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July 28, 2014

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Police: Maryland mall shooter fascinated by Columbine

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Howard County Police Department / AP

In this Jan. 25, 2014, video surveillance photo provided by the Howard County Police Department, Darion Marcus Aguilar approaches a Zumiez skateboarding and snowboarding store in Columbia Mall in Columbia, Md. Aguilar killed two employees store before turning his gun on himself.

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 »

MARRIOTTSVILLE, Md. — The gunman who fatally shot two people at a Maryland mall in January before killing himself appeared obsessed with mass murder and may have fixated on the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, even dressing like one of the shooters, police said Wednesday.

Howard County Police Chief William J. McMahon said during a news conference that investigators found no indication that 19-year-old Darion Aguilar knew the victims of his Jan. 25 shooting at The Mall in Columbia.

Investigators found thousands of searches on Aguilar's computer related to mass murder, school shootings, guns and explosives. Aguilar showed "a particular fascination with the Columbine shooting," McMahon said. He also looked up websites for people with mental health problems, and he told a doctor he was hearing voices in the months before the shooting.

Several pieces of information led police to believe Aguilar may have had a fixation with the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, where two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher and wounded 26 others before killing themselves in the school's library. Police believe Aguilar may have waited inside the mall for over 40 minutes in order to begin his shooting about the same time that the Columbine massacre started. He also downloaded a video game based on the Columbine killing, though it's not clear if he played it, McMahon said.

Just before he emerged from the dressing room of the Zumiez skateboarding and snowboarding store to begin the shooting, Aguilar took a picture of himself in the mirror and posted it to the social media website Tumblr. Some of way he is dressed, wearing a white T-shirt, boots and cargo pants with his shotgun in a sling around him, is reminiscent of one of the Columbine killers, McMahon said.

"I had to do this. Today is the day," Aguilar wrote in a post with the photo, adding that he woke up and "felt no emotions no empathy no sympathy."

McMahon said investigators believe Aguilar took the picture to gain notoriety and intended for police to find it and show it to the public.

"We're not going to help him have that notoriety," McMahon said.

McMahon also talked about what has been described as Aguilar's "journal." McMahon said what police discovered was about 20 handwritten loose-leaf pages in roughly chronological order. In a portion police released, Aguilar makes an angry, expletive-laced statement in which he anticipates the killings in "a couple of hours."

"Everything seems fake. I think that I may already be dead," he wrote.

At another point in the papers, he acknowledged he needed to see a psychiatrist, McMahon said.

Aguilar told a doctor in April that he was hearing voices, but they were "nonviolent and nonspecific," the chief said. The doctor referred him to a psychiatrist, but police could not find that Aguilar ever met with one. McMahon said the doctor told police he later followed up with Aguilar's mother, but she does not remember the conversation.

A review of Aguilar's Internet searches found visits to mental health sites, including ones for people considering suicide.

"He knows he's sick. He knows he has problems that need to be addressed. He writes it in his journal. He writes in his journal he's not comfortable talking to his mother about it," McMahon said, adding that there was no indication he ever spoke with anyone about his concerns.

Police said they released more information about the case in an effort to bring closure for the community, including the families of Aguilar's victims, 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson. They were both Zumiez employees.

McMahon said the investigation is continuing, though no new significant information is expected.

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