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Witnesses Describe Gunshots, Chaos in Columbia Mall Shooting

"They came out armed with their guns and they just kept going and going," said one shopper in describing police charging into the mall.

Police vehicles stationed in front of the food court entrance at the Columbia Mall after a shooting left three dead on Jan. 25, 2014. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
Police vehicles stationed in front of the food court entrance at the Columbia Mall after a shooting left three dead on Jan. 25, 2014. Credit: Andrew Metcalf

Updated - Jan. 26 - 11 a.m.

Rogelio Arzamendia was sitting with his boss in the food court, near Chipotle, working on a laptop. The two had papers spread across their table.

That's when he heard the gunshots.

"I heard a pop over my head from the upper level," said Arzamendia, 48, who lives in Columbia. 

He said he and his boss immediately ran for cover, finding it in the kitchen of the Chick-Fil-A in the mall's food court. They stayed there for an hour, until police came and told them it was OK to come out.

The events that unfolded above them left a city shocked, and three people dead.

Police said a man armed with a shotgun killed two employees inside Zumiez, a skateshop on the second floor. The two victims were identified as Tyler Johnson, 25, of Ellicott City and Brianna Benlolo, 21, of College Park. The shooter was also killed by a gunshot. He was identified by police as Darion Marcus Aguilar, 19, of College Park.

Marta Zamudio, of Columbia, was also in the food court when she heard shots.

"I heard seven or 10 shots," said Zamudio. She said she saw a person running with blood coming from his or her mouth as people fled from the food area.

Shafon Robinson told the Baltimore Sun the gunman looked her in the eye, just as her husband told her to get down. She told the paper that's what helped to save the couple's kids, but her husband, Terrance Lilly, broke three bones in his face during the commotion.

Christian Rodriguez, a Chick-Fil-A employee who was working in the food court at the time, said he heard three shots and then jumped for cover. 

"It was the scariest thing I've seen in awhile," said Rodriguez.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman thanked first responders whom he said arrived within minutes of receiving several simultaneous 911 calls. He described the sudden unfolding of the morning's events, saying, "This has been a tremendously trying few hours."

Police agencies from around the state flooded the scene. By noon there were FBI, Maryland State Police and Anne Arundel County personnel assisting Howard County officers. Officers in fatigues, body armor and assault rifles patrolled inside the caution-taped parking lot.

National, local and international media were on the scene. Dozens of television cameras filled the media staging area where police and county officials provided updates throughout the afternoon.

Near the staging area was Steve Johnson, a Columbia resident who was preparing to enter the mall when he saw police officers begin to stream in.

"They came out armed with their guns and they just kept going and going," said Johnson.

When asked what he thought about the event occurring in Columbia, he said, "I don't put too much on the location part, because it could happen anywhere."

"It's a terrible thing," said Johnson.


Related Patch stories:

3 Dead in Shooting at Columbia Mall, Including Gunman

Two Mall Shooting Victims Identified, One from Ellicott City

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