A lone gunman burst into a skate shop in a sprawling suburban Baltimore mall on Saturday, gunning down two of the store’s employees, police said, turning a morning of perusing and window shopping into a day of death and chaos.
The shooter, who had a “large amount of ammunition” on his person, used a shotgun to kill two employees of Zumiez, located on the second floor of the Mall in Columbia in suburban Baltimore, above the food court. The gunman then killed himself, officials believe. The gunman was dead when officers arrived within two minutes of the 911 call, police told the Daily News.
Police disabled clumsy attempts at explosive devices that were found in the gunman’s bag, the Associated Press reported.
Police have identified the two fatal victims as Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, Md. and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Ellicott City, Md. They both worked at the store. Police have yet to identify the shooter.
Benlolo’s colleague Tyler Johnson, 25, of Ellicott City, Md. was also killed by an unidentified shooter.
The identity of the shooter remains unknown, McMahon said. Police have yet to release the motive for the shooting and are confident he acted alone.
TV Station WBAL reports the gunman was Benlolo’s ex-boyfriend, and Johnson was Benlolo were engaged.
Police arrived at the sprawling mall only two minutes after the first 911 calls were placed, the police chief said, and secured the shopping center by 1 p.m.
Jose Luis Magana/AP
Police move in from a parking lot to the Mall in Columbia after a multiple shooting. Three people, including the suspected shooter, have been confirmed dead.
“This shouldn’t happen in our community, this shouldn’t happen in any community,” Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon said at a press conference late Saturday afternoon, hours after the 11:15 a.m. shooting. He said investigators are still looking into a motive, and said that reports that the killings were part of a domestic dispute were purely speculative.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said that the mall has been declared clear after local, state, and federal authorities scoured “every inch of the mall.”
Ulman praised authorities for following protocol, and deeming the shooting a “very scary incident.”
The mall will remain closed through the evening and police will have patrols throughout the night.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Maryland State Police gear up as civilians depart the Mall in Columbia after a fatal shooting.
Police said they do not plan any more press conferences Saturday.
Five others were wounded in the shooting and they all have been treated and released, according to the Howard County General Hospital’s Twitter page.
Authorities said they received a 911 call at 11:15 a.m., an hour and 15 minutes after the mall was scheduled to open. It was not immediately clear how many shoppers and retail workers were at the Columbia, Md., shopping center at the time of the shooting. The mall was crowded and some patrons remained in the shopping center a few hours after the shooting until the mall was cleared.
bennylulu_ via Instagram
Briana Benlolo 21, shown here working at the mall a week ago where she worked as a first assistant manager.
One frightened witness who works at Cartoon Cuts told NBCWashington.com that the sound of gunfire alarmed her. “It sounded like someone dropped something,” she told the NBC site, “and all of a sudden, I see people fall to the ground … I just saw everybody run, so I ran.”
The Howard County Police said that the fire department and police are currently on the scene. The police department announced via Twitter around 1:26 p.m. that two more victims with “minor injuries” that were not directly related to the shooting were transported to a local hospital.
Authorities are asking shoppers to remain where they are until police can clear each area safely.
Ian Kennedy, whose wife Lena and their two-year-old child were in the mall at the time of the shooting, told the Daily News that he was en route to the Mall in Columbia when he got a heart-stopping text. “She said, ‘Don’t come, there’s a shooter’ and said she was hiding in a closet,” the 35-year-old nonprofit communications director said.
Mall employees and patrons react as they are allowed to leave a theater lobby, where law enforcement officals talked to them as potential witnesses.
Lena Kennedy was able to escape, but her husband said he couldn’t understand how a safe suburban neighborhood mall could become a scene of carnage.
“There’s disbelief, there’s sorrow, there’s anger,” he said of the mall, which he has been going to for 30 years. “There are no answers.”
Workers at the mall echoed the sentiment. “I truly never thought something like this would ever happen here,” said Allison Cohen, who works at apparel store “Lucky Brand Jeans. “It’s really, really shocking.”
Shoppers board shuttle busses as they are evacuated from the Mall in Columbia.
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 searched the mall and signaled it was safe to leave.
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.
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
Police patrol outside a Sears store at the Mall in Columbia after a fatal shooting on Jan. 25. Police announced the fatalities and urged people inside the mall to ‘stay in place.’
Wearing a gel face mask, she and her friend hid in a Victoria’s Secret store.
The store released a statement Saturday evening on its Facebook page.
“We are deeply saddened by the violence that has occurred this morning within our store in Maryland at The Mall in Columbia. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families,” the store’s CEO Rick Brooks said. “The Zumiez team is a tight knit community and all of our hearts go out to Brianna and Tyler’s families.”
Benlolo was a first assistant manager at the store, according to her Facebook page.
The Howard County Fire Department is reporting an active shooter situation at the Mall in Columbia. Both the Howard County police and fire departments are on the scene. The fire department is advising people to avoid the area.
The store said they will decline any additional comment and are working with police on their investigation.
The shopping center, located in Howard County, is located between Baltimore and Washington.
With News Wire Services