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20 April 2024

Three dead, including gunman, in US mall shooting

By Reuters

A gunman opened fire with a shotgun in a skate shop at a crowded shopping mall near Baltimore on Saturday, killing two store employees and wounding another person before apparently killing himself, police said.

Howard County police said they did not know the motive for the shooting at the large mall in Columbia, Maryland, about 20 miles (32 km) west of Baltimore.

Police identified the victims as Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park, Maryland, and Tyler Johnson, 25, of Ellicott City, Maryland. Both were employees of Zumiez, a skate shop where the shooting took place. The name of the gunman has not been released.

One person suffered a gunshot wound to the foot, and four others were injured in the chaos, police said. Howard County General Hospital said all five people had been treated and released.

The shooting happened at about 11:15 a.m. EST (1615 GMT) on the mall's upper level just above the food court. The mall, which has more than 200 stores, was crowded with weekend shoppers, many of whom sheltered in place after hearing the shots or seeing people fleeing.

Police, who were in the area on another case, responded to the emergency calls within two minutes and found all three bodies either in the store or just outside it. The gunman apparently had committed suicide.

"He still had a large amount of ammunition on and about him and because of concerns about explosives and any other weapons he might have we are approaching this with an abundance of caution," Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon told reporters.

It took hours for state and Howard County police, joined by authorities from neighboring counties, to clear the building of shoppers and employees and ensure there were no other shooters.

"This took a long time because you can imagine how many rooms there are in the mall, how many back offices, bathrooms and dressing rooms and nooks and crannies in the mall," Howard County Executive Ken Ulman told reporters.

McMahon said investigators were reviewing footage from surveillance cameras placed around the mall.

Devoted Mother

A friend of Benlolo, Paul Dorion Malcolm, 24, said she had a young son.

"I met a lot of young mothers that have kids, but I've never met a mom so devoted. She took that kid everywhere, when she wasn't working at Zumiez she was with her kid," Malcolm said in a phone interview.

"Her energy was amazing: always upbeat, positive," said Malcolm, who used to work at a shoe store at the mall and met Benlolo there last year.

A visitor to the mall said the shooting caused panic.

Tonya Broughton of Silver Spring, Maryland, was having a ladies' day out with friend Tarah Lancaster-Williams when they saw people running.

"We were getting facials at a kiosk on the lower level when everyone started running," Broughton said. "We just headed for the nearest store, Victoria's Secret. I still had the facial on."

She said the Victoria's Secret employees herded everyone to the rear of the store.

"They were very nice, keeping us calm. They told us we were safe," Broughton said.

Colin Reddy, who works at the mall, told CNN he heard about eight or nine shots in all.

"We thought it was construction because there's a lot of construction going on at the mall right now. Then I heard it again. Like 'boom, boom, boom'. And then everybody started running," he said.

Reddy said he and the other employees closed the store's gate and waited in a back room for police to arrive.

Zumiez, which has more than 400 stores across the United States, said in a statement it was "deeply saddened by the violence" at its store. "Our hearts go out to the victims and their families." The company said it was arranging counseling for its employees in the area.

Police said the mall will remain closed for the evening.

The attack in Columbia follows a shooting at a New Jersey mall in November in which a gunman fired at least six shots without hitting anyone, sparking a mass evacuation of the complex, then killing himself.

There also has been a spate of shootings in recent days at US schools and universities. A student was shot dead on Friday at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, and at Purdue University in Indiana a teacher's assistant was shot and killed on Tuesday. In both incidents, suspects have been charged with the crimes.