The NETWORK for The Core DJ Syndicated Radio Show
COLUMBIA, Md. — Shots rang out at a popular shopping mall in this suburb between Washington and Baltimore on Saturday morning, sending shoppers running from stores and hiding under tables in the food court.
When police officers arrived, they found three people dead inside a skate shop on the upper level of the two-story center, the Mall in Columbia. Two of the victims were a young man and woman who worked at the store. The body of another man, who is suspected of being the attacker, was found near the victims with a shotgun and ammunition nearby, police officials said. The man is believed to have committed suicide, they said.
Five other people had minor injuries — most of them suffered as they fled after hearing the gunshots — and were released from a hospital on Saturday evening after receiving treatment. The shootings at the Mall in Columbia set off fears in the area as residents waited to hear from loved ones and concern across the country over thoughts of yet another mass killing.But at a news conference held about two hours after the initial gunshots, the county police chief, William J. McMahon, said he believed the shootings were an isolated episode involving just the three people who were found dead. “To our knowledge, all the activity took place at one time, in one store,” Chief McMahon said.
He said that only one weapon was found at the scene — a shotgun — and that police officers had not fired any shots. The suspect, who had not been identified on Saturday evening, had a large amount of ammunition on him, officials said. The two employees who were killed were identified by Saturday evening as Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, Md., and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Ellicott City, Md. On her Facebook profile, Ms. Benlolo said that she was the first assistant manager at the store and had worked there since November 2012. She was from Cocoa Beach, Fla., and had attended a Paul Mitchell hair school in Rockville, Md., according to her profile.
The Howard County 911 center received reports of shots fired at the mall around 11:15 a.m. The victims were found on the upper level at a store called Zumiez, which carries clothing and accessories for skateboarding and snowboarding.
At the news conference, the Howard County executive, Ken Ulman, said it had been a “tremendously trying few hours.”
He added, “We want to send our thoughts and prayers to the family members of the victims.”
Chief McMahon said that uniformed patrol officers were the first to arrive on the scene. They were joined a short time later by SWAT team members who began sweeping the mall looking for other potential gunmen and helping shoppers who were hiding inside stores. The authorities had asked people to stay there until they were sure it was safe to leave.
The police said that they believed the suspect had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and had acted alone.
The five people who were injured at the mall were taken to Howard County General Hospital. One person had a gunshot wound to the foot, and the four others were treated for a medical condition or minor injuries, like a twisted ankle. On Saturday evening, the hospital said that the five patients had been treated there and released.
The owner of Zumiez released a statement on Saturday evening saying that the company was “deeply saddened” by the violence at the store. The company said it planned to make counseling available to store employees in the area.
“The Zumiez team is a tight-knit community and all of our hearts go out to Brianna and Tyler’s families,” Richard Brooks, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement.
On Saturday afternoon, the police responded to news media reports that the shootings were related to a domestic dispute, saying the authorities had not confirmed that. They said they had no information about whether the suspected gunman knew the victims.
“Motive of shooting is unknown. Not determined to be domestic or any other cause at this time. Any other reports are complete speculation,” the Police Department said Saturday afternoon via Twitter.
By 4 p.m., the police had cleared the mall of all shoppers and employees as investigators examined the crime scene.
The mall had opened around 10 a.m. and was busy on the chilly day. It is a huge complex with almost 200 shops, including the anchor stores Macy’s and Sears, and a movie theater.
Henry Callahan, 19, was sitting at a table in the food court when he heard “what sounded like a trash can being thrown over the balcony.” He heard someone shout that a man had a gun and more screaming from upstairs.
He hid under the table with a family that had a young child. He heard about nine shots fired, he said.
“I was legitimately frightened,” Mr. Callahan said. “I had no idea what was going on.”
“The panic on their faces was tremendous,” he said of the family he was hiding with.
Mr. Callahan and the family hopped over the counter at an Arby’s restaurant and escaped through a security door in the back hallway, he said.
Law enforcement officials arrived in less than two minutes, Chief McMahon said. Around 12:20 p.m., just over an hour after it had begun, the Police Department posted on Twitter that the episode appeared to be over and that no additional shots had been heard.
The department continued to post frequent updates to Twitter throughout the afternoon.
Outside the mall, there was a swarm of emergency vehicles. Helicopters hovered as heavily armed officers stood watch.
Chief McMahon noted that the police had practiced an emergency drill at the mall, which he said had helped them in their response to the shooting.
The mall was built in 1971 in Columbia, Md., a planned community about 25 miles from Washington and about 15 miles from Baltimore. The town has about 97,000 residents spread over 10 separate villages. Along with the nearby Ellicott City, it was named by Money magazine in 2010 as one of the best places to live in America.
Debbie Sergi was working at the Wockenfuss Candies store when she heard about five or six shots ring out that “sounded like a transformer had blown up.”
“People started running, so we got our gates closed and got our customers hidden in the back room,” she said. “We were lucky to get our doors closed and locked. We all cried. We were all scared. Really scared.”
Weis Karzai, 22, of Silver Spring, said he was walking into the mall with his younger brother when people suddenly began streaming out. “People were running out, saying, ‘Don’t go in there. There’s a guy with a gun,’ ” he said. “I grabbed my brother and just ran out and went back to the car.” Just as he got into the car, he said, police and ambulances arrived on the scene.
The police said it was not clear when the mall would reopen, but officers would patrol outside the mall throughout the night and guard the crime scene.