Mall gunman had no criminal past
COLUMBIA, Md. — The gunman who killed two people at a Maryland mall was a teenage skateboarding enthusiast who had no criminal record before he showed up at the shopping center armed with a shotgun, plenty of ammunition and a backpack filled with crude homemade explosives, authorities said Sunday.
Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, took a taxi to the Mall in Columbia in suburban Baltimore on Saturday morning and entered the building near Zumiez, a shop that sells skateboarding gear. He went downstairs to a food court directly below the store, then returned less than an hour later, dumped the backpack in a dressing room and started shooting, police said.
Shoppers fled in a panic or barricaded themselves behind closed doors. When police arrived, they found three people dead — two store employees and Aguilar, who killed himself, authorities said.
The shooting baffled investigators and acquaintances of Aguilar, a quiet, skinny teenager who graduated from high school less than a year ago and had no previous run-ins with law enforcement. Police spent Sunday trying to piece together his motive, but it remained elusive.
Aguilar fired six to nine times. One victim, Brianna Benlolo, a 21-year-old single mother, lived half a mile away from Aguilar in the same College Park neighborhood, but police said they were still trying to determine what, if any, relationship they had.
Although they lived close to Maryland’s largest university, neither was a student there.
The other employee, Tyler Johnson, did not know Aguilar and did not socialize with Benlolo outside of work, a relative said.
Tydryn Scott, 19, said she was Aguilar’s lab partner in science class at James Hubert Black High School and said he hung out with other skaters. She said she was stung by the news.
“It was really hurtful, like, wow — someone that I know, someone that I’ve been in the presence of more than short amounts of time. I’ve seen this guy in action before. Never upset, never sad, just quiet, just chill,” Scott told The Associated Press. “If any other emotion, he was happy, laughing.”
Aguilar graduated in 2013, school officials confirmed.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said at a news conference. Aguilar purchased the 12-gauge shotgun legally last month at a store in neighboring Montgomery County.
It took hours to identify the gunman since he was carrying ammunition and the crude explosives, McMahon said. Officers searched Aguilar’s home Saturday night, recovering more ammunition, computers and documents, police said.
The home is a two-story wood-frame house in a middle-income neighborhood called Hollywood, near the Capital Beltway. No one answered the door Sunday morning. There was a Christmas wreath on the front door and signs that read “Beware of Dog.”
Aguilar and his mother rented the home. Sirkka Singleton, who owns the property with her husband and lives a block away, said they use a property manager to find tenants and have never met the Aguilars. She declined to say who the property manager was.
A roommate who answered the door at Benlolo’s home confirmed that she lived there but declined to comment further. Two police officers went into the home after he spoke briefly to a couple of reporters.
Residents described the neighborhood as a mix of owners and renters, including some University of Maryland students. But university spokeswoman Katie Lawson said neither the victims nor the gunman attended the school.
A man who answered the phone at Johnson’s residence in Mount Airy, northwest of Baltimore, said the family had no comment. The victim’s aunt told a local television station that she did not believe her nephew knew Aguilar.
Sydney Petty, in a statement to WBAL-TV, said she did not believe her nephew had a relationship with Benlolo.
“Tyler didn’t have anything beyond a working relationship with this girl, and he would have mentioned it if he did, and we’re just as confused as anybody,” Petty said.
She said her nephew also worked at a drug rehabilitation center in Mount Airy, for which she served on the board.
Five other people were hurt in the attack, but only one was hit by gunfire — a woman who was in the food court downstairs from the store and was hit in the foot. All were released from hospitals by Saturday evening.
At the time of the shooting, the mall was busy with weekend shoppers and employees. Stores were to reopen Monday afternoon.
Benlolo’s grandfather, John Feins, said in a telephone interview from Florida that his granddaughter had a 2-year-old son and that the job at Zumiez was her first since giving birth to her son.
“She was all excited because she was the manager there,” he said.
He described his daughter’s family as a military family that had moved frequently and had been in Colorado before moving to Maryland about two years ago. He said his granddaughter was on good terms with her son’s father, and they shared custody.
“I mean, what can you say?” he said. “You go to work and make a dollar and you got some idiot coming in and blowing people away.”
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