Most of that bad reporting came from John Patti, an anchor and reporter at WBAL Radio. His erroneous reports were also carried on WBAL-TV.
“Columbia Mall shooting domestic. Former boyfriend of Zumiez clerk shot her and new boyfriend also an employee of store," Patti tweeted on Jan. 25.
Patti reported more details of an alleged relationship on WBAL-TV, saying “this is indeed a domestic incident” and that the two victims were “engaged to be married.”
But none of it was true, according the report from the Howard County Police today.
"As the news unfolded the day of the shooting, WBAL reported that the victims, Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson were involved in [a] personal relationship, and that this relationship was the reason Darion Aguilar may have carried out these crimes," Michelle Butt, WBAL news director, said in a statement posted online. "This information was based on sources connected to the case but has proven to be false. We regret the mistake and any additional hardship this may have brought to the Benlolo and Johnson families."
"We said we would address it when the time came, and we have," Butt told The Sun on Wednesday, adding that station management was done talking about it. "We said we would address it and move on, and we are moving on."
When asked if Patti was or will be disciplined, she said the station does not discuss personnel matters.
NBC News was the other major news outlet reporting the shooting as "domestic" on Jan. 25.
As I wrote in a previous column on the mall shooting:
Shortly after noon on that day, less than an hour after the shooting took place, News4 Washington, the NBC-owned station in Washington, tweeted, "@NBCNews' Pete Williams confirms Columbia Mall shooting was a domestic situation, not random." Williams is the justice correspondent for NBC News in its Washington bureau.
The NBC tweet, saying Williams "confirmed" the shooting as a "domestic situation" a mere 48 minutes after the act, sparked and then drove what became in essence an echo chamber of false confirmation.
Social media aggregators like @breakingnews quickly propelled it further into the mediasphere by retweeting it around the world.
And by the time you got to Patti's tweet with its specificity and lack of any qualification, it seemed like the shooting had been confirmed as a "domestic situation" by two mainstream news operations — one national, one local. And it was reported that way on scores of news sites from New York to London, often citing NBC and WBAL.
Four days after the shooting, an NBC News spokeswoman told me that Williams had moved on to other stories, and she seemed puzzled as to why I wanted to talk to him about that tweet and another from "NBC Nightly News" later in the day of the shooting that said, "Latest: Shooting at mall in Columbia, Maryland was a domestic situation, federal law enforcement official tells NBC News — @PeteWilliamsNBC."
One reason I wanted to talk to Williams is that his name carries considerable authority in such situations, given that he was a star reporter on the Boston bombings for getting several key details right when other reporters like CNN's John King were getting things wrong.
I wanted to talk to him because an NBC News spokeswoman sent me an email the week after the shooting saying, "Pete Williams never publicly reported the Maryland shooting was a domestic situation."
I was interested in how NBC News was parsing "never publicly reported" to make that claim in light of those two tweets with his name in them.
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NBC News did not immediately respond Wednesday to my question as to whether it would correct or in any way revisit its reporting on the Columbia Mall shooting in light of the Howard County Police saying that the information reported by Williams was wrong.