After an ordinary workday turned deadly at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, are survivors and investigators spending the Thanksgiving holiday questioned the motive of an employee who opened fire on co-workers, killing six before fatally turning the gun on himself.
The employees were preparing for a night shift when a manager opened fire with a gun in the break room just after 8 p.m. 22, officials said.
Authorities identified those 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.
Two people injured in the shooting remained hospitalized in critical condition on Thanksgiving, and one injured victim was discharged Wednesday, a Sentara Norfolk General Hospital spokesman said.
“I know this community, and I know it well, and I know that 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, yet another example of how horrific gun violence puts American lives at risk in the most conventional settings, has left many grieving the loss of loved ones and survivors traumatized by what they witnessed. As the long journey of processing these feelings begins, questions remain about what could have led to the killings.
Donya Prioleau was inside the employee break room when the shooter began shooting at co-workers, she said.
“We don’t know what made him do this,” Prioleau said. “None of us can understand why it happened.”
The gunslinger was identified as Andre Bing, who worked as “team leader” overnight. The 31-year-old had worked for Walmart since 2010, the company said. Authorities have said he had a 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 killed and the shooter was found in the break room, while another was found in front of the store, Chesapeake city officials said, and three others died at the hospital. Officials are trying to determine the exact number of injuries, as some people may have taken themselves to hospitals.
The mayor plans to hold a vigil on Monday evening in Byparken, according to a tweet from the city.
“Today we are focused only on those injured by Tuesday’s tragic event, but the police investigation continues and we expect to have additional information available tomorrow,” officials also tweeted Thursday.
A motive for the shooting remained unclear Wednesday, Chesapeake Police Chief Mark Solesky said.
Tuesday’s violence was at least the third mass shooting in Virginia this month, according to Gun Violence Archiveand comes amid the background of grief many people around the country are enduring this Thanksgiving as loved ones were lost or injured in shootings.
Just 270 miles west of Chesapeake reportedly a 22-year-old student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville opened fire on fellow students November 13 killed three of them on a bus returning to campus from a field trip to Washington, DC.
At the weekend, a 22-year-old 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 the victims are still seeking answers.
“How do you celebrate when you’re broken. 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.
Overall, 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 assailant.
Addressing the epidemic, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured in a 2011 mass shooting, a plea for reform on Thanksgiving Eve: “We can’t continue to be the nation of gun violence and mass shootings. We can’t live like this. We have to act.”
In Chesapeake, the horror 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 she was in a regular 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 barrage of gunfire erupted, she said. At first, it “didn’t register as real,” she said, until the sound of the gunshots reverberated through her chest.
Wilczewski hid under a table as the gunman walked down a nearby hallway. She could see some of her colleagues on the floor or lying on chairs – all quiet and some probably dead, she said. She stayed because she 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 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 going to have to try really hard because I’m running,’ and I booked it. … and I didn’t stop until I got to my car and then I had a meltdown.”
Briana Tyler, also a new employee, had just started her shift when the shooting broke out.
“All of a sudden you just hear 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 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 at people, Tyler said.
“There were people just falling to the floor,” she said. “Everybody was screaming, gasping, and yeah, he just walked away after that and just continued through the store and just kept shooting.”
The shooter previously exhibited disturbing behavior, 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 he had 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 had made ominous threats if he ever lost his job.
“He said if he ever got fired from his job, he would retaliate and people would remember who he was,” Johnson said.
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 as we’ve learned the gunman was a Walmart employee,” Walmart US President and CEO John Furner said in a statement. “The entire Walmart family is broken. Our hearts and prayers are with those affected.”