By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun
9:33 PM EST, January 31, 2014
Kiara Raney, 18, of Columbia was ready for a day of shopping at The Mall in Columbia last Saturday when the flurry of text messages came. There was a shooting. Three people were dead.
Family and friends warned her to stay clear. But she has since gone back — she recently applied for a job at a mall store and still hopes to get it.
"I'm already aware; when I go somewhere, I look around a lot. Now when I go [to the mall], I'm doing that, but more," Raney said. "It really hasn't changed for me, but for other people you can see that the mall will never be the same."
There's a well-trod pathway between the Youth and Teen Center at the Barn in Columbia and the nearby mall. While some teams continue to head to the mall, others who frequent the center haven't been using the pathway much this week.
Feyi Orisadipe, 14, said her mother doesn't deem it safe for her to return to the mall yet.
"Now, if I even talk about going to a mall, she wants me to go to Arundel Mills," Feyi said.
Others teens at the center Friday said they aren't frightened by the shootings at Zumiez skate shop, where police say 19-year-old Darion Marcus Aguilar killed Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, before taking his own life.
"You can't let something like that scare you," said Josiah Smith, 15, of Columbia, "but you have to watch out at the same time."
The teen center, a two-story multipurpose facility for youngsters ages 9 to 18, is run by the Columbia Association and is near Oakland Mills High School. The center regularly offers programs and activities on weekdays, but last Saturday coordinators opened it as part of a weekend trial run — with hopes of making it a mall alternative.
Safire Windley, youth and teen program coordinator for the Columbia Association, was en route to the center last Saturday when she heard about the shootings. When she arrived, she found many youngsters had opted to come there as events unfolded nearby.
"It was a very a somber feeling," Windley said of the teenagers' mood. "I think we were just all in shock.
"We consider ourselves a pretty close-knit community, and crime is not huge factor here," she said. "It definitely made us lean on each other more."
Some teens say the mall isn't as big a factor in their lives as some adults think.
"I don't go to the mall that often; I usually just go during Christmas or my birthday," said Kyle Riley, 15, of Columbia. Kyle said he prefers to hang out at the teen center, which has a computer lab, game room and small gym where he can play basketball.
"There's more stuff to do instead of walking around looking at stuff you can't buy," said Brittaney Dacier, 14, of Columbia.
Teens say another alternative to the mall are county libraries, particularly the central library, which is across the street from the mall. Among those visiting the branch Friday afternoon was Ben Owens, 18, of Clarksville, who said he usually heads to the mall every weekend, but that last Saturday was taking the SAT.
He hasn't gone to the mall since. "I'm going to stay away just a little bit and let everything calm down a bit," he said.
His father, Dedrick Owens, 52, said his own comfort level regarding Ben returning to the mall "sort of depends on his."
"He's closer to the goings-on over there, and I feel like he'll have a greater sense how things are," he said. "So I'm going to let him make the decision."
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