After a normal workday turned deadly at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, survivors and investigators are questioning the motives of an employee who spent the Thanksgiving holiday opening fire on co-workers, killing six before fatally turning the gun on himself.
Employees were preparing for the night shift when the manager fired a handgun in the break room just after 10 p.m., officials said.
Authorities have identified the slain victims as Randy Blevins, 70, Lorenzo Gamble, 43, Tyneka Johnson, 22, Brian Pendleton, 38, Kelly Pyle, 52, and a 16-year-old boy, who has not been named because he is a minor.
Two people injured in the shooting were hospitalized in critical condition on Thanksgiving, and one injured victim was released Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Sentara Norfolk General Hospital 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 in a video message Wednesday.
The shooting, another example of how horrific gun violence in the most traditional settings can upend American life, left loved ones devastated and survivors traumatized by what they witnessed. As the long journey to process those feelings begins, questions about what led to the killings loom large.
Donya Prioliu was in the employee break room when the shooter began shooting at co-workers, she said.
“We don’t know what made him do it,” Prioliu said. “None of us can understand why this happened.”
The gunman was identified as Andre Bing, who had been working as a “squad leader” throughout the night. The 31-year-old has worked at Walmart since 2010, the company said. Authorities said he was carrying a semi-automatic handgun and several ammunition magazines.
Bing shot Prioli’s three friends “before I started running. Half of us didn’t believe it was real until some of us saw all the blood on the floor,” he said.
Chesapeake city officials said two of the slain victims and the shooter were found in the break room, while another was found in the front of the store, and three died at a 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 in City Park on Monday evening. According to a tweet from the city.
“Today we are focused solely on those injured from Tuesday’s tragic incident, but the police investigation continues and we expect additional information to become available tomorrow,” officials tweeted Thursday.
A motive for the shooting was unclear Wednesday, Chesapeake Police Chief Mark Soleski said.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, Tuesday’s violence was at least the third mass shooting in Virginia this month and comes amid grief many people across the country are enduring this Thanksgiving as loved ones have been lost or injured in shootings.
About 170 miles west of the Chesapeake, a 22-year-old student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville allegedly opened fire on fellow students on 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 man opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing five people and wounding 19, authorities said. And six months ago Thursday, when a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, the victims are still searching for 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, Uzia Garcia, who was killed in Uvalde.
In total, 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 mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, not including an assailant.
Speaking of the epidemic, former US Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured in a 2011 mass shooting, tweeted a 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 horror began an hour before the store closed after a busy day of holiday shopping.
Jesse Wilczewski, a recent recruit, told CNN he was in a regularly scheduled meeting in the break room when he saw the shooter in the doorway pointing a gun.
At first, she said she didn’t think what she was seeing was real, but then she felt her chest pounding and her ears rang as a barrage of gunshots rang out. At first, it “didn’t register as real,” she said, until the sound of shots echoed through her chest.
Wilczewski hid under a table as the gunman walked down a nearby hallway. She said she could see some of her colleagues lying on the floor or on chairs – all still and some possibly dead. 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 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 closed door (in blood),” he said. “I remember grabbing my bag, 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 just melted.”
Brianna Tyler, a newly hired employee, had just started her shift when gunfire erupted.
“All of a sudden you hear papa papa papa papa,” 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.”
Tyler said the shooter had a “blank look” on his face as he looked around the room and fired at people.
“People were falling to the ground,” he said. “Everybody was screaming, gasping, and yes, they walked out after that and continued across the store and continued to shoot.”
The shooter had exhibited some disturbing behavior in the past, other employees said.
Shandraya Reese, who worked with Shooter from 2015 to 2018, described him as lonely.
“He always said the government was watching him. He didn’t like social media and he kept black tape on his phone camera. Everyone always thought something was wrong with him,” Reese said.
Joshua Johnson, a former maintenance worker at the store, said the shooter made ominous threats if he lost his job.
“If he ever gets fired from his job, he’ll get revenge and people will remember who he is,” Johnson said.
Neither Johnson nor Reese reported any concerns about Bing to management, he said.
In a statement, Walmart said it was working with local law enforcement on the investigation.
“We feel such tragedies personally and deeply. But this is especially painful as we learn that the gunman was a Walmart associate,” Walmart US President and CEO John Ferner said in a statement. “The entire Walmart family is heartbroken. Our hearts and prayers are with those affected. ”