After an ordinary workday turns deadly at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, survivors and detectives spend the Thanksgiving holiday questioning the motive of an employee who opened fire on co-workers, killing six before turning the gun on. aimed at himself.
Employees were preparing for a night shift when a manager opened fire with a handgun in the break room just after 10 p.m., officials said.
Authorities identified the dead 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 named because he is a minor.
Four people injured in the shooting remained hospitalized on the eve of Thanksgiving, at least two of whom are in critical condition, Dr. Michael Hooper, chief medical officer of Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
“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 in a video message Wednesday.
The shooting, yet another example of how horrific gun violence is upsetting American life in the most conventional of settings, has left many mourning the loss of loved ones and survivors traumatized by what they witnessed. As the long journey of processing those emotions begins, questions linger as to what could have led to the murders.
Donya Prioleau was in the staff break room when the gunman began shooting at colleagues, she said.
“We don’t know why he did this,” Prioleau said. “None of us can understand why it happened.”
The shooter was identified as Andre Bing, who worked overnight as “squad leader.” The 31-year-old had worked for Walmart since 2010, the company said.
Bing shot three of Prioleau’s 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,” she said.
Two victims killed and the gunman were found in the break room, while another was found near the front of the store, Chesapeake city officials said, and three others died in the hospital. Officials are trying to determine the exact number of injuries, as some people have taken themselves to hospitals.
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 the Gun Violence Archive, and comes amid grief many people across the country are endured 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 reportedly opened fire on fellow students on Nov. 13, killing three of them on a bus returning to campus from a field trip to Washington, D.C. .
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.
In all, the US has endured more than 600 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Both the nonprofit organization and TUSEN define mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, not counting the attacker.
‘I stayed so they wouldn’t be alone’
In Chesapeake, the horror began less than an hour before the store was due to close after a busy Christmas Day.
Jessie Wilczewski, who was recently hired, told TUSEN she was sitting in the break room in a regularly scheduled meeting when she saw the gunman pointing a gun in the doorway.
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 shots echoed through her chest.
Wilczewski hid under a table as the gunman walked down a nearby hallway. She saw some of her colleagues lying on the floor or lying on chairs — all silent 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 last moments,” Wilczewski said in a message to the families of two victims.
When the gunman 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 real hard, because I’m running’, and I booked it. … and I did 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 the gunfire erupted.
“Suddenly you just hear pa pa pa pa pa pa pa,” Tyler told TUSEN, 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 ground,” she said. “Everyone was screaming, gasping, and yes, he just walked off after that and just went around the store and just kept firing.”
What we know about the suspect
The shooter had a history of disruptive 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 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 gunman made ominous threats if he ever lost his job.
“He said if he ever got fired 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 cooperating with local law enforcement in the investigation.
“We feel tragedies like this personally and deeply. But this one is especially painful because we learned that the shooter was a Walmart employee,” 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.”
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