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Columbia mall shooter was 'ready to die,' police say

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Columbia mall shooter Darion Marcus Aguilar wrote in a journal about killing people, claimed he was "ready to die" and alluded to an unspecified plan that was "set," police revealed Wednesday.

Investigators say the 19-year-old wrote sporadic entries over the past year, indicating he thought he needed mental health help and apologizing to his family for his looming actions. He expressed a "general hatred toward others," police said.

The details offered the most complete account to date of Aguilar's mental state in the period leading up to Saturday's shooting outside the Zumiez skate shop. His shotgun blasts killed Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, before he took his own life. Authorities say they know of no motive for the shooting.

Howard County police provided additional information Wednesday on Aguilar's movements Saturday, authorizing the release of a missing-persons report filed by his mother that shows he left his College Park home on foot at 5:15 a.m.

And police confirmed that Aguilar assembled his shotgun in a rear dressing room of the store before emerging and opening fire.

"We are moving forward in the investigation and gathering new details every day," police said in a statement. "Like everyone else, we want to understand why this tragedy happened. We are looking for answers, not only for the investigation, but for the victims' families and for our community."

In the journal, police said, Aguilar talks about killing people in "general terms," without referring to the victims or any specific person or location. Aguilar also mentions using marijuana, police said.

When Aguilar left his College Park home on foot, he was wearing a gray beanie, gray hoodie, and blue jeans. He was set to open a Dunkin' Donuts store on U.S. 1, where he had been working, according to a police report from Prince George's County.

He never arrived to work, the report says. His mother contacted Prince George's police about 1:40 p.m., after Aguilar had taken his own life but before it was known that he was the shooter. That's when officers first viewed the journal, which Howard County police later had to obtain a search warrant to further explore.

That leaves a gulf of about five hours between when Aguilar left his home and when police say he arrived at The Mall in Columbia via taxi, at about 10:15 a.m. The cab company, Barwood Taxi, confirmed Wednesday that one of their drivers had taken Aguilar to the mall, but would not say where he was picked up. The company serves Montgomery County.

Howard County police say Aguilar lingered in the food court area before carrying out the shooting on the second floor at the Zumiez store around 11:15 a.m.

Benlolo, of College Park, and Johnson, of Mount Airy, were shot inside the store, police said. The medical examiner's office said Benlolo was shot once in the attack, suffering fatal wounds to her neck and chest. Johnson was shot multiple times, according to the medical examiner.

Police have also said they found and disarmed crude explosive devices in Aguilar's bag.

With no connections unearthed by investigators, it remains unclear whether Aguilar targeted the store or its employees. But police say he continued shooting.

Outside of the store, Aguilar fired a shot that hit a 49-year-old Hanover woman in the foot. He sent another blast into the downstairs food court, police confirmed.

Witnesses on the first floor have previously said Aguilar fired downward. Shafon Robinson, who was in the food court, said Saturday that "he looked straight at me. … He pointed the gun at me and looked at my eyes."

The woman who was shot in the foot declined to be interviewed after she parked an SUV in her driveway Wednesday evening and walked into her garage showing a slight limp. She asked not to be identified because she is a victim of a crime.

Aguilar graduated last summer from James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, and enrolled in Montgomery Community College but did not attend. He was born in Denver, his parents separated in 1999, and in late October his mother filed for his divorce from his father, court records show.

Aguilar purchased the shotgun in mid-December at a Rockville gun shop. The gun store owner said in an interview that Aguilar was friendly, paid for the $430 pump-action shotgun with cash, and said he planned to use it in his home for protection.

On Tuesday, police said they had learned that Aguilar, described by friends as a skateboarder, frequented the mall and hung around outside, smoking cigarettes with small groups of people.

Quy Le Vo, a co-worker of Benlolo and Johnson at the Zumiez store, said he had seen Aguilar in the store before the shooting, though he couldn't remember how many times or when.

"I've seen him with his friends," he said. "That's about it."

Aguilar was just a shopper, like scores of other people he had seen during his time working at the retail store. "People come and go," Vo said.

Vo, 19, said he was not aware of Benlolo or Johnson being familiar with Aguilar.

Nothing he knew, he said, gave him any forewarning or suspicion that a gunman would attack Zumiez. Vo was not working at the time of the attack.

"Brianna was a close friend of mine," he said from the door of his Silver Spring home. "If I knew, I would've helped out. I basically woke up to a nightmare."

The storefront in The Mall in Columbia has remained closed even after the shopping center reopened for business Monday. A sign at a Zumiez store in Waldorf announced an early closing Wednesday, as staff met in private to honor Benlolo and Johnson.

Baltimore Sun reporter Nayana Davis contributed to this article.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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