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Task Force To Provide Better Mental Health Needs In Response To Columbia Mall Shooting

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COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ) — It’s been almost five months since the Columbia mall shooting that resulted in the deaths of two people and the gunman. The investigation revealed the suspect did have mental health issues.

Now Howard County officials are taking action to combat the growing threat.

Rochelle Ritchie explains how a new task force plans to provide better mental health needs.

Howard County is taking another step to better serve those suffering with mental illness and keep the community safe.

Gunshots ring out inside the Westview Mall as a man goes on a shooting spree. It’s a terrifying ordeal that seems all too real, but in fact, is a drill to better prepare for what has become a common threat across the country–mass shootings.

From Santa Barbara, Calif. to Newtown, Conn. and Columbia, Md., the diverse faces of mental illness have been vastly linked to multiple random shootings across the nation.

“The community hasn’t caught up to how we provide services,” said Andrea Ingram, Grassroots Crisis Intervention.

In lieu of this violent epidemic finding its way to Howard County, county executive Kevin Ulman signed an executive order creating a behavioral task force, which will provide more money to the mental health authority.

“We’ve been focused on mental health and behavioral health in Howard County for years,” Ulman said. “But the incident at Columbia mall in January forced us all to take another look, a deeper look.”

Darion Aguilar, 19, was the triggerman in the January Columbia mall shooting, where he gunned down Tyler Johnson and Brianna Benlolo before killing himself. Weeks before the murders, police found Aguilar was internally crying out for help.

“In the journal that he kept, he mentions that he is suffering from mental health issues, but he is afraid to tell mom about it,” said former Howard County Police Chief William McMahon.

Mental health education and training, follow-up services and a new position in the police department solely focused on mental health cases are all part of Howard County’s plan to fight back.

“They can live productive lives and we can also work to minimize the changes of additional tragedies to take place in our community,” said Ulman.

The additional funding will be part of the 2015 budget.

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