MOUNT AIRY, Md. (WDVM) — It has taken Melissa Benlolo and her husband, Aaron, years to speak out about their daughter, Brianna.
“Brianna was a free spirit. She was kind of all over the place. Incredibly smart,” Melissa describes.
In 2014, Brianna was a 21-year-old single mother working as a manager at the Zumiez store inside the mall in Columbia, Maryland.
Melissa says the job was a perfect fit. Zumiez retail is geared towards skateboarding apparel and appealed to Brianna namely because she loved to skateboard.
On January 25, 2014, a gunman entered the store and shot and killed Brianna and co-worker, Tyler Johnson.
Melissa recalls that Brianna wasn’t supposed to be at work that day, but she changed her schedule in order to make it for a date later that evening.
“I called her cell phone a couple of times and I was like she’s probably hiding or she’s trying to get out or she just left her cell phone and as the hours went by I knew. I kind of just could feel it,” Melissa explained.
In the days after Brianna’s death, Melissa remembers the wave of support from neighbors and friends who donated grocery gift cards, hot meals and even helped with laundry.
“It was a huge blessing how many people reached out to us from all over the world and helped us out with things like that that you don’t think of,” Melissa said.
Six years later, Melissa and Aaron are paying forward that support through the creation of the Brianna Lynn Foundation.
The goal is to provide holistic and financial assistance to families who have suffered the loss of a child as young as infant and up to 21 years of age.
“[To] like help them know what’s coming, what to expect, help with the funeral expenses,” Melissa explained.
“It’s expensive so you need a foundation like this, you need somebody that’s pulling those resources and getting them together so people know where to go to get help,” said Aaron.
A Go-Fund-Me page has raised $6,100 to help set up the non-profit.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into this and it’s been a few years now that we’ve even got the nerve up to do this. Brianna would be very proud,” said Aaron.
The Benlolo family says they are in the process of incorporating the foundation and becoming a proper non-profit organization.