Grieving friends recall mall shooting victims

Brianna Benlolo, 21, in a picture from her Facebook page. Benlolo, the manager at the Zumiez store in the Mall in Columbia, was shot and killed there Saturday.
Brianna Benlolo, 21, in a picture from her Facebook page. Benlolo, the manager at the Zumiez store in the Mall in Columbia, was shot and killed there Saturday.(Facebook, Baltimore Sun)

When he heard the news that there'd been a shooting at the Zumiez store at The Mall in Columbia, Abhishek Rishi posted a panicked message hoping for a phone call from his friend.

His worst fears were soon confirmed. Brianna Benlolo was dead.


"She was a very caring, heartwarming person," said Rishi, who knew Benlolo because both had worked at the mall. "She never said anything bad about anybody. She was just one of those people you wanted to be around. She was just genuinely happy."

Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, who also worked at Zumiez, were shot to death while at work Saturday, police said. The gunman has not been identified.

Rishi and other friends of Benlolo described her as a pleasant, outgoing young woman who worked hard to provide for her 2-year-old son. She grew up in a military family and had lived in Florida and Colorado before coming to Maryland in 2010.

Benlolo, who lived in College Park, was an assistant manager at Zumiez, a skate apparel and gear store, and had worked there since November 2012, according to her Facebook page. Johnson, of Mount Airy, had been working at the store for a shorter time, with his Facebook page saying he began there last Nov. 19.

His page included a picture of himself in Paris, and he listed himself as a sports fan who rooted for the Orioles, Ravens, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Both victims' families, who live in Mount Airy, declined to comment Saturday night.

Heartbroken friends posted messages of disbelief onto Johnson's Facebook wall.

Jamie Tobin, who now lives in Chicago, in a telephone interview recalled Johnson as a "skate kid" who was quiet but fun. She said she had been thinking about her friends in Columbia because of the shooting and was shocked to find out Johnson was one of the victims.


Tobin used to see Johnson at parties or out on the town when she lived in the area. He "was the friendliest kid, just really, really nice."

In an interview via Facebook, Kaitlyn Shank said she and Benlolo had grown close experiencing pregnancy together. Another friend, Kaela Bugg, described her as a "supermom deserving of a cape and a cool superhero name."

"She is an amazing person and had such a good head on her shoulders and knew what she wanted and worked her ass off to get it and to make sure her baby boy had everything he could want and need," Shank said. "She was an incredible mother and friend."

Benlolo's grandfather, John Feins, told the Associated Press that the job at Zumiez was her first since giving birth.

"She was all excited because she was the manager there," he told the AP, adding that he didn't know who the gunman was or whether the person knew Brianna.

"It's senseless. It's totally, totally senseless," Feins said. He said Brianna comes from a military family that had moved often. Before moving to Maryland, they had lived in Colorado.


Feins described his granddaughter's relationship with her son's father as good. He told the AP the two shared custody.

"I mean what can you say? You go to work and make a dollar and you got some idiot coming in and blowing people away," Feins told the news agency.

Benlolo's friends struggled to come to grips with the news.

"This was so cruel, these kinds of things should not happen," Bugg said. "My heart is always going to be broken for the rest of my life."