-old Darion Marcus Aguilar, had no obvious motive for his actions nor connection with his victims. That makes his crime no harder or easier to digest. It just leaves questions.
It is meager comfort to the victims’ families, or to the community, to think that the shooter’s killing spree could have been more lethal than it was. He bought his weapon, a shotgun, in Maryland, which has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. In another state, Mr. Aguilar might have laid his hands more easily on an assault weapon, the sale of which was outlawed by lawmakers in Annapolis last year. But that doesn’t mitigate the trauma he visited on the mall or on the victims’ loved ones.
What makes a young man who works in a doughnut shop, who has no apparent history of violence and no criminal record, kill? What drives him to buy a weapon, stock up on ammunition, fashion crude explosive devices from fireworks and head to the mall? Why does he shoot two apparent strangers, then stop shooting well before running short of ammunition? And why do these seemingly random acts of bloodletting persist in the United States even as crime rates plummet?
Many homicide victims in this country know their killers or are related to them. That’s part of what makes a shooting at the mall — a place that functions as the town square — so horrifying. We may be inured to murderous flare-ups from drug deals gone bad; we may know how to process domestic disputes that end in rage and death. But a man walking into a skateboard shop at a mall and opening fire — it defies comprehension, no matter how often we have witnessed similar spectacles.
Local and state officials, including Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), went to the Mall in Columbia on Monday — to eat, to speak with shoppers, to say sensitive and curative words. They were right to do so, and maybe it will help. But any talk of closure, or moving past this tragedy, is just that: talk. Some wounds, physical and psychological, may fade over time. But they never fully heal.