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Maryland mall gunman kept journal citing unhappiness, police say

Crime, Law and JusticeLaw EnforcementCrimeShootingsColleges and UniversitiesZumiez Inc.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Darion Marcus Aguilar, who authorities say killed two people and then himself at a shopping mall, kept a journal in which he expressed some "general unhappiness" with his life, Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said Sunday.

But police had identified no motive for the shooting and knew of no relationship between Aguilar, 19, and either of the victims, authorities said.

Aguilar’s friends and family also were mystified. They remembered him as a skateboarder, a nice guy and a vegetarian who didn't seem to have any particular interest in guns.

Before graduation from James Hubert Blake High School in May, he hung out with the skateboard kids, but one friend said he seemed more interested in high-end skateboarding clothes than in the sport itself.

"He wasn't very good, but he kept at it," said Kevin Ayala, a former classmate who told the Los Angeles Times in an email that he used to skate with Aguilar at lunch in the school courtyard. "I can't really say where he got his stuff from, but I'm pretty sure it was from Zumiez, because it's one of the closest skate shops around."

And it was at the Zumiez store in a mall in Columbia, Md., on Saturday morning where Aguilar took a shotgun and fatally gunned down two Zumiez employees, Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Mount Airy.

Aguilar fired a total of six to eight shots, police said, some at shoppers in the mall, before killing himself. He had a bag with him that contained two crude devices made of "flash powder and household items," police said.

Whether Aguilar knew either of the victims was unclear. He lived within half a mile of victim Benlolo in College Park, but was virtually unknown in his neighborhood. Police said they'd found no hint that he and Benlolo were in any sort of relationship.

The white, two-story house where Aguilar lived with his mother in College Park was well kept, with a Christmas wreath on the front door, just a short walk off a main commercial street. No one answered the door Sunday, where reporters had stuffed business cards and notes asking the family to call. 

They were seeking an explanation for the rampage, with a reason thus far eluding investigators, classmates who knew him from school and his own mother. Aguilar bought the shotgun legally about a month ago, police said, but he was not known as a gun aficionado.

"I just, I don't know ... he never had a gun before, never been interested in guns, never been interested in anything like that," a woman who identified herself as Aguilar's mother told a reporter for WNEW radio in a phone interview, declining to give her name. "I feel for those other parents too, I do."

The woman added, with emotion straining her voice: "If you were to go into his room, you would see what a gentle, sweet kid he was. ... I don't know what happened; I really don't. It's so unusual; you can talk to any of his friends to find out what a gentle person he was."

Aguilar had no criminal record in Maryland, and former classmates from James Hubert Blake High School – known to students as Blake – couldn't think of anything that would have signaled trouble.

"He’s just a very good person," Tydryn Scott, 18, told the Los Angeles Times in a phone interview. "Quiet, timid, but never shy. You know the kids in high school that are mad every day," and he wasn't one of them, she said. "He was happy; he was laughing. Never got into any fights, no situations."

Scott said she was Aguilar's lab partner for four years and had English with him. When he got called on sometimes in class, she said, "it was kind of to snap him out of whatever he was doing."

But, she added, "When it came down to it, he always got his work done, he always did well."

News that Aguilar was the shooter rocked other classmates too. "We were in the same home room, had classes together, and graduated together," another classmate posted on social media with a photo of Aguilar grinning in an apparent yearbook photo. "He was a nice guy. It's hard to believe that he would do that."

Another tweeted, "Darion wasn't the local psycho. Chill with all that."

Ayala, who skated with Aguilar, described him to The Times as "the type of guy that was friendly, but out of school he kept to himself. ... Honestly, I can't say I ever saw him upset or with any type of mood swings. Like I said, he was very quiet and calm."

Aguilar had been accepted to attend Montgomery College, a community college in the suburbs of Washington, college spokesman Marcus Rosano told The Times in an email.

"But he never registered for classes and never attended Montgomery College," Rosano wrote, adding that neither of the victims from Zumiez had attended the school either.

Benlolo, according to her Facebook page, was an assistant manager at the store and grew up in Florida and Colorado before moving to Maryland in 2010. Johnson's Facebook page indicated he had worked at the store since November. Both have family in Mount Airy.

A friend of Johnson's family, who did not wish to be identified, said outside the family's Mount Airy home that they did not wish to speak. "They're grieving," he said of the family members gathered inside.

On Sunday, Johnson's family issued a statement: "We have lost a kind, positive son who reached out to help others in need, and he made a difference. Our prayers are with him and the other victims and all the people who have been touched by this violence."

The search for a link or a motive loomed over authorities, who were continuing their investigation Sunday as the mall was preparing to reopen at 1 p.m. Monday.

"There’s a lot of interest in the motive in this, and I have as much interest in that as anybody," McMahon, the police chief, told reporters at an evening news conference.

richard.simon@latimes.com

matt.pearce@latimes.com

Simon reported from Maryland, Pearce from Los Angeles. The Baltimore Sun contributed to this report.

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