COLUMBIA, Md. (CNS) — Catholic Charities of Baltimore offered counseling services at St. John the Evangelist Catholic community in Columbia Jan. 26, a day after a teenage gunman killed two employees at a nearby shopping mall.

Six counselors were available during Sunday morning Masses, and a dozen were there that evening during Mass and a youth group gathering.

Of those who sought counseling at St. John, “there has not been, to our knowledge, someone who is very intimately connected to any of the victims,” said Anne Ober, a member of Catholic Charities’ Child and Family Services Critical Incident Stress Management team.

However, Ober said, “many of the youth and families breakfast there or work in the mall, so they’re certainly affected by fear and anxiety.”

According to law enforcement officials, 19-year-old Darion Marcus Aguilar shot and killed Brianna Benlolo, 21, and Tyler Johnson, 25, employees of the skate shop Zumiez, and fired other shots at patrons before killing himself Jan. 25 around 11:15 a.m. Police have not identified a motive.

St. John offered its regular 5:30 p.m. Mass for the victims, their families and friends. The Mass was held at Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, one of two interfaith sites, about a half-mile apart, where the parish operates. About 300 people attended the Mass at the center closest to the Columbia mall.

In his homily, Father Ferdinand Ezenwachi, an associate pastor of the parish who celebrated the Mass, emphasized that section from Chapter 12 of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians in which the apostle describes the church as one body with many parts.

“That is why when something happens in society, we are all affected. We all worry,” he said. “When we face something like this, the only thing we can do is hand it over to God because we cannot explain it.”

Father Ezenwachi said that his prayer was that God would help people control their actions and avoid violence.

At the end of Mass, Ober addressed the congregation, asking if anyone had been at the mall during the shootings. A few hands went into the air. She urged them to speak to a counselor.

In addition to meeting with people individually, the Catholic Charities’ team met with the youth group. About 60 youths were at the gathering, Ober said.

Most people who met with members of Catholic Charities’ stress management team wanted to share and process their reaction to the shootings, Ober told The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese. The counselors are trained to identify people who need therapy beyond the counseling session.

Team members typically provide services for Catholic Charities and archdiocesan staff members, but respond to community crises when needed, Ober said.

Personnel from the Archdiocese of Baltimore also were at the parish Jan. 26 to assist parish staff. Ruth Puls, director of catechetical and pastoral formation, said that in tragedies, people reach out to their parish.

“That was really nice this morning, to see people coming in and hugging staff members and talking about where they were when they heard the news,” Puls said.

St. John music director Alexandra Aber, 24, said that when she heard news of the shooting, her thoughts immediately turned to the children whose parents take them to the mall on Saturday mornings. She was at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center for a music workshop when it went on lockdown after the shootings because of its proximity to the shopping mall.

“Columbia is just not a place where that kind of thing ever happened in the past,” she said of the planned community, which is halfway between Washington and Baltimore and was established in 1967 to promote a high quality of life. “Columbia was such a utopian, idealistic place. We were living in a little bubble,” she added.

Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori, in a Jan. 25 statement, offered his prayers and condolences for those affected.

“May this day of sorrow, during which we have witnessed but the latest act of senseless violence in our society, turn our hearts and minds anew to the dignity and value of every human life,” Archbishop Lori said. “May this day spur us on to work and pray for the day that, with every person respected and loved, we will be free from such violence and fear.”


Wiering is a staff writer at The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese.