COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ)—The store at the Mall in Columbia where two employees were gunned down has reopened with a permanent memorial to the victims.
Investigative reporter Mike Hellgren takes a closer look at how this is helping bring closure to the community.
On Saturday, Jan. 25, the Mall in Columbia descended into chaos when Darian Aguilar walked into the Zumiez store, assembled a gun in the dressing room, and then shot two employees, 25-year-old Tyler Johnson and 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo.
Now, four months after that terrible day, Zumiez is open.
Outside the store, you see the letter “T” engraved on a tile for Tyler. A few feet away, a tile with “B” memorializes Brianna.
Toks Arowojolu, who comes to the mall every Saturday, believes getting back to business is the right decision.
“Just showing that this community can survive anything and that we are trying to move forward, even despite it being such a horrific tragedy,” Arowojolu said.
Zumiez says it consulted with its employees and the victims’ families before making the decision to reopen.
“The cold, hard truth is you’ve got to move on at some point,” said Cale Latchaw, firefighter.
But concern still persists about whether anything could have prevented Aguilar’s rampage.
A loner, Aguilar occasionally spent time at the mall but never knew his victims. His frightening journal entries show an obsession with the Columbine Massacre and a troubling slide into mental illness.
“He recognized he had an issue. In fact, he brought it up to a physician,” said Chief William McMahon, Howard County Police. “His actions were horrendous, inexcusable, but he suffered from mental health issues that were undiagnosed and untreated.”
Now, there’s a subtle reminder of the pain he caused that day, a reminder of two bright young lives–for every customer who walks into the store.
“It was a shock to me, the shooting. I am happy that they’re opening the store up again,” Arowojolu said. “I am going to go by, and I am going to look at the tiles.”
Benlolo left behind a 2-year-old son named Elijah.
There are memorial funds set up for both victims. For more information, click here.
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