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3 Dead in Shooting at Columbia Mall, Including Gunman

Witnesses described a chaotic scene in the crowded mall, with five people injured. The names of two shooting victims have been released.

Shoppers exit the mall after a shooting left three dead. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Shoppers exit the mall after a shooting left three dead. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
BY ANDREW METCALF, DEB BELT AND KYM BYRNES

(UPDATED, 7:20 p.m.)
Columbia, MD — A man and a woman, both in their 20s, were shot and killed inside a store at the crowded Columbia MallSaturday, and a third body is that of the gunman, who was carrying large amounts of ammunition, according to Howard County police.

Five people were injured and were reportedly in good condition.

After notifying the victims' families, authorities released the names of the shooting victims Saturday evening. They are Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Ellicott City, according to police. The name of the alleged gunman, also deceased, has not been released.

Police, who received 911 calls at about 11:15 a.m., said three people were found dead at a skate shop called Zumiez on the mall's upper level near JC Penney and Sears.

Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon said at a 4 p.m. press conference that media reports that the shooting was a domestic incident are "purely speculation" and "we have no knowledge of that yet." 

The shooting took place inside and outside Zumiez. Officers found three people dead from gunshot wounds, including the shooter. "We do not know yet what caused the shooting incident,” the chief said.

“Our hearts go out to the families of the people who lost their lives today," McMahon said. "This shouldn’t happen at Columbia Mall. There are three families grieving.”

Police said they don’t know the name of the gunman, whom they identified as male. McMahon said the suspect had a large amount of ammunition on and near his body, so investigators were trying to determine there was no danger of explosives.

Five other people were treated and released from Howard County General hospital, McMahon said. One person suffered from a gunshot wound, the others were treated for medical conditions or injuries caused by falls. They were all later released on Saturday, according to the hospital.

Investigators are working with mall security to review video footage of the store in hopes that it shows what led up to the shootings, the chief said.

The police chief emphasized that most of the time spent between the shooting and the late afternoon briefing was spent looking for other suspects, and evacuating people from the mall.

Among the details not known are whether the shooter took his own life; how much ammunition was brought into the mall; and any relationship between the three deceased people.

The mall will remain closed through the evening.

County Executive Ken Ulman said law enforcement arrived on the scene within two minutes of the first 911 call.

“These are the kinds of things are law enforcement train on and they did their job,” Ulman said. Tactical teams went through “every inch of the mall,” including storerooms, restrooms, dressing rooms and stores.

Ulman thanked the community at large for cooperating with authorities and helping each other.

“This was a very scary incident. There were a lot of people very close to where this happened. Thanks to everyone for their patience, sheltering in place … this is an incredibly large crime scene."

Officials said they didn't know how many hundreds, or thousands, of people were at the mall when the shooting occurred. 

Related - Witnesses Describe Gunshots, Chaos in Columbia Mall Shooting

Police worked throughout the afternoon to clear out people who were sheltering in place inside the large mall. By 4 p.m. they announced the mall was clear.

McMahon said the scene was initially chaotic and witnesses said it was a terrifying experience.

"I heard about three shots and then got to cover," said Christian Rodriguez, who was working at the Chick-Fil-A inside the food court.

"It was the scariest thing I've seen in a while," said Rodriguez.

Marta Zamudio, of Columbia, said she heard about seven or 10 shots, then got caught up in a scramble to exit the food court doors. She said she saw someone with blood coming out of his or her mouth.

Rogelio Arzamendia, 48, said he was sitting at a table with his boss in the food court near Chipotle when he heard a shot.

"I heard a pop over my head on the upper level," said Arzamendia, "We ran away and hid in the Chick-Fil-A kitchen."

Arzamendia said he stayed there for an hour until police came and said it was OK to leave. Three hours later he remained in the mall parking lot, waiting to get a laptop and documents he left in the food court.

Mall employees have practiced for this type of situation, McMahon said, and he praised the response from mall personnel and outside law enforcement.

"This was an incredibly well-run, thoughtful operation tactically. We've had help on the ground from virtually every police department in the region," McMahon said.

County Executive Ken Ulman thanked police who quickly ran to the scene.

"This has been a tremendously trying few hours," said Ulman.

At the scene, hundreds of police from multiple agencies swarmed, a helicopter flew overhead and an alarm could be heard coming from the mall.

The Mall in Columbia is an upscale shopping center in the middle of the city. It is home to restaurants, a movie theater, a large food court and over a hundred stores. The mall, which is owned by General Growth Properties, is currently undergoing a 70,000 square foot expansion.

Steve Johnson, of Columbia, said he arrived at the mall as first responders began to swarm into the food court. He said he wasn't shocked a shooting happened at the mall.

"I don't put too much on the Columbia part," said Johnson, "because it could happen anywhere."

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