It took police just two minutes after the first 911 call to arrive at a crowded suburban Baltimore shopping mall Saturday morning, where they quickly found the results of the latest public shooting: three people dead, including a man who had taken his own life. Around him were a shotgun, a large amount of ammunition, and crude explosives apparently made using fireworks.
Although the violence ended quickly, and the rapid response reflected a considerable amount of training for just such an event at the Mall in Columbia, Md., it was hours before police could be sure that any other potential threat had been eliminated. When the shooting started, many shoppers and employees had taken refuge in storage areas and dressing rooms, some fashioning barricades.
Police have yet to identify the shooter, other than to say he was male, or any possible motive. Speaking to reporters Saturday, authorities emphasized that they could not confirm some press reports that the shooting had involved a domestic dispute.
Ms. Benlolo's grandfather, John Feins, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from Florida that his granddaughter had a 2-year-old son and that the job at Zumiez was her first since she went back to work after her son's birth.
"She was all excited because she was the manager there," he said. "It's senseless. It's totally, totally senseless.”
Witnesses said they heard a succession of gunshots fired near the food court on the first floor of the mall. The skateboard shop is on the second level of the mall, just above the food court.
Five people were treated for minor injuries and released from an area hospital, including one who had received a gunshot wound to the foot.
"This was a very scary incident," Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said at a press briefing. "There were a lot of people very close to where this happened."
Columbia, Md. is a planned community between Baltimore and Washington, designed and developed by James Rouse in the 1960s. The mall, which includes more than 200 shops, kiosks, and restaurants, is the commercial center of the town.
Ryan Miller, director of Howard County's Office of Emergency Management, said the mall, which is owned by General Growth Properties and is staffed by private security, allows county police and fire agencies to conduct drills on the property, including active shooter drills, a training tool he said is invaluable on a day like Saturday, the Baltimore Sun reports
"For years we have done exercises and training at this mall," Miller said. "I've been here at 1 a.m. when we've done exercises. ... For [the mall] to open the doors to allow them to orient themselves to the facility is so valuable."
Zumiez, which has more than 400 stores across the United States, said in a statement it was "deeply saddened by the violence" at its store. "Our hearts go out to the victims and their families." The company said it was arranging counseling for its employees in the area.
Police said the mall will remain closed Sunday.
The attack in Columbia follows a shooting at a New Jersey mall in November in which a gunman fired at least six shots without hitting anyone, sparking a mass evacuation of the complex, then killing himself.
There also has been a spate of shootings in recent days at US schools and universities. A student was shot dead on Friday at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, and at Purdue University in Indiana a teacher's assistant was shot and killed on Tuesday. In both incidents suspects have been charged with the crimes.
This report includes material from Reuters.