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Howard leaders respond to mall shooting

By Amanda Yeager, ayeager@tribune.com

6:10 AM EST, January 28, 2014

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As news of a deadly shooting at the Mall in Columbia broke Saturday, Howard County was thrust into the national spotlight.

On Monday, as politicians, the media and community members gathered for the mall's reopening, local leaders shared their reactions to the shooting and the role they hope to play in moving Columbia forward.

County Executive Ken Ulman said he was in Baltimore with his wife when he first got the call.

"We rushed back quickly, came right here to the mall command post, and have been staying out of the way but offering ... support to our police chief and our men and women in law enforcement," he said.

District 13 state Del. Guy Guzzone was in the office in Annapolis.

"I was working this weekend," he said. "Obviously, you go through a wave of different things, initially shock, then sadness. Then [you] start thinking about the people doing the job here. Thank goodness we had a great team on the ground doing great work."

Ulman credited advance training by law enforcement for the quick response to the shooting.

"Do you think it'll happen in your community? You hope and pray that it won't, but there's a reason why our police department has trained in this mall for active shooter incidents," he said. "We're not throwing up our hands saying this is the way of life, but you also want to do your best to prepare."

County Council member Courtney Watson, who is running for county executive, said she "was basically frozen" in her living room for six hours Saturday, "watching the details.

"At a time like this, the constituents that you represent, they look to you for information, they look to you for assurance," she said. "And remember that information is power and if people are informed they feel more comfortable. As long as they have the information, they know what's going on. So that was a big part of council members' jobs during this time."

State Sen. Allan Kittleman, who is also running for the county executive seat, said the tragedy united Howard County.

"I think our community's going to be stronger from this," he said. "It's maybe going to take us a while to heal, but I think that the outpouring from the faith community, the community associations, elected officials, everybody coming together — party doesn't mean anything, politics doesn't mean anything, religion doesn't mean anything. It doesn't matter what denomination you are, we're all people of Howard County. We all care about our county."

He and Watson ate lunch together when the food court opened to the public again Monday afternoon.

Moving forward, Ulman said he expected the community would have a discussion about possible steps to make Columbia, and the county, an even safer place. He said Howard had already been taking steps to chip away at some deep-rooted societal problems – for example, the county launched an anti-bullying campaign, Stand Up HoCo last, year.

"There's going to be time now for an after-action analysis, from our police department, mall security, the response," he said. "But there is also, there will be now a time for a public policy discussion. What is the appropriate level of gun safety legislation, mental health resources?"

Ulman said he had witnessed an outpouring of compassion from the community that made him proud.

"We're the greatest community in this country, and I've seen us show those values the last few days," he said.