After an ordinary workday turned deadly at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, survivors and investigators have spent the Thanksgiving holiday questioning the motives of an employee who shot co-workers, killing six before killing himself.
Employees were preparing for the overnight shift Tuesday when the manager opened fire with a handgun in the break room just after 10 p.m., 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 remain hospitalized in critical condition on Thanksgiving, and one injured victim was discharged Wednesday, a spokesperson for Sentara Norfolk General Hospital said.
“I know this community, and I know it very well. And I know that we will come together and lend help 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 has upended American life 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 those emotions begins, the question of what could have led to the killing remains.
Donya Prioleau was inside the employee break room when the shooter began shooting at her co-workers, she said.
“We don’t know what led him to do this,” Prioleau said. “No one can understand why it happened.”
The gunman was identified as Andre Bing, who worked as a night “team leader”. The 31-year-old has worked at Walmart since 2010, the company said. Authorities said he had a semi-automatic handgun and several magazines of ammunition.
Bing shot three of Prioleau’s friends “before I ran. 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 a shooter were found in the rest room, another victim was found in front of the store, and three others died at the hospital, Chesapeake city officials said. Officials are still trying to determine the exact number of injuries because some people may have taken themselves to the hospital.
The mayor plans to hold a vigil Monday evening in Taman Kota, according to the tweet from the city.
“Today we are only focusing on those who were harmed by Tuesday’s tragic events, but the police investigation is continuing and we expect additional information to be available tomorrow,” the official said in a tweet Thursday.
A motive for the shooting remained unclear Thursday, Chesapeake Police Chief Mark Solesky said.
This week’s violence is at least the third mass shooting in Virginia this month, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and comes against a backdrop of grief as many Americans across the country endure this Thanksgiving when loved ones are 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 fellow students November 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 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 searching for answers.
“How do you celebrate when you are destroyed. How do you give thanks, when you have nothing left to give. How do you fake and smile when you wake up crying,” Brett Cross wrote Thursday about his nephew, Uziyah Garcia, who was killed in Uvalde.
Overall, the US has experienced more than 600 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Both the nonprofit and CNN define a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are shot, not including the attacker.
Speaking of plague, Arizona’s former US Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured in a 2011 mass shooting, tweeted a Thanksgiving Eve plea for reform: “We cannot continue to be a 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 stores closed after a busy holiday shopping day.
Jessie Wilczewski, who was recently hired, told CNN she was in a regularly scheduled meeting in the break room when she saw a sniper in the doorway pointing a gun.
At first, he didn’t think what he was seeing was real, but then he felt his chest heave and his ears ring as a torrent of gunfire erupted, he said. At first, it “didn’t register as real,” she said, until the sound of the gunshot pierced her chest.
Wilczewski hid under a table as the gunman walked into a nearby hallway. He could see some of his colleagues on the floor or lying on their chairs – all still and some possibly dead, he said. She stayed because she didn’t want to leave them alone.
“I could have left that door … and I stayed. I stayed so that they would not be alone in their last moments,” Wilczewski said in a message to the families of the 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 that 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 recorded it. … and I didn’t stop until I got to my car, then I had a meltdown.
Briana Tyler, also a newly hired worker, had just started to move when the gunfire erupted.
“All of a sudden you just hear pa pa pa pa pa pa pa,” Tyler told CNN, adding that he saw the bullet fly inches from his face. “It’s not a break between them where you can really try to process it.”
He honestly had a “blank look on his face” as he looked around the room and shot people, Tyler said.
“Some people just go down to the floor,” she said. “Everybody was screaming, gasping, and yeah, he just took off after that and continued throughout the store and just shot.”
Shooter exhibited some disturbing behavior in the past, another employee 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 kept black tape on his camera phone. 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 respond and people would remember who he was,” Johnson said.
Listen to Walmart employees who witnessed the shooting describe the manager’s reputation
Neither Johnson nor Reese reported Bing’s concerns to management, he said.
In a statement, Walmart said it is cooperating with local law enforcement in the investigation.
“We feel this kind of tragedy personally and deeply. But this is especially painful because we have learned that the gunman was a Walmart associate,” President and CEO of Walmart USA John Furner said in a statement. “The entire Walmart family is heartbroken. Our hearts and prayers are with those affected.”