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November 24, 2014

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Maryland mall reopens with grief, more security

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Jose Luis Magana / AP

Paul D. Malcolm a friend of one of the victims at the shooting at The Mall in Columbia, places a vase with flowers, after the mall was re-opened to the public on Monday Jan. 27, 2014, in Columbia Md.

Updated Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 | 2:57 p.m.

Maryland Mall shooting

Courtney, center, a friend of one of the victims in Saturday's shooting at the Mall in Columbia, Md,, cries as she walks through the food court with friends after the mall was reopened to the public on Monday Jan. 27, 2014. Launch slideshow »

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This photo released by the Howard County Police shows shooting suspect Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, of College Park, MD. Aguilar carried out the Saturday Jan. 25, 2014, attack with a 12-gauge shotgun at a skateboard shop at the Mall in Columbia in suburban Baltimore before killing himself, police said.

COLUMBIA, Md. — The fountain inside the mall was littered with white flowers. The skateboard shop — the scene of the deadly weekend shooting — was boarded up, as if under construction. Outside, a banner read: "Forever in Our Hearts."

As the Mall in Columbia reopened Monday and shoppers and workers tried to get back to normal, there were reminders of the carnage everywhere. Shoppers wiped away tears. People signed memorial books and photographed the exterior of the store where the killings occurred. Politicians shook hands and consoled the grieving.

"I wanted to be here, I suppose, as a symbol of the fact that everyone in Maryland is with the people of Columbia today," said Gov. Martin O'Malley, who stopped for a cup of frozen yogurt at the mall's food court.

In the days since Saturday's shooting, investigators have worked to piece together what drove the 19-year-old gunman to kill two employees of the skateboard shop, but so far answers have been elusive. Police aren't even sure if the gunman, Darion Marcus Aguilar, knew either victim.

"We haven't ruled anything out and we haven't ruled anything in," Howard County Police Chief William McMahon said an interview.

Aguilar killed himself soon after the shootings. Investigators said he had no past run-ins with police.

Friends describe Aguilar as an avid skateboarder, a quiet and thoughtful teenager who became a vegan after watching a television documentary on how animals were slaughtered, according to Ellis Cropper, a family friend who is serving as a family spokesman.

He graduated high school in the spring, had taken an interest in environmental engineering and planned to start college classes, Cropper said. At the Dunkin' Donuts where he worked, he was recently given the keys and responsibility of opening the shop for business, something his mother celebrated.

"He was always hugging his mother, kissing his mother, just a very compassionate kid," Cropper said.

When Aguilar didn't show up for work early Saturday, his mother filed a missing persons report. Officers went to Aguilar's home several hours after the shooting and saw a journal.

Police have said it described his general "unhappiness" but did not provide a motive. However, the contents were enough for an officer to worry about Aguilar.

His cell phone was tracked to the mall.

"That's when the officer said, 'Have a seat, let me tell you what's going on in Columbia,'" Cropper said.

Since then, Aguilar's mother has been asking herself, "What did she miss? What did she miss? How could she not have known something?" Cropper said.

The shooting took place inside Zumiez, a shop on the upper level. The store was covered with white boards Monday, with messages encouraging passers-by to leave condolences for the slain workers.

Mary Lou Shippe, 71, did errands at the mall, including banking and getting a broken necklace repaired. She said she wanted to "show my support for the merchants, let them know they can't scare us away."

"It's very disturbing something like that would happen here, but today it happens anywhere," she said.

Aguilar used a single-barrel shotgun that he had legally purchased last month along with a box of buckshot and birdshot ammunition from United Gun Shop in Rockville, Md., said co-owner Dan Millen. He had said the weapon was intended for home defense and returned to the store later in the month, saying he had tested it at a range and wanted to buy another box of ammunition.

Aguilar, who had concealed the shotgun in a bag, fired six to nine times.

"He did not raise any red flags in any way," Millen said, describing Aguilar as nice and pleasant. "We turn people down here a fair amount just if we don't feel comfortable with them. He did not fall into that category at all."

High school classmate Noah Sturdivant said his gym locker was next to Aguilar's, and the two would see each other every day. He said he was into video games and part of "the skate culture" and "not just a quiet loner guy."

"He was never mean to anyone. There's not one instance where I can remember him getting mad and yelling," said Sturdivant, 17. "Cool is a better word than quiet. There wasn't a day when you were like, 'Oh, he's had a bad day.'"

One victim, Brianna Benlolo, a 21-year-old single mother, lived half a mile away from Aguilar in the same College Park neighborhood. The other employee, Tyler Johnson, did not know Aguilar and did not socialize with Benlolo outside of work, a relative has said.

Johnson had been serving as a board member at a 12-step meeting place for recovering addicts.

"He was radiant, he was caring, he had straightened out his life — overcoming addiction — and wanted to help others," said volunteer executive director Claudia Friend.

Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Sarah Brumfield in Washington contributed to this report.

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