Columbia mall shooting victims honored on one-week anniversary of the attack

A few dozen people gathered Saturday morning at The Mall in Columbia around the fountain, where it's customary to toss pennies into the clear water of the black-bottom pool and wish for good fortune. This time, though, some tossed white flowers that floated along the surface, some wrote messages in a memory book and all observed a moment of silence.

It was 11:15 a.m., and business at the mall went on around them, although with a lighter contingent of shoppers than might be expected on a sunny and mild Saturday morning. A week before at that time, a gunman opened fire in a skate shop on the second floor, killing two people, then himself.

"This community is definitely pulling together and hopefully giving the families of the victims love and support," said Amanda Nix, 28, of Catonsville, who was at the fountain. She wrote in one of the memory books as mall employees handed out white ribbon pins.

"I never would have thought it would have happened here," Nix said. "But tragedy can happen anywhere and any time, and last Saturday was definitely a testament to that."

The Zumiez skate store where employees Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, were killed, has been closed since then, the façade covered in white board and turned into memorial of its own. A pale Teddy bear was left sitting against the wall, also a wrapped flower bouquet, a skateboard, prayer beads.

The white wall has been covered with messages, most expressing condolences toward Benlolo and Johnson, while some call for gun control laws or better mental health care. A few addressed Darion Marcus Aguilar, the 19-year-old man who police say fired the shots.

One note said: "We may never understand why you did what you did, but I hope God can help you understand violence is never the solution."

Howard County police said they still have not discovered a motive for the attack or any link between Aguilar and his victims.

The shooter's name was not being mentioned at another event that began a couple hours later at Centennial Park in Ellicott City, where a couple dozen skateboarders gathered to celebrate the sport and the two people most of them knew as helpful and cheerful sales people at Zumiez.

"My intent on this day is to bring the community together and cherish what we have in this moment with Brianna and Tyler in our hearts and minds," said Paul Malcolm, 24, of Columbia, who helped to organize the gathering. He spoke on a microphone with a small amplifier at a table set with urns of coffee, donut holes and cases of soda, and draped with a spray-lettered sign: "Ride for Brianna, Tyler & Columbia."

He said he met Benlolo at the mall last summer, and recalled her confidence and energy. He called her a "walking inspiration."

Tyler Bohn, 21, of Mount Airy, who also helped organize the event, said he used to work at Zumiez and remembered Benlolo, an assistant manager, as "always positive. If somebody sold $5 worth of stuff, she said, 'Good job.'"

She got him started with longboarding, he said, a pursuit that he said helps him think clearly even with his diagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The organizers strung a sash as a starting line on the paved path that runs around Centennial Lake, marking where the main event would begin.

"Everybody with a board, let's go," said Bohn, leading the riders to their mark. And off they went, heading west to start the two-mile route, doing what they felt was right to celebrate the lives of Benlolo and Johnson.

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