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'I Pray ... That People Don't Get Scared to Go Out in Public': Columbia Mallgoers Unite in Prayer

Citizens prayed together one week after the fatal Columbia mall shootings.

People held hands outside the second-floor store at The Mall in Columbia where three people were killed on Jan. 25, 2014. (Credit: Elizabeth Janney)
People held hands outside the second-floor store at The Mall in Columbia where three people were killed on Jan. 25, 2014. (Credit: Elizabeth Janney)
Dozens clasped hands in a show of unity and strength in front of Zumiez, the boarded-up store at The Mall in Columbia where three people were killed last Saturday.

Ben Dadourian, 19, who organized the Feb. 1 prayer gathering, said a few words: "I pray ... that fear doesn't get into the hearts of people, that people don't get scared to go out in public," Dadourian said to the circle of strangers holding hands between the Zumiez storefront and the balcony.

He asked that blessings be with the families of Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, who were fatally shot while at work on Jan. 25. The shooter Darion Aguilar, 19, also died, at his own hand, according to police, who have not yet determined a motive.

"...be with them through this hard time," Dadourian said Saturday.

When the shots were fired and hundreds sheltered in place at The Mall in Columbia last weekend, Dadourian was on a prayer retreat in Pennsylvania.

"Most of us [on the retreat] were from the Columbia area," said Dadourian, who lives in Elkridge, attends Howard Community College and works at Hampton Inn & Suites in Columbia. "We were all shocked."

Two days later, when the mall reopened, Dadourian said he dropped by as the governor was visiting. "I wanted to see how it was going," he said. When he and his friends had dinner at the mall for their regular Monday night get-together, he said he noticed it was emptier than usual.

After eating, the friends went upstairs and prayed outside the store where the shootings occurred.

"It definitely has an effect," Dadourian said of prayer. As he said a few words for the victims, others came over and joined.

Seeing the response, Dadourian decided to do it again, and created a Facebook event. The 11 a.m. prayer gathering one week after the shootings was open to all, and Dadourian said he shared it with his Facebook friends and many groups. He's a member of youth group The Navigators and CREW ministries.

He spoke briefly to the group Saturday as individuals connected in prayer.

"Seeing people interested in what we were doing, taking pictures and joining, was really encouraging," Dadourian said. "I was blown away."

At 11:15 a.m., a mall representative stood in front of Zumiez wearing a white ribbon, inviting all who cared to join in a moment of silence, which concluded when she asked that the victims may rest in peace.

Said Dadourian: "My prayers go out to the victims and their families."

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