COLUMBIA, Maryland (Reuters) - A Maryland mall where a 19-year-old gunman killed two store employees before apparently taking his own life reopened on Monday to mourners bearing flowers and questions about why the shooting happened.
The popular retail complex about 20 miles west of Baltimore had been closed since Darion Marcus Aguilar fired six to eight shots from a 12-gauge shotgun on Saturday as the mall bustled with weekend shoppers.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman told a few hundred people, many of them first responders, outside the mall before it reopened that the community had shown its resiliency and strength.
“In these tough times I’ve seen some things that I am incredibly proud of,” Ulman said while flanked by U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat.
After a moment of silence called for by Ulman, the onlookers walked in through the same entrance police say the shooter used.
Police are investigating what drove Aguilar, of College Park, Maryland, to shoot the employees of the Zumiez skateboard shop - Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Mount Airy, Maryland.
Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon told CNN investigators had not turned up any relationship between Aguilar and the victims.
A third person who was near the shop on the mall’s upper level just above the food court suffered a gunshot wound to the foot.
Carrying a bunch of lilies, Kristen Lowman, 20, of Elkridge, Maryland, said she was shopping at the mall when the shooting took place.
She was unsure if she would be able to come back to shop there, but added, “Anywhere you go you have a risk ... You can’t let bad people control what you do.”
Most stores appeared open, but the Zumiez shop was sealed off by a temporary white wall with a company statement on it saying it was closed in memory of Benlolo and Johnson.
Passersby stopped to snap photos, and bunches of flowers and stuffed animals were placed in front of the wall. They were quickly picked up by mall security.
Maryland Governor Martin O‘Malley, a Democrat who signed into law one of the nation’s toughest gun control bills last year, turned up after the ceremony to show solidarity with Columbia residents.
“The tragedies that unfolded here over the weekend reminded us that in places all around our state all of us are human, therefore all of us are vulnerable,” he told reporters.
The attack was the latest in a spate of U.S. shootings that has renewed questions about the vulnerability of public places. It sparked fresh calls from some politicians for stiffer gun control.
Aguilar had a backpack filled with crude explosives and authorities were initially concerned he had booby-trapped himself, police have said.
Police believe Aguilar, who they said did not have a criminal record, legally bought the shotgun last month in nearby Montgomery County.
Police found more ammunition and Aguilar’s journal during a search of his home. In the journal, “he does express some general unhappiness with his life,” McMahon said on Sunday.
Reporting by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Stephen Powell, Bernard Orr