11:25 AM EST, January 29, 2014
We tell ourselves that this kind of thing isn't supposed to happen here. Not in a community built on the bedrock of peace and social harmony. But on Saturday morning, when shots rang out in The Mall in Columbia that left three dead, our sense of security was shattered.
Columbia founder Jim Rouse wanted the mall to be more than a place to shop — he wanted it to serve as a town center where the community would come together. Maybe that vision will be realized more than ever in the days ahead.
We've known, intellectually, that living in Columbia, or Howard County, hasn't made us immune from this kind of violence. We've seen it too often, and in too many places that aren't much different than our community. But when it hits home with the force it did Saturday, we don't want to accept it.
We see ourselves on CNN and the national news networks, and we can't believe it's our mall where all the TV trucks are parked. In frame after frame, we see police Chief Bill McMahon and County Executive Ken Ulman standing shoulder-to-shoulder, trying to explain an inexplicable crime.
On Sunday morning, Ulman spoke from the heart.
"We are better than this," he said during the day's first news conference. "We have an incredibly strong, resilient, wonderful community in Howard County, and we are going to continue to show that every day."
The mall reopened on Monday afternoon, and hundreds, including state and local leaders, attended in a gesture that signified we will stand together. There were two memorials to honor Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, who were gunned down in Zumiez, the skateboard store in which they worked. Zumiez was boarded up with a black-lettered sign that said it will be closed until further notice. It conveyed the darkness of Saturday.
A number of shoppers told us the shooting will likely keep them away from the mall for a while — that, for them, it will never be the same.
We doubt it will feel the same again for anyone. This is now part of our community's history. It doesn't have to define us, but it has marked us. And the mall could be the place where we begin our recovery, together.