Parents of Columbia Mall Shooting Victim Find Strength in Keeping His Dream of Helping Others Alive
Updated: Thursday, February 20 2014, 11:25 PM EST
The events that unfolded in Columbia, MD on January 25 forever changed the lives of many in the community.
It was just after 11 a.m. when gunshots rang out inside the Columbia Mall and two employees, at a store on the upper level, were killed. Tyler Johnson and Brianna Benlolo were the two victims of a lone gunman who then turned the gun on himself.
Howard Johnson, Tyler's father, told FOX45 that as soon as he and his wife heard the news they immediately started texting their son. Tyler didn't respond. Calls to Tyler's phone went unanswered, and then came reports that the shooting occurred in the store where Tyler worked.
"That's when it hit us so we basically got in the car and started driving to the mall," Howard said. But the Johnsons never made it there. A call to police had them instead driving to the police department's headquarters. It's there where Johnson's parents were told that their beloved son was one of the two people killed by Darian Aguilar.
Saturday marks one month since the mall shootings. His parents tell FOX45 they still can't bring themselves to go into their son's room.
"We're gonna work on that," Howard said. "We'll clean it up. It's a mess. He wasn't a very good housekeeper."
But it was in Tyler's shortcomings where his parents' greatest sense of pride came. Several years ago Tyler became addicted to narcotics, a problem his parents suspect happened as he tried to mask a far deeper problem.
"He had minor manic depression," Howard said. "It was diagnosed at 21 or 22 and then he got therapy and of course got better."
Before long, at the Serenity Center in Columbia, Tyler conquered his demons. From there he moved on to helping others to battle their addiction.
"He was taking calls from people in the evening and meeting them at coffee shops and calming them down," Howard said.
Tyler's parents say he had planned to purse a college degree and become a drug counselor. Now they are determined to keep that dream alive, and have taken over Tyler's board seat at the Serenity Center. They've also established a memorial fund with donations going towards helping others. With each day that passes, this mission helps the Johnsons cope with the pain that fills their hearts.
"We still have the good memories but we're always going to miss him whenever we see his old clothes or whatever," Howard said. "It's just another reminder that he's not here."
Donations for the Tyler Johnson Memorial Fund can be made to the Community Foundation of Howard County (Tyler Johnson Memorial Fund, 10630 Little Patuxent Parkway, Century Plaza, Suite 315), or online here: www.cfhoco.org/give/donate/foundation (Specify 'Tyler Johnson' in the memorial field)