The Mall in Columbia reopens two days after shooting
5:46 AM, Jan 27, 2014
6:03 PM, Jan 27, 2014
HOWARD COUNTY - All was quiet Monday at The Mall in Columbia, but it was plain to see all was not normal at the Howard County shopping hub.
Memorials were set up both inside and outside of the mall and people lined up with flowers in memory of the two young people gunned down Saturday while they worked.
The Mall in Columbia reopened at 1 p.m. Monday following the shooting deaths of Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson, who worked together at the Zumiez store in the mall. Howard County police allege the gunman was 19-year-old Darion Marcus Aguilar, of College Park, who then killed himself.
"When the mall reopens we will ensure that we have a strong police presence here so people feel comfortable and safe shopping here," Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon said.
"We understand the Columbia Mall is a very unique place in the country, it's not just an economic institution. It's really a place of community so we understand that and are working close with mall officials to allow them to reopen as quickly as we can," McMahon said.
Media were allowed to tour the mall prior to the official re-opening, and it was easy to tell that signs of Saturday's horror remained. Some stores still had merchandise on the floor, knocked over during the height of the chaos, which took place a little after 11 a.m. Saturday.
After the media tour, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman took time to thank all of those who assisted others in the aftermath of the shooting and he worked to ensure that the community will move forward.
"In the aftermath of a terrible, terrible tragic incident, this community showed its true character, its strength and resiliency and we wanted to be here to show our respects to the victims, but also also to let the community know that the mall is open and that we will go back about our lives."
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, whose district includes the mall, shared a similar message.
."This has been a very tragic, tragic event," Cummings said. "We join the families that lost loved ones in mourning their loss. We also join them in mourning what could have been...
"This is a resilient community and let the word go out that this is one of the safest counties in the country. This shows that violent acts show no boundaries."
Among the most visual signs of the tragedy was the white covering over the opening of Zumiez. On it was a simple message from the mall and store: "Zumiez is closed until further notice. In loving memory of Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson, please express your messages of hope and encouragement at the Mall's Center Court."
It's unclear if and when Zumiez might reopen.
"We are deeply saddened by the violence that has occurred this morning within our store in Maryland at The Mall in Columbia," said Zumiez CEO Rick Brooks in a statement. "Our hearts go out to the victims and their families…
"We're making arrangements for counseling to be made available to Zumiez employees in the area. As you can imagine, we are receiving numerous calls and are unable to respond to the flood of questions at this time. We're working with the Howard County police department and all information will come through them. We won't be giving interviews or comments. Thank you for understanding."
Police still have not confirmed a motive for the shooting as they continue to investigate every aspect of the case. Mall officials have pledged their full cooperation in the investigation.
"Our prayers and support are with the entire Columbia and Howard County communities," said Ashley Venable, senior general manager of The Mall in Columbia in a statement. We are cooperating with the Howard County Police Department as it conducts its investigation of today's tragedy.
"Howard County Police Department is releasing information to us and the community as quickly as possible and directing people to its Twitter account for the most up-to-date information. We ask you keep all those affected and their families in your prayers."
Shopper Mark Albrecht was among the many who came out Monday for the reopening.
"It shows the community cares," he said.
ABC2 News' Amy Aubert and Ron Snyder contributed to this story.