After an ordinary workday turned deadly at Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, survivors and investigators are spending the Thanksgiving holiday questioning the motive of an employee who opened fire on co-workers, killing six before fatally turning the gun on himself.
Employees were preparing for an overnight shift Tuesday when a manager opened fire with a handgun in the break room just after 10 p.m., officials said.
Authorities identified the people killed as Randy Blevins, 70, Lorenzo Gamble, 43, Tyneka Johnson, 22, Brian Pendleton, 38, Kellie Pyle, 52, and a 16-year-old boy, who is not being named because he is a minor. it.
Two people injured in the shooting remained hospitalized in critical condition on Thanksgiving, and one injured victim was released Wednesday, a Sentara Norfolk General Hospital spokeswoman said.
“I know this community, and I know it well. And I know we will come together and lend a helping hand to the families of the victims,” Chesapeake Mayor Rick West said Wednesday in a video message.
The shooting, another example of how horrific gun violence consumes American life in the most ordinary places, has left many people mourning the loss of loved ones and survivors of what they witnessed. As the long journey to process those feelings begins, there are questions about what the killings might have led to.
Donya Prioleau was inside the employee break room when the shooter began shooting co-workers, she said.
“We don’t know what made him do this,” Prioleau said. “None of us can understand why it happened.”
The gunman was identified as Andre Bing, who was working overnight as a “team leader.” The 31-year-old had worked for Walmart since 2010, the company said. Authorities have said he had one semi-automatic handgun and several magazines of ammunition.
Bing shot three of Prioleau’s friends “before I took off running. Half of us didn’t believe it was real until some of us saw all the blood on the floor,” she said.
Two victims were found killed and the shooter in the break room, another victim was found at the front of the store, and three others died at the hospital, Chesapeake city officials said. Officials were still trying to determine the exact number of injuries as some people may have been taken to hospitals.
The mayor plans to hold a vigil on Monday evening in City Park, according to a tweet from the city.
“Today we are focused only on those injured in Tuesday’s tragic event, but the police investigation continues and we expect additional information to be available tomorrow,” officials said in a tweet Thursday.
The motive for the shooting was not clear Thursday, Chesapeake Police Chief Mark Solesky said.
This week’s violence was the third mass shooting in Virginia this month, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and it comes against the backdrop of the grief many Americans across the country are experiencing on Thanksgiving as they lost loved ones. or wounded in shooting.
Just 170 miles west of Chesapeake, a 22-year-old student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville allegedly opened fire on fellow students Nov. 13, killing three of them on a bus returning to campus from a field trip to Washington, DC.
Over the weekend, a 22-year-old was shot and killed five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and injured 19 others, authorities said. And six months ago Thursday, a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 students and two teachers, a tragedy in which victims are still seeking answers.
“How do you celebrate when you’re destroyed. How do you give thanks, when you have nothing left to give. How do you fake it and smile when you wake up crying,” Brett Cross wrote Thursday about his nephew, Uziyah Garcia, who was killed in Uvalde.
In all, the US has suffered more than 600 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The nonprofit and CNN define mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, not including the assault.
Speaking of the epidemic, Arizona Former US Representative Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured in a flash flood in 2011, tweeted Thanksgiving Eve plea for reforms: “We cannot continue to be a nation of gun violence and mass shootings. We cannot live like this. We must act.”
In Chesapeake, the chaos began less than an hour before the store was to close after a busy holiday shopping day.
Jessie Wilczewski, who was recently hired, told CNN that she was in a regularly scheduled meeting in the break room when she saw the shooter in the doorway pointing a gun.
At first, she didn’t think what she was seeing was real, but then she felt her chest pound and her ears ring as a stream of gunshots erupted, she said. At first, “It didn’t register as real,” she said, until the sound of gunshots reverberated through her chest.
Wilczewski hid under a table as the gunman walked down a nearby hallway. She could see some of her co-workers on the floor or lying on chairs – all still and some probably dead, she said. She stayed because she didn’t want to leave them alone.
“I could have gone out that door … and I stayed. I waited so they wouldn’t be alone in their last moments,” Wilczewski said in a message to the families of two victims.
When the shooter returned to the break room, Wilczewski said, he told her to get out from under the table and go home.
“I had to touch the door which was covered (in blood),” she said. “I just remember grabbing my bag and thinking, ‘If he’s going to shoot me in the back – well, he’s got to try hard cause I’m running,’ and I booked him. …and I didn’t stop until I got to my car and then I had a disaster.”
Briana Tyler, also a new hire, had just started her shift when the gun went off.
“All of a sudden you just hear pa pa pa pa pa pa pa,” Tyler told CNN, adding that she saw bullets flying just inches from her face. “It wasn’t a break between them to where you could really try to process it.”
The shooter had a “white stare on his face” as he looked around the room and shot at people, Tyler said.
“People were just falling to the floor,” she said. “Everybody was screaming, gasping, and yes, he walked away after that and continued through the store and continued shooting.”
The shooter had shown disturbing behavior in the past, other employees said.
Shaundrayia Reese, who worked with the shooter from 2015 to 2018, described him as a loner.
“He kept saying the government was watching him. He didn’t like social media and kept black tape on his phone camera. Everyone always thought there was something wrong with him,” Reese said.
Joshua Johnson, a former maintenance worker at the store, said the shooter made dire threats if he ever lost his job.
“He said if he ever quit, he would do it against each other and people would remember who he was,” Johnson said.
Hear a Walmart employee who witnessed the shooting describe the manager’s reputation
Neither Johnson nor Reese reported any concerns about Bing to management, they said.
In a statement, Walmart said it was working with local law enforcement in the investigation.
“We feel tragedies like this personally and deeply. But this one is especially painful because we’ve learned the gunman was an associate of Walmart,” Walmart US President and CEO John Furner said in a statement. “The entire Walmart family is heartbroken. Our hearts and prayers are with those affected.”