By Eric Tucker
COLUMBIA, MD.: A man carrying a shotgun opened fire at a busy shopping mall in suburban Baltimore on Saturday, killing two employees of a skate shop and then himself as panicked shoppers ran for cover, police said. Five others were injured.
Police were still trying to determine the identity and motive of the gunman who killed a man and a woman, both in their 20s, at a skate shop called Zumiez on the upper level of the Mall in Columbia.
Witnesses described hearing gunshots and screams as shoppers ducked into nearby stores and hid behind locked doors. Many found cover in stockrooms and barricaded themselves until the arrival of police, who searched store to store. By late afternoon, the mall had been cleared of shoppers and employees.
Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon said at a news conference that authorities had difficulty identifying the gunman because of concerns he might be carrying explosives and were proceeding with an “abundance of caution.”
“We do not know yet what caused the shooting incident,” he said. “We do not have a motive.”
Someone called 911 at around 11:15 a.m. to report a shooting at the mall. Police responded to the scene within 2 minutes and found three people dead — including the apparent gunman near a gun and ammunition — either inside or outside the shop, which sells skateboards, clothing and accessories. McMahon said police were confident there was a single gunman.
Police identified the victims as 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo of College Park, Md., and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson of Ellicott City, Md. Both worked at Zumiez.
Benlolo’s grandfather, John Feins, said 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 she went back to work after her son’s birth.
“She was all excited because she was the manager there,” he said.
He said he had spoken with his daughter, Brianna’s mother, earlier in the day, but didn’t know who the gunman was or whether the person knew his granddaughter.
“It’s senseless. It’s totally, totally senseless,” he said.
He described his daughter’s family as a military family that had moved frequently and had been in Colorado before moving to Maryland about two years ago. He said his granddaughter was on good terms with her son’s father, and they shared custody.
“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,” he said.
Zumiez CEO Rick Brooks released a statement that the company is making counseling available for 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,” he wrote.
Howard County General Hospital said it had treated and released five patients. One patient had a gunshot wound, while at least three other patients sustained other injuries.
The mall is at the center of the town that’s a suburb of both Baltimore and Washington, and it typically opens at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. It was busy with shoppers and employees when the shots rang out before noon.
The mall was closed to the public as police looked in each store for people who might still be hiding, McMahon said. It was to remain closed at least through the night.