Maryland Mall Shooter Revealed, Motive Still Unknown

Howard County Police
Howard County Police

On Saturday morning, instead of heading off to Dunkin' Donuts where he was supposed to open the store, Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, whom neighbors describe as a quiet, skinny teenager who loved skateboarding, got in a cab with a pump-action, pistol-grip Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun hidden from sight and a backpack filled with homemade explosives and headed to Columbia Mall in suburban Baltimore.


According to the Washington Post Aguilar got dropped off between Sears and Starbucks around 10:15 a.m. on the second floor of the mall, walked down to the food court and hung out for about an hour.

"We don’t have him on camera in the food court the entire time," Howard County Executive Ken Ulman told the Post. "But we know he stayed in that area because we would know if he moved out of that area … The way the cameras are, we would have seen him somewhere else if he left that area."


Then, around 11:15, Aguilar took the escalator back upstairs and walked into Zumiez, a store that sells surfer and skater gear. Police told the Post that Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, were working at the store while a customer browsed.

Police are unclear where the shotgun was hidden, as it can't be seen on his person in the video, the Post reports.

Investigators "don’t know where the weapon was," Ulman told the Post. Aguilar bought the shotgun last month in Montgomery County, the Post reports. "The assumption is it was in the backpack," he said. "It certainly wasn’t visible. He wasn’t carrying it openly."

The Associated Press reports that Aguilar entered the store, walked to the back dressing room, dropped his book bag, walked back out and started shooting. In the end, several people were injured and three people were found dead: two store employees and Aguilar, who police said turned the gun on himself.

What is left in the wake of this tragedy is a sleepy community in a state of disbelief, investigators who have been baffled by emerging details since the shooting and three families whose lives have been connected in tragedy while police try determine if the three shared a connection prior to the shooting.


'We Lost a Real Good Guy'

Tyler Johnson lived in Mount Airy, Md., his aunt, Maggie Sliker, told the Post in a phone interview, saying that her nephew was a "kind, caring person." Sliker told the Post that Johnson had his battles with drug and alcohol earlier in his life and that those days were behind him. He had not only been sober for two years, but was on the board of the Serenity Center, a 12-step program-meeting house in Columbia.


"He was in every way going forward and rising up to become a person with a mission statement," she said. "We lost a real good guy."

Billy Copeland, 25, of Ellicott City, told the Baltimore Sun that he and Johnson had been friends since middle school.


"I wish I could give you a picture of him—he was just alive, vibrant," Copeland told the Sun. "He would laugh and he just drew people to him." Copeland told the Sun that Johnson "dove into this program and he tried to help everybody. He really cared about everybody."

According to the Sun, several people credited Johnson with aiding in their recovery.


Copeland said he learned of Johnson's death Sunday morning from the television news, the Sun reports.

"I felt sick. I said, 'No, no, no, not Tyler! I could not stop crying. I went on Facebook and I saw 'R.I.P., Tyler Johnson,' and I knew it was true," Copeland said. "He did not deserve this."


'Live Everyday for Today'

Brianna Benlolo, a 21-year-old single mother, lived in the same middle-income neighborhood as Aguilar, called Hollywood, in College Park, Md. A stone's throw from the University of Maryland, the neighborhood has nothing in common with its namesake. It is a diverse neighborhood with modest homes, bookended by the Capital Beltway. Police have been investigating whether there was any romantic connection between the three involved.


"There’s still speculation that there was somehow some romantic involvement" between Aguilar, Benlolo and Johnson and Benlolo, Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon told the Post. "We have not been able to establish that, and I’m not sure where that information is coming from. And it's becoming very frustrating for the families of the victims to hear this."

Benlolo's grandfather, John Feins, told the Associated Press 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. "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."

Benlolo's Instagram account is still active. People have been clicking through photos and leaving condolences. She wrote on her title page: "Zumiez 1st Assistant 295 Mom. Daughter. Sister. Forgive The Past. Love Like You've Never Been Hurt. Live Everyday For Today."

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