Investigation Continues As Mall In Columbia Reopens With Memorial For Shooting Victims
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COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ)— The Mall in Columbia reopened to the public Monday, but it was anything but a normal day.
Meghan McCorkell has more as shoppers return.
It was an emotional day. We saw many shoppers hugging mall employees as they got back to work.
For the first time since Saturday’s deadly shooting, the Mall in Columbia opened its doors.
“When I first heard, I was terrified because I was like, I might be afraid to come here now. I guess nowhere is safe,” said shopper Daniella Diaz.
Several workers also say they’re on edge about coming back.
“You don’t know whether to feel safe anymore. You kissed your kids goodbye when you go to work every day,” said Cori Cross. “You don’t know if you’ll come home to them.”
While the parking lot was far from full, shoppers that did come out say they wanted to show support.
“It’s a tragedy but it’s important to see that life continues, as well,” said shopper Mike Drerup.
More details are coming out about the gun used in the triple fatal shooting.
The owner of United Gun Shop in Rockville says 19-year-old Darion Aguilar legally purchased a single-barrel shotgun from his store Dec. 10. Aguilar also brought a box of buckshot and birdshot ammunition and returned to the store later in the month to buy some more.
The gun shop owner says there was nothing unusual or alarming about Aguilar’s demeanor. He went through a FBI background check and Aguilar said the gun was going to be used for home defense.
The mall reopened to the general public at 1 p.m. Monday. Many people are looking for answers and healing.
The Zumiez skate store is boarded up as if it is under construction, and in black letters on the white board is a message commemorating the victims.
It reads: “Zumiez is closed until further notice. In loving memory of Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson, please express your messages of hope and encouragement at the mall’s center court.”
Along with the heartbreak and several memorials at the Mall in Columbia, questions remain.
Why did Aguilar bring a shotgun to the mall, kill the two victims and then kill himself?
Related Story: Family Of Victim, Mother Of Shooter Search For Answers
“It’s gotta be just chilling just to think that people were witnessing all of this, and the weirdest thing is not knowing the motive,” said Julie Erickson, of Columbia.
Police tracked Aguilar through the mall with surveillance footage. His backpack had explosive devices he left in the Zumiez dressing room before his rampage.
Entries in his journal now seized by police reportedly show he was generally unhappy with his life. But beyond that, the motive is unknown.
“I’m as frustrated as anyone out there that we still don’t have answers, but we are working very hard on it,” said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.
Investigators have not said yet why Aguilar targeted 21-year-old Benlolo and 25-year-old Johnson.
Related Story: People Who Knew Shooter Search For Answers
“We need to re-interview family members and establish if there’s any connection to what really triggered this,” said Chief Bill McMahon, Howard County Police.
“This shows that violent acts have no boundaries. The police, we look forward to hearing their final reports as to exactly what went on here,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, (D) Maryland.
The media toured the Mall in Columbia in advance of its 1 p.m. opening to the general public. Items could be seen scattered on the ground in the Claire’s store, which is located just a few feet away from Zumiez.
At a yogurt shop, strawberries sat where workers left them as they frantically tried to get away in the chaos.
“Our retailers did exactly what they were trained to do,” said Ashley Venable, mall manager. “They exited the mall, or they sheltered in place.”
On the ground floor, a memorial sits near the indoor pond. There are books where people can write messages for the victims that will later be delivered to their families. A bouquet of white flowers is set up there with baskets of white flowers for shoppers to throw into a fountain.
It serves as a reminder that as days get back to normal, what happened at the mall was anything but.
“Why is the big question, and I think the second question is what can we do about it?” said Daniel Medinger, Columbia resident.
There is another memorial set up outside the mall at Starbucks, where people are already coming to pay their respects. A banner there reads, “Forever in our hearts.”
The mall will hold a vigil on Thursday. Specific details are forthcoming.
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