Maryland Mall Shooter Kills Two and Self
A shooting at a skateboard and clothing shop in a suburban Maryland mall left two store employees and their shotgun-wielding assailant dead Saturday, police said.
Police Saturday night identified the two victims as 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo of College Park, Md., and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson of Ellicott City, Md. Both worked at the store. Also dead is the unidentified male shooter, apparently of a self-inflicted gunshot, police said.
Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon said the assailant had “a large amount of ammunition on and about him.” He said the weapon was a shotgun and the motive unkown as of late afternoon Saturday.
“Because of concerns about any other weapons he may have had or explosives, we are approaching this with an abundance of caution and we are getting assistance from some of our federal partners in making sure there are no explosives on the body,” McMahon said.
McMahon declined to confirm reports by CNN and other media that the shooting was a domestic incident. “We have no “knowledge of that yet,” he said. “We do not know yet what caused the shooting incident.”
Of the injured, he said, one person was being treated for a gunshot wound, one for “a medical condition” and the others for injuries including “twisted ankles” sustained as they fled the scene of the shooting, a store called Zumiez.
Brianna Benlolo’s grandfather, John Feins, in a telephone interview from Florida, told Associated Press his granddaughter had a 2-year-old son and that the job at Zumiez was her first since she went back to work after her son’s birth.
“She was all excited because she was the manager there,” he said.
He said he had spoken with his daughter, Brianna’s mother, earlier in the day, but didn’t know who the gunman was or whether the person knew his granddaughter.
“It’s senseless. It’s totally, totally senseless,” 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? You go to work and make a dollar and you got some idiot coming in and blowing people away,” he said.
Zumiez CEO Rick Brooks released a statement that the company is making counseling available for employees in the area.
“The Zumiez team is a tight knit community and all of our hearts go out to Brianna and Tyler’s families,” he wrote.
In midday briefing Saturday, County Executive Howard Ulman said The Mall in Columbia, located in a suburb of both Baltimore and Washington, would remain an active crime scene “for some time.” In that briefing, McMahon said SWAT teams with support from state police and other agencies were going through the mall “to make sure there are no more victims” or injuries and to safely remove those still taking shelter inside.
The Mall in Columbia is located at the center of the town and has over 200 stores.
McMahon said the SWAT team sweeps continued until shortly after 4 p.m. He said police were “very confident” there were no additional shooters involved or at large. Investigators were continuing to interview witnesses and review surveillance video through the afternoon, he said.
“When something like this happens, people run in many directions,” McMahon said. “And they also do absolutely what we have trained people to do and that’s to shelter in place. So right now we still have many many people still in the mall that have secured themselves inside stores.”
Witnesses described moments of panic as they heard a succession of gunshots and screaming as people ran for cover into nearby stores and hid behind locked doors.
Joan Harding of Elkridge, Md., was shopping with her husband, David, for a tiara for their granddaughter’s 18th birthday. She said she heard something heavy falling, followed by gunshots and people running.
“My husband said, ‘Get down!’ and the girl that worked in the store said, ‘Get in the back,’ ” Harding said. That is where they hid until police gave the all-clear.
Tonya Broughton of Silver Spring, Md., was with a friend getting facials for a ‘girls morning out,’ she said. “The only thing I heard was all the people running and screaming and saying ‘There’s a shooter! There’s a shooter!’ ” she said.
Wearing a gel face mask, she and her friend hunkered down in a Victoria Secret store.
People were directed out of the mall and into a parking lot, where some boarded a bus and others walked toward their cars. Some people were seen crying. McMahon said detectives were interviewing witnesses as they emerged from the mall to try to get a better picture of the events that had unfolded.
Laura McKinzles of Columbia works at a kiosk in the mall. She said she heard between eight and 10 gunshots, followed by people running and screaming. She ran into the backroom of a perfume store and locked the door.
Allison Cohen, who works at the apparel store “Lucky Brand Jeans,” said she always felt safe at the mall.
“I truly never thought something like this would ever happen here,” Cohen said. “It’s really, really shocking.”
McMahon said police and mall personnel had previously conducted emergency drills in preparation for such incidents and appeared to have followed the guidance from those drills on Saturday.
“I want to thank our brave men and women in law enforcement here in Howard County who rushed into the scene immediately,” Ulman said. “This was an incredibly well run, thoughtful operation tactically, with a lot of help from our neighboring agencies.”
MSNBC was reporting at 1:30 p.m. that the mall remained in lockdown, with shoppers being kept inside as police continue to secure the scene. The network quoted a witness as saying a young man carrying a “long gun” or shotgun had fired from the second level of the mall.
CNN was reporting that shots were heard on the second floor of the mall, prompting shoppers to seek cover or flee toward exits. A mall employee identified only as “K.T.” by CNN said the shooting took place near a food establishment called The Great Cookie; he said he heard one shopper say police “got the guy,” apparently referring to the shooter.
The Howard County Fire and emergency services department sent out at tweet at 11:25 a.m. Saturday, saying that police and rescuers were responding to “an active shooter” at the mall. The mall typically opens at 10 a.m. on Saturdays and it was not known how many shoppers or workers might have been at the scene.
Associated Press contributed to this report.