After an ordinary workday turns deadly at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, survivors and investigators spend the Thanksgiving holiday questioning the motive of an employee who opened fire on his co-workers, killing six before turning the gun on himself.
Officials said the employees were preparing for the night shift when a manager opened fire with a handgun in the break room shortly after 10 p.m.
Authorities have identified the dead as Randy Blevins, 70, Lorenzo Gamble, 43, Tenika 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 remained in a critical condition on Thanksgiving, a spokesperson for Centara Norfolk General Hospital said, and one of the injured victims was discharged Wednesday.
“I know this community, I know it very well, and I know we will come together and give a helping hand to the families of the victims,” Chesapeake Mayor Rick West said Wednesday in a video message.
The shooting, is yet another example of how horrific gun violence upends American life in the most traditional of settings, and it 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.
Dounia Priollo said she was inside the staff break room when the shooter started shooting at co-workers.
“We don’t know what made him do it,” Priollo said. “None of us can understand why this happened.”
The gunman was identified as Andre Bing, who had been working overnight as a “team captain”. The company said the 31-year-old had been working at Walmart since 2010. Authorities said he was in possession of a semi-automatic handgun and several magazines of ammunition.
Bing shot three of Priollo’s friends before I ran. Half of us couldn’t believe it was real until some of us saw all the blood on the floor.
Chesapeake City officials said two victims and the shooter were found in the rest room, another was found in front of the store, and three others died in the hospital. Officials are trying to determine the exact number of infections because some people may have taken themselves to hospitals.
The mayor plans to hold a vigil Monday night in City Park, According to the tweet from the city.
“Today we are focusing only on those injured in the tragic accident that occurred on Tuesday, but police investigations are ongoing and we expect additional information tomorrow,” officials wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
Chesapeake Police Chief Mark Suleski said the motive for the shooting was not yet clear on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s violence was at least the third mass shooting in Virginia this month, according to the Gun Violence Archives, and it comes amid a backdrop of grief experienced by many people across the country this Thanksgiving as loved ones have been lost or injured in the shooting.
Just 170 miles west of the Chesapeake, a 22-year-old student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville shot and killed fellow students on 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 man shot and killed five people at a gay 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 for which the victims are still searching for answers.
How do you celebrate when you are ruined. How do you thank when you have nothing left to give. How do you fake it and smile when you wake up crying,” Brit Croce wrote Thursday of his nephew, Izzia García, who was killed in Uvalde.
Overall, the United States has suffered more than 600 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The nonprofit and CNN both define mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, not including the assailant.
Speaking to the pandemic, 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. No. We can live like this. We must act.”
In the Chesapeake, the terror began less than an hour before the store closed after a busy day of shopping.
Recently hired, Jesse Wilczewski told CNN she was at a regularly scheduled 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 throb and her ears ring as a torrent of gunshots rang out, she said. At first, it “didn’t register as real,” she said, until shots rang out in her chest.
Wilszewski hid under a table while the gunman walked down a nearby corridor. She said she could see some of her co-workers on the floor or lying in chairs — all still and some likely dead. She stayed because she didn’t want to leave them alone.
“I could have walked out that door…and stayed. I stayed so that they would not be alone in their last moments,” Wilczewski said in a letter 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.
She said, “I had to touch the door, which was covered (in blood).” “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 so hard because I’m running,’ and I booked him. … I didn’t stop until I got to my car and then the meltdown happened.”
Also a new employee, Brianna Tyler had just started her shift when the shooting broke.
“All of a sudden I just heard pa pa pa pa pa pa,” Tyler told CNN, adding that she saw bullets fly inches from her face. “There was no 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.
“There were people falling on the ground,” she said. “Everyone was screaming, gasping, and yeah, he just walked away after that and continued all over the store and kept shooting.”
Other employees said the shooter had shown some disturbing behavior in the past.
Chaundraya Reese, who worked with the shooter from 2015 to 2018, described it 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 with him.
Joshua Johnson, a former maintenance worker at the store, said the shooter made ominous threats if he lost his job.
“He said if one day he was fired from his job, he would get revenge and people would remember who he was,” Johnson said.
They said neither Johnson nor Reese had informed management of any concerns about Bing.
Wal-Mart said in a statement that it is working with local law enforcement authorities on the investigation.
“Tragedies like this we feel deeply and personally. “But this is especially painful because we have learned that the gunman was a Walmart partner,” Walmart US President and CEO John Furner said in a statement. “The entire Wal-Mart family is grieving. Our hearts and prayers are with those affected.”