Columbia looks to recover day after mall shooting

Less than 24 hours after a shooting in The Mall in Columbia left three dead, downtown Columbia still seemed to be in a state of shock.

Little Patuxent Parkway, a bustling thoroughfare leading to the mall, carried little traffic. The only contrast between the gray sky and the road was a blinking traffic sign that read, "Columbia Mall closed."


At a morning news conference held in the empty mall parking lot, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman urged residents to begin the healing process.

"Out of these moments of tragedy, we look for a silver lining," Ulman said. "The one thing I would ask is for everyone to take a moment today, whether that's while you are worshiping or a private moment with your family, and rededicate ourselves to doing what we can to make our world a better place.


"We are better than this. We have an incredibly strong, resilient, wonderful community in Howard County, and we are going to continue to show that every day."

Howard County police Chief Bill McMahon discussed the importance of the mall as a community gathering place, and how reopening it at 1 p.m.Monday is a key to moving forward.

"The Columbia Mall is a very unique place in the county," McMahon said at the news conference."It's not just an economic institution, its really a place of community."

A few hours later, at 30 Corporate Center across from the mall, patrons in the mall during the shooting returned to collect their belongings.

A steady stream of cars pulled into the Corporate Center parking lot in the early afternoon, some of which were carrying families and small children. Among them was Brandon Cole, 36, of Greenbelt, who came to retrieve a jacket and his 19-month old daughter's sippy cup.

Cole, who was in the play area on the first level, recalls hearing a series of pops in the area of the food court before people started running.

"At that point, that's when the panic struck, and that's when the screaming started," he said Sunday.

Cole said the events didn't hit him until he got home.

"I was never scared," Cole said, pausing to hold back his emotion. "I was never scared until we finally got back to the house and I was able to pull my daughter out. I just gave her a hug."

Just a few miles down the road in the village of Wilde Lake, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, in partnership with St. John's the Evangelist Catholic Church and Catholic Charities, were providing counseling for those struggling with the shooting in their community.

Leandro Fazolini, associate pastor at St. John's, said the counseling is the first step in healing for the parish community and the larger community throughout Columbia and Howard County.

"Wounds can be made very easily, but healing comes slowly. This is one step we are taking to help that healing occur," he said.


Fazolini said the community's proximity to the mall, which is within walking distance to the Wilde Lake Village Center, brings the tragedy even closer.

"I was just saying in Mass, it could have been any one of us," he said. "We all go to the mall, for a movie, for a meal, to buy anything. "(The shooting) has a meaning deep in our lives. It doesn't matter if we know (the victims) -- the suffering and the pain, they have felt like our own."

Council member Courtney Watson said the shooting's location hit home for her. "Zumiez has been a favorite store in the mall for both of my boys," she wrote in an email Saturday. "We've been there many times for shoes, T-shirts or skateboards. The employees are always welcoming, fun and hip. It's so very heartbreaking for our community."

Janet Herilla, a counselor with Catholic Charities, said it is important to respond quickly in a time of crisis because holding emotions in could cause more anxiety.

"The counselors we have here today are available to be supportive listeners for the individuals, to help provide them with the initial steps so they can become more comfortable with the situation," Herilla said.

Watson and State Sen. Allan Kittleman, both candidates for Howard County executive, praised the quick response of Howard County police and said the days and weeks to come would be a time to grapple with tough emotions — and to come together as a community.

"It's a very difficult time," Watson said. "Like everyone, I'm grateful to our first responders, and right now I'm very concerned about the victims and their families."

"Our prayers are with the victims and their families as well as the family of the shooter," Kittleman said in a statement. "While the loss of life and the shock from lost assumptions of security horrify us all, this is a time to pull together.  We are a resilient community and we will rise above this, even stronger than before."

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