ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (WJZ)— Howard County Executive Kenneth Ulman, who is running for lieutenant governor in the upcoming state election, delivered his final state of the county address on Thursday.

In wake of the shooting that claimed three lives at the Mall in Columbia in January, Ulman’s speech had significant focus on public safety and mental illness.

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Ulman touted public safety in the county and praised first responders.

“No investment is more important than the one we make in public safety,” he said. “During my administration, we have added more than 70 police officers, and we have targeted areas such as mental health, repeat offenders and domestic violence, while driving violent crime down to new lows.

“We make sure our first responders have the training and resources they need. Because you never know when the unthinkable is going to happen.”

Less than two months ago, 19-year-old Darion Aguilar opened fire at the Mall in Columbia, killing 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson, who both worked at the Zumiez store there. He then turned the gun on himself.

“Arriving on the scene and spending days at the mall, I saw the bravery and skill of our first responders, the selflessness and courage of mall employees and patrons, and the strength of a community vowing to come together and move forward,” Ulman said.

Ulman thanked Howard County Police Chief William McMahon, mall manager Ashley Venable  and various public safety officials for their acts of courage.

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“We sometimes forget that those uniformed officers are real people, with families of their own. But when we need them, they are there for us,” he said.

Ulman says such tragedies should not become the norm and mental illness should not be ignored.

“Here’s what is most striking about the mall shooting,” he said in his address. “A young man knew he was ill, but did not want to tell family or friends or even a teacher who could have helped.

“Although we will never know exactly why he didn’t share his struggle, I do know that in our society, there is still too much stigma associated with mental illness.

“Stigma takes hold when we are silent about an issue. Its grip tightens through a lack of awareness about available resources, or even how to ask for help.”

Ulman plans to include funding for mental health first aid training in his upcoming budget.  “[It’s] an important step to teach us how to identify, understand and respond to early warning signs,” he said.

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