COLUMBIA, Md. (WJLA) - Renee Martin drove into the Columbia Mall parking lot Monday, not really sure what to expect.
"I thought it would be empty. I'm really surprised. I'm glad," she said.
Martin, from Oakton, Virginia, has a daughter who lives in the Columbia area.It was her first glance of the mall, since Saturday's shooting.
"Look at all these news trucks," she remarked, while angling for a parking space.
Martin walked into the Cavallero Hair Salon, where she got an emotional greeting and hugs from salon employees.
"Are you okay? I'm great, are you okay?," were among the relieved snippets of conversation heard over and over again.
Martin pointed across the hallway to the Zumiez Skateboard Store, where she and a salon worker first heard a loud noise Saturday.
"i heard 'bang', and I said yeah, it's a shame these days when you hear a noise like that, you immediately think... and then we heard 'bang-bang', then we both knew, It was the shooter," she recalled.
Martin was among hundreds, if not thousands of shoppers, who returned to the mall Monday.
Layla Tajalli, from Ellicott City, decided to come back, too.
"It's kind of like a bitter scent in the air," she says.
Although the Zumiez store is now sealed off, with poignant messages for the victims and those who responded to Saturday's shooting, many are determined to shop, eat, and return to a sense of normalcy again.
"I'm not going to let something like this stop me from coming here again, 'cos I know deep down it's bound to happen anywhere," Tajalli says.
At the same time, shoppers say they want to honor and remember those who lost their lives Saturday.
"I feel awful for the all the families," Martin says. "There are troubled people in the world, but I like to think they're a small minority. and if we let them start to control our actions, then what's the world coming to?"
Martin returned to get her coat, left behind as she fled the mall Saturday. but she also got a surprise.
"I came back today, and ran into Renee, my new friend for life," says Stephanie Keller, who came back for her purse, also left behind during the chaos.
The two women bumped into each other on a mall stairwell, each having no idea the other would be coming back to the mall at the very same time.
Amid the panic and fear Saturday, Martin had given keller a car ride, away from the mall.
"She didn't hesitate. She took me in," Keller recalls.
Yet, there was something else.
A very precious gift from Martin, and the salon employees... courage:
"They're heroes... and their bravery made me feel it's comfortable, it fine to go to a mall in suburban columbia again," Keller said quietly.
Martin and Keller left the mall together, smiling, relieved, and grateful.
"So you are looking at women who are now friends. You're looking at a good samaritan who took a stranger into her car and to safety," Keller says.
The two woman say they will be back.
"I'm going to give you a hug and a kiss."
"Thank you so much."
A friendship forged in fear, and a random act of kindness.