COLUMBIA, Md. – A man carrying a shotgun opened fire at a busy shopping mall in suburban Baltimore on Saturday, killing two employees of a skate shop and then himself as panicked shoppers ran for cover, police said. Five others were injured.
Police were still trying to determine the identity and motive of the gunman who killed a man and a woman, both in their 20s, at a skate shop called Zumiez on the upper level of the Mall in Columbia.
Witnesses described hearing gunshots and screams as shoppers ducked into nearby stores and hid behind locked doors. Many found cover in stockrooms and barricaded themselves until the arrival of police, who searched store to store. By late afternoon, the mall had been cleared of shoppers and employees.
Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon said at a news conference that authorities had difficulty identifying the gunman because of concerns he might be carrying explosives and were proceeding with an “abundance of caution.”
“We do not know yet what caused the shooting incident,” he said. “We do not have a motive.”
A news release Saturday night said that police found and disabled “two crude devices that appeared to be an attempt at making explosives using fireworks.” Police were searching the mall with dogs overnight and the mall was to remain closed Sunday.
Someone called 911 at around 11:15 a.m. to report a shooting at the mall. Police responded to the scene within 2 minutes and found three people dead – including the apparent gunman near a gun and ammunition – either inside or outside the shop, which sells skateboards, clothing and accessories. McMahon said police were confident there was a single gunman.
McMahon said officers did not fire any shots when they arrived at the scene. Asked if the gunman shot himself, the chief answered: “That is certainly what it appears to be at this point.”
Police identified the victims as 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo of College Park, Md., and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson of Ellicott City, Md. Both worked at Zumiez.
Benlolo’s grandfather, John Feins, said in a telephone interview from Florida that his granddaughter had a 2-year-old son and that the job at Zumiez was her first since she went back to work after her son’s birth. “She was all excited because she was the manager there,” he said.
Zumiez CEO Rick Brooks released a statement that the company is making counseling available for employees in the area.
Howard County General Hospital said it had treated and released five patients. One patient had a gunshot wound, while at least three other patients sustained other injuries.
The mall is at the center of the town that’s a suburb of both Baltimore and Washington, and it was busy with shoppers and employees when the shots rang out before noon.
Joan Harding of Elkridge, Md., was shopping with her husband, David, for a tiara for their granddaughter’s 18th birthday. She said she heard something heavy falling, followed by gunshots and people running.
“My husband said, ‘Get down!’ and the girl that worked in the store said, ‘Get in the back,’ ” Harding said. That is where they hid until police searched the mall and signaled it was safe to leave.