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Maryland mall reopens 2 days after shooting

Officer feared for 19-year-old after seeing his journal

A woman held a flower at the Mall in Columbia after it was reopened to the public Monday.

Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

A woman held a flower at the Mall in Columbia after it was reopened to the public Monday.

COLUMBIA, Md. — A Maryland mall reopened Monday with increased security, somber memorials, and still unanswered questions about why a gunman killed two people and himself inside a store.

Shoppers were sparse in the early minutes of business, though white flowers were already scattered in a memorial fountain. As the community tried to get back to some sort of normalcy, investigators worked to piece together a motive for the shooting.

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Police found a journal belonging to Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, but they would only say that it ‘‘expressed general unhappiness.’’ The contents, however, were enough for an officer looking into the disappearance of Aguilar on the day of the shooting to worry about the teen’s safety.

Aguilar was supposed to work at Dunkin’ Donuts on Saturday morning, but he never showed up.

Behind attempts at reestablishing normalcy at the mall, signs of Saturday’s shooting could be found. Zumiez, the store where the shooting occurred, remained closed, and a temporary wall had been built across its entrance.

On the wall was a message saying the store would be closed until further notice in “loving memory” of Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, the two employees who were killed.

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Workers placed a giant bouquet of white roses and hydrangeas in the courtyard of the mall and people left condolence messages. After writing notes, well-wishers tossed a single white flower into the mall’s fountain. By midafternoon, the water was covered by hundreds of flowers.

Police officers and mall security guards walked along corridors and checked stores in what a mall security official said was an increased presence of law enforcement personnel.

The Howard County police chief, William J. McMahon, accompanied elected officials as they toured the mall, greeting shoppers and stopping in the bustling food court.

Investigators said on Monday that they are still trying to determine why Aguilar took a taxi to the Mall in Columbia and allegedly shot the two workers before turning the gun on himself. A spokeswoman for the Howard County police said that there was no new information about the investigation.

The police said they believed Aguilar shot Benlolo and Johnson with a 12-gauge shotgun that he bought legally last month. The shotgun was found near his body, along with a large amount of ammunition and a backpack containing two homemade explosive devices, the police said.

Aguilar, who lived in College Park, Md., with his mother, had written in his journal about being unhappy, the police said, though the authorities have not disclosed the reasons behind his despair. Aguilar did not have a criminal record and the police said they do not believe he had a relationship with the victims.

When the mall opened at 1 p.m. Monday, dozens of people had been waiting to get in, and by afternoon, the mall was crowded with shoppers.

Quy Vo, 19, who worked at Zumiez but was not there at the time of the shooting, said that he recognized Aguilar from photographs as being the same man who occasionally came into the store. Vo said he had not known Aguilar and was not sure if Benlolo or Johnson had known him either.

“We’re clueless,” Vo said, who added that he had come to the mall to pay his respects.

Ariel Alvarez, 21, and Gabriel Gonzalez, 22, had arrived early. Alvarez, a student at Towson University, said she often came to shop or to eat in the food court.

“We live right nearby and the mall is known as a nice mall — nice people come here,” she said. “Things like that don’t happen. It’s crazy to think that somewhere we go every day, something like that could happen.”

Gonzales said he had no reservations about returning. The shooting, he said, was isolated and “as far as being worried, that incident is behind us.”

The shooting baffled investigators and acquaintances of Aguilar, a quiet teenager who graduated from high school last spring and had no previous run-ins with police.

McMahon said there was no evidence so far that Aguilar ever applied for a job at Zumiez or worked there.

Aguilar was accepted last February to Montgomery College, a community college in the Washington suburbs, but school spokesman Marcus Rosano said he never registered or attended.

Material from the Associated Press and New York Times was used in this report.
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