Darion Marcus Aguilar became a vegan after watching a television show about how animals are slaughtered. That transformation, says a family friend, shows just how much the teen cared about life.
But with Aguilar, 19, suspected of killing two people Saturday at The Mall in Columbia, his family and friends are struggling to understand how the quiet person they knew could be linked to such a crime. After shooting the employees of a skateboard apparel shop, Aguilar turned the weapon on himself, police say.
"The best I could explain Darion's heart to you is: Darion is a vegan," Ellis Cropper said Sunday. "He became a vegan last year or the year before after he saw a documentary on PBS and he saw how animals were slaughtered."
Aguilar was as observant as he was considerate and calm, said Cropper, whose home Aguilar and his mother moved into for a month last year. If there was turmoil bubbling inside, it didn't show last weekend when Aguilar went bowling with Cropper's children.
"Whatever was bothering him, he did a good job covering it up," Cropper said Sunday.
Aguilar, who graduated from James Hubert Blake High School in Montgomery County last year, was still deciding what to do with his life, and his mother urged him to either get a job or enroll in college. He did both, Cropper said, and started working recently at a Dunkin Donuts at 10260 Baltimore Ave. in College Park, where on Saturday he was given the responsibility to open the store for the first time.
He never showed up.
Instead, police said he took a cab to the mall, where he fired at least six shots, slaying Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, before killing himself.
A journal that investigators found while searching Aguilar's home uncovered "general unhappiness," but Howard County police chief William J. McMahon said he knew no motive for the shooting. Aguilar did not have a criminal record, and McMahon said there was nothing in his background that indicated he might be prone to such violence.
Aguilar's mother told Cropper that she knew of no connections between her son and the victims other than his interest in skateboarding.
"Like his mother told me," Cropper said, "if he had a girlfriend, she would have known about it."
She didn't know he had bought a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun in Montgomery County in December as McMahon reported.
She saw no gun or ammunition in the family's well-maintained white clapboard house in College Park.
The lack of an obvious motive or relationship between Aguilar, Benlolo and Johnson has created a mystery that police, relatives and the community are trying to understand. No one knows why Aguilar stopped shooting after killing the two Zumiez employees and firing some other shots in the vicinity of the food court. He had plenty of unspent ammunition, police said, as well as some primitive, improvised explosive devices.
While people who knew Aguilar began searching for any signs of trouble they think they might have missed, speculation grew on social media as to Aguilar's motives and character.
Noah Sturdivant took to Twitter on Sunday to defend his former classmate: "Get some [expletive] respect. Darion wasn't the local psycho. Chill with all that."
People, he said, are mischaracterizing Aguilar.
"Darion was one of the nicest kids at my school," Sturdivant, a Blake senior, said in an interview. "He never had a problem with anyone. I never saw him mad or anything. I just feel like people are making him out to be something that he's not."
Sturdivant said he used a gym locker next to Aguilar and said the teen was quiet but friendly with everyone. He wasn't in any cliques but he wasn't a loner, either.
"I just remember that he wasn't the most outgoing person but ... you could sit there and talk to him," Sturdivant said. "He wasn't like any other teenager talking about parties or anything."
Khalib Genovez, who sat next to Aguilar in class last year at Blake, said he was agreeable and unassuming.
"He was just chill," Genovez said. "He just wanted to do his work, not really into the drama. Not the type of the person who wants to argue with the teacher or make any drama."
He said classmates from Blake have been talking about the shooting constantly since it was announced. "It's shocking and sad that a person sitting two or three seats away from you is the person that ends up doing a horrible thing," Genovez said.
Baltimore Sun staff writer Yvonne Wenger contributed to this report.