After a normal workday turned deadly at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, survivors and investigators are spending the Thanksgiving holiday questioning the motive of an employee who opened fire on his co-workers, killing six before fatally turning the gun on himself.
Employees were preparing for a night shift Tuesday when a manager opened fire with a handgun in the break room shortly 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 has not been identified. they call because he is a minor.
Two people injured in the shooting remained hospitalized in critical condition on Thanksgiving Day, and one injured victim was released Wednesday, a spokesman for Sentara Norfolk General Hospital said.
“I know this community and I know it well. And I know we’re going to come together and reach out to the families of the victims,” Chesapeake Mayor Rick West said in a video message Wednesday.
The shooting, another example of how horrific gun violence disrupts American life in the most mainstream settings, has left many grieving the loss of loved ones and survivors traumatized by what they witnessed. As the long journey of processing these emotions begins, questions persist about what could have led to the murders.
Ms. Prioleau was inside the employee break room when the shooter began shooting at her co-workers, she said.
“We don’t know what made him do that,” Prioleau said. “None of us can understand why it happened.”
The gunman was identified as Andre Bing, who worked as a “team leader” overnight. The 31-year-old had worked at Walmart since 2010. Authorities have said he had a semi-automatic handgun and several magazines of ammunition.
Bing shot three of Prioleau’s friends “before running off. Half of us didn’t believe it was real until some of us saw all the blood on the floor,” he said.
Two slain victims and the shooter were found in the break room, another victim was found in 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 injured, as some people may have been taken to hospitals.
The mayor plans to hold a vigil Monday evening at the city park. according to a tweet from the city.
“Today we are focusing only on those injured in Tuesday’s tragic event, but the police investigation is ongoing and we hope to have additional information available tomorrow,” officials said in a tweet Thursday.
The motive for the shooting was still unclear Thursday, Chesapeake Police Chief Mark Solesky said.
This week’s violence was at least the third mass shooting in Virginia this month, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and it comes against a backdrop of grief that many Americans across the country are enduring this Thanksgiving as loved ones were lost or injured in shootings.
Just 170 miles west of Chesapeake, a 22-year-old student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville allegedly opened fire on his classmates on Nov. 13, killing three of them on a bus returning to campus after of a trip to Washington, DC.
Over the weekend, a 22-year-old man shot and killed five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colo., 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 searching for answers.
“How you celebrate when you’re devastated. How you say thank you, when you have nothing left to give. How 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 total, the United States has experienced more than 600 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Both the nonprofit and CNN define mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, not including the shooter.
Speaking of the epidemic, of Arizona former American actress Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured in a mass shooting in 2011, he tweeted a Thanksgiving night plea for reform: “We cannot continue to be the nation of gun violence and mass shootings. We cannot live like this. We must act.”
In Chesapeake, the horror began less than an hour before the store closed after a day of holiday shopping.
Jessie Wilczewski, who was recently hired, told CNN she was in a regularly scheduled meeting in the break room when she saw the shooter at the door pointing a gun.
At first, he didn’t think what he was seeing was real, but then he heard his chest pounding and his ears ringing as a barrage of gunfire erupted, he said. At first, it “didn’t register as real,” he said, until the sound of gunshots echoed through his chest.
Wilczewski hid under a table as the gunman walked down a nearby hallway. He could see some of his co-workers on the floor or lying in chairs, all still and some probably dead, he said. He stayed because he didn’t want to leave them alone.
“I could have run out that door … and I stayed. I stayed so they wouldn’t be alone in their final 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 knock on the door that was covered (in blood),” he said. “I just remember grabbing my bag and thinking, ‘If he’s going to shoot me in the back, well, he’s going to have to try really hard because I’m running,’ and I booked him. … and I didn’t stop until I got to my car and then I had a meltdown.”
Briana Tyler, also a newly hired employee, had just started her shift when shots rang out.
“All of a sudden you just hear pa pa pa pa pa pa pa pa,” Tyler told CNN, adding that he saw bullets flying inches from his face. “It wasn’t a breakup between them where you could really try to process it.”
The shooter had a “blank look on his face” as he looked around the room and shot people, Tyler said.
“There were people falling to the ground,” he said. “Everybody was screaming, gasping, and yes, after that he took off and continued throughout the store and continued to shoot.”
The shooter displayed 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 always said 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,” Reese said.
Joshua Johnson, a former maintenance worker at the store, said the shooter had made dire threats if he ever lost his job.
“He said if he was ever fired from his job, he would retaliate and people would remember who he was,” Johnson said.
Hear the Walmart employee who witnessed a 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 on the investigation.
“We feel tragedies like this personally and deeply. But this one is especially painful as we’ve learned the gunman was a Walmart partner,” Walmart USA President and CEO John Furner said in a statement. “The entire Walmart family is heartbroken. Our hearts and prayers go out to those affected.”