Victims of Maryland mall shooting identified; motive still unknown
COLUMBIA, Md. — Maryland authorities identified two victims who were killed Saturday morning at a shopping mall by a man wielding a shotgun, but they were still trying to identify the gunman and his motive.
The victims, Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, Md.; and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Ellicott City, Md.; were both employees at a skateboard shop called Zumiez, located on the upper level of The Mall in Columbia, Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon told reporters.
The gunman was also found dead at the scene, and five other people were injured, authorities said.
“This shouldn’t happen in a Columbia mall,” McMahon said. “This shouldn’t happen anywhere.”
Authorities said they found ammunition next to the gunman’s body and were investigating whether he was carrying explosives. They said it appeared the man committed suicide but had yet to confirm that.
Although some news outlets reported that the gunman’s motive was related to a domestic dispute, McMahon said that was speculation.
“We do not know yet what caused the shooting incident,” he said at an afternoon news conference, five hours after the gunfire, which erupted about 11:15 a.m.
Police are conducting interviews with witnesses and reviewing surveillance footage, McMahon said.
Five people were treated for injuries at Howard County General Hospital, McMahon said. One suffered a gunshot wound to the foot, and the four others were being treated for medical conditions or injuries related to tripping while moving away from the mall. The hospital said on Twitter on Saturday afternoon that all five of the patients had been treated and released.
Mall shoppers and staffers described a scene of confusion and terror.
“Suddenly, I heard a shot and I heard three more — boom, boom boom!” said Roger Aseneta, 52, the manager of Auntie Anne’s, a pretzel shop. Then he saw people running and heard screaming. “I never dreamed I would experience this. I see this on television — all the shootings everywhere.”
Robert Ashton, 49, of Fontana, Calif., who is in Maryland on a business trip, was in the food court with co-workers. “There was a loud boom. At first we thought it was a table falling,” he said. “But then we heard at least three more shots. We took off running.”
It took authorities hours to evacuate the mall. On a Saturday night, the movie theaters and restaurants would be bustling, but as the sun set the mall was closed and deserted, except for police and news media.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman told reporters that police responded to emergency calls within two minutes.
“This was a very scary incident,” he said. “A lot of people were very close to where this happened.”
Ulman thanked the community and officials for their thoughts and prayers.
“The outpouring of love and compassion that I’ve seen today through tragedy really warms my heart,” he said.
Simon reported from Columbia and Hamedy from Los Angeles.
[For the record, 9:42 p.m. Jan. 25: A previous version of this post mistakenly referred to the Auntie Anne’s pretzel shop at Aunt Annie’s.]
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