Police: Columbia Mall shooter had no connection to victims

COULMBIA, Md. - Howard County police painted a picture of Darion Marcus Aguilar as someone struggling with mental health issues, contemplating suicide and had a fixation on the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in the months leading up to the Columbia Mall shooting.

During an hour-long news conference Wednesday, Howard County police released  a timeline of events, video images, photos and computer evidence leading up to Aguilar entering the Zumiez store at the mall on Jan. 25, opening fire and killing store employees Brianna Benlolo, 21 and Tyler Johnson, 25 .

RELATED: See PHOTOS: Columbia Mall shooting timeline

Howard County police Chief William McMahon said his department took the unusual step of releasing evidence prior in an ongoing investigation in an effort to share information and bring closure to the community.

At the beginning of the news conference, McMahon chastised early reports that Benlolo and Johnson were targeted, as he confirmed that there was no connection between the shooter and the victims.

McMahon said investigators found thousands of searches on Aguilar’s computer for mass murder, homicidal thoughts, school shootings, buying and shooting a shotgun, gun shops, mental illness, suicide, homemade explosives, and bombs, among other things. They also found numerous photos related to similar topics on a Tumblr account linked to Aguilar’s computer, which has since been deactivated by Tumblr.

“No one saw this coming,” said McMahon, referring to those who knew Aguilar.

On the day of the shooting, McMahon said Aguilar waited inside the mall for more than 40 minutes after being dropped off by a cab, and believe he may have been waiting to begin his shooting at the same time that the Columbine massacre started, at 11:14 a.m.

McMahon pointed out that Aguilar’s weapon, attire, backpack containing explosives, and method of suicide were all similar to those used in the Columbine incident.

The investigation shows that Aguilar entered Zumiez on the upper level with a disassembled shotgun in his backpack, went into a dressing room and assembled the weapon. He then exited the dressing room, shot Benlolo once and Johnson multiple times, killing each instantly.

McMahon said Aguilar had 54 rounds of ammunition with him, but shot just nine times. Along with killing Benlolo and Johnson, Aguilar fired twice across the hall and struck a woman in the foot.

He fired one shot into the lower level food court, striking a wall, and one shot into the Zumiez storefront glass at a mannequin. He then re-entered the store and took his own life.

Officers found two homemade explosive devices in the shooter’s backpack in the Zumiez dressing room; both were rendered safe. Also inside the backpack, officers found a video camera that contained short videos displaying the shooter’s shotgun and ammunition. The videos appeared to have been recorded in his bedroom. He is never seen on camera. 

McMahon said the shooter had visited a doctor last year and received a referral to see a psychiatrist, but there is no evidence he followed through with that.

“The shooter went to the doctor in April and shared that he was ‘hearing voices,’” said McMahon, who added he hopes this tragedy opens a wider discussion on mental health both locally and nationally.

McMahon added: “The takeaway for the community is to develop a comfort level in talking about mental health issues.”

Also, McMahon hopes the community can heal from this day of violence and stressed that the mall is still a great place for the community to gather and those who work there along with law enforcement were prepared to handle such an incident.

“"The mall is a tremendously safe place to be,” McMahon said.

McMahon said it is also important to not forget the victims in this case. He said foundations have been created in both Benlolo and Johnson's memory.Those wishing to make a donation in either's name can visit here

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