A bouquet of white flowers and memory books greeted guest at The Mall in Columbia Monday, just two days after a deadly shooting inside the mall.
Visitors were encouraged to leave messages to encouragement for the families of Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25. Both were employees at the Zumiez store inside The Mall in Columbia where the shooting took place. Police have not found any connection between them and suspected shooter 19-year-old Darion Marcus Aguilar at this time.
The Zumiez store was boarded over Monday, as if the store were under construction.
A message on the white boards said the store was "closed until further notice" and thanked first responders including police and firefighters. "In loving memory of Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson,'' the message went on to say, "please express your messages of hope and encouragement at the Mall's Center Court."
Gov. Martin O'Malley and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman visited the food court Monday afternoon. Each had a cup of tutti frutti frozen yogurt. O'Malley said he was there as a symbol that everyone in Maryland is with the people of Columbia.
Ulman said it's important to get back to business. The shooting was shocking because of the community is generally a safe place, Ulman said, but he calls it a lesson that the county is not immune to gun violence seen elsewhere in the country.
The mall had been closed since the shooting. Police swept it overnight for evidence and for any explosives.
In a tweet announcing the reopening, the mall expressed concern for the victims: "Thoughts & prayers continue to be w/ the families of the victims & everyone impacted by the recent tragedy," the tweet read.
Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon promised a strong police presence for the mall's reopening, "so people feel comfortable and safe shopping here."
"The Columbia Mall has a very unique place in the county," McMahon said Sunday. "It's not just an economic institution. It's really a place of community."
We will reopen tomorrow at 1pm. Thoughts & prayers continue to be w/ the families of the victims & everyone impacted by the recent tragedy.
— The Mall in Columbia (@MallInColumbia) January 26, 2014
Hundreds of shoppers took shelter in the mall after shots rang out at about 11:15 a.m. Shoppers dropped bags and purses and went into the backs of stores and into restrooms.
It then took some time Saturday to evacuate the shoppers from the mall.
Sunday, police said they had made arrangements to allow shoppers to pick up personal belongings abandoned in the mall's common areas from a nearby bank building.
Arrangements have not been made to pick up belongings left inside stores. Shoppers who need more information can call 410-730-3302.
The mall, which is officially named "The Mall in Columbia" but is widely known as Columbia Mall, is located in Columbia, Md., between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.