Mall In Columbia Shooter Obsessed With Columbine; No Connection To Victims
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COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ) — Police paint a disturbing picture of Darion Aguilar. He’s the 19-year-old who killed two employees at a store at the Mall in Columbia.
Mike Hellgren takes a closer look at the new revelations.
Police say there was no connection between shooter Darion Aguilar and the victims–21-year-old Brianna Benlolo and 25- year-old Tyler Johnson–nor did he specifically target them.
A picture shows Darion Aguilar with the shotgun he bought and would eventually use to kill Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson before killing himself in a rampage at the Mall in Columbia last January.
“There will still be some questions that we as a society and as a community will continue to grapple with,” said Ken Ulman, Howard County Executive.
In a rare move, police shared evidence in what is still an open case, hoping to bring closure to the community.
The picture they painted of Aguilar is of a young man who grew increasingly troubled over the past year.
Police say he was obsessed with the Columbine killers, looking up their videos, even playing a video game devoted to the high school mass shooting and performing thousands of disturbing searches online.
They say he modeled his suicide attire after them.
“He’s visiting sites that are devoted to mass shootings, including those at schools and at malls,” said Chief William McMahon, Howard County Police.
At the same time, police say Aguilar was also looking for help, searching suicide prevention websites. He even mentioned to his doctor that he was hearing voices. That same doctor referred him to a psychiatrist in April.
“The doctor’s notes from that visit describe those as being non-specific, non-violent and really not directing him to do anything,” McMahon said. “Through our investigation, we can find no evidence that the shooter was ever seen by a mental health professional.”
They say a general practitioner talked to his mother to share concerns, but she claims she doesn’t remember the conversation and that she never knew he had a problem.
“If you were to go in his room, you would see what a gentle, sweet kid he was,” she said.
On Dec. 10, police say Aguilar legally bought a shotgun at the United Gun Shop in Rockville.
Police released pictures of Aguilar inside the Arundel Mills Bass Pro Shops, where they say he bought ammunition.
They also released pictures of him at the Home Depot in College Park, where they say he bought materials to make explosive devices.
Police say there is no indication Aguilar’s mother knew about the gun or the ammunition.
Police also released new information about his hate-filled journal entries.
“Certainly, the writings that we have seen support that he was dealing with mental health issues, that he has thoughts of suicide. He even acknowledges at some point in this journal that he needs to see a psychiatrist,” McMahon said. “And he also writes that he’s going to kill people.”
Excerpt: “I am going to [expletive] kill you all in a couple of hours I’m anxious, I hate you all so much you are pathetic pieces of [expletive] who deserve to die. Worthless you are all [expletive] worthless. Everything seems fake. I think that I may already be dead.”
On Jan. 25, the day of the shooting, police say Aguilar left his home in College Park. He first stopped at a bank in Beltsville, wearing a backpack that police believe contained a disassembled shotgun and two homemade explosives.
They believe Aguilar made the explosives from fireworks and other household items.
Police say Aguilar then took a bus to Burtonsville, where he picked up the cab that would eventually take him to the mall.
He arrived at the Mall in Columbia around 10:10 a.m., walked to Zumiez and then took the escalator around 10:18 a.m. He wasn’t seen again until about 11 a.m.
At 11:01 a.m., about the same time as the Columbine shootings, Aguilar went back upstairs, entered Zumiez and went into the dressing room to put together the shotgun.
Police believe Aguilar took a picture of himself to gain fame and posted these comments online:
“I had to do this. Today is the day. On previous days I tried this I woke up with anxiety, regret and hope for a better future this day I didn’t, I woke up felt no emotions no empathy no sympathy. I will have freedom or maybe not. I could care less.”
He started the rampage at 11:14 a.m. — the same time as the Columbine massacre.
Police say Aguilar fired nine shots total and had 54 rounds of ammunition. He fired once at Brianna Benlolo behind the counter. Tyler Johnson was shot multiple times in the front of the store.
Police say Aguilar then walked out of the store and fired two shots. One hit the railing and the other hit a woman in the heel.
He fired additional shots toward the food court, narrowly missing more victims, before re-entering Zumiez and killing himself.
“We are fortunate he took his own life rather than run down the hallway and chase victims as they were fleeing,” Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said.
Family members describe Tyler Johnson as fierce and say he had plans to become a counselor. He worked at the Howard County DrugFree program.
Relatives say Brianna Benlolo was full of life and compassion and lived each day as if it were her last. They say she was an amazing mother and role model.
Both families have established foundations in honor of their children.
Police say the takeaway for the community is to develop a comfort level to talk about mental health issues.
Chief McMahon assures the public the mall is “a safe place to go.”
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