John Bacon, Thao Nguyen, Paul Bibeau, and Jorge L Ortiz
CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Flags across Virginia flew at half the workforce on Wednesday, hours after a store manager opened fire outside a staff meeting at a Walmart, killing six people as a wave of deadly gun violence continued to sweep the nation.
Chesapeake Police Spokesman Leo Kosinski said officers responding to an 911 call Tuesday night found several people wounded or hidden inside the store, and rescue and tactical teams swept through and took “life-saving action.”
At least six survivors were taken to local hospitals, one in critical condition, city officials said. About 50 people were inside the store at the time of the attack, police said. Authorities have not said if any of those killed or wounded were customers.
Police identified those killed as Chesapeake residents Brian Pendleton, 38; Kelly Pyle, 52; Lorenzo Gamble, 43; and Randy Blevins, 70, along with Tyneka Johnson, 22, from nearby Portsmouth. The name of the sixth victim, a 16-year-old boy, was not released due to his age.
The shooting came three days after a man gunned down five people and injured 17 at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“You hope a day like this never comes, but we train for it, we practice, we talk about it, we learn lessons,” Chesapeake City manager Chris Price said at a briefing Wednesday. “You hope these lessons never have to be used.”
Police Chief Mark Solesky said the first 911 call came in at 10:12 p.m. and the first officers arrived two minutes later. The attacker died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and a handgun was recovered at the scene, Solesky said. According to the police, the shooter had several magazines with him.
The bodies of two victims and the gunman were found in the store’s break room, city officials said. A body was found outside the store and three other victims were taken to local hospitals but died from their injuries.
Walmart identified the shooter as Andre Bing, 31, a “team leader” who had worked for the company since 2010. He was found dead in the break room along with two other people. Police said they searched his Chesapeake home and investigators are trying to determine a motive for the attack.
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“He looked straight at me”
Staffer Briana Tyler told ABC “Good Morning America,” workers had gathered in the store’s break room at the start of a shift when the shooter, a manager, walked in and without saying a word began firing indiscriminately.
“He literally just started shooting all over the break room,” she said. “And I watched as several people just fell to the ground, whether they were trying to duck for cover or whether they were getting hit. … He looked straight at me, but luckily he missed my head by about an inch or two.”
Tyler, who joined Walmart two months ago and had worked with Bing the night before, said to be careful with him because Bing has texted employees for no reason in the past, but she’s never had a negative encounter with him.
Clerk Jessie Wilczewski told WAVY-TV that she was hiding under a table when the gunman looked at her with his gun pointed at her – and then told her to go home.
“It didn’t even look real until you could feel the… ‘pow-pow-pow.’ You can feel that,” said Wilczewski. “I couldn’t hear it at first because I think it was so loud. I could feel it.”
Joetta Jeffery told CNN that she received text messages from her mother, who was at the store when the shots were fired. Her mother, Betsy Umphlett, was not injured.
“I’m crying, I’m shaking,” Jeffery said. “I was just talking to her about buying turkeys for Thanksgiving when this text came in.”
Small crowd gathers for vigil, shares Saint Francis prayer
At a time when many people are in the festive mood and preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving with loved ones, a small crowd of 22 gathered for a vigil Wednesday night at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Chesapeake, 4 miles from away from where the shooting took place.
Reverend Mark McKone-Sweet led those present to say the prayer of St. Francis, which begins: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hate, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon.”
McKone-Sweet said prayer brings a kind of balance that “allows us to be where we need to be in difficult times.”
Antonio Garcia, 31, a Houston truck driver, said he went to Walmart to get supplies just before 10 p.m. Tuesday. As he walked back to his truck, he saw police vehicles gathering in the parking lot and people exiting the building. He said he saw a man bleeding from his head and learned there was gunfire there.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “I spoke to my wife. She said, ‘You have to pray.’”
Maralee Santiago, 31, a receptionist at Wayne’s Home, a furniture and mattress store next to Walmart, called this the “toughest time of year” for people in retail and said workers routinely worry about their safety. She found that a co-worker had been shopping at Walmart Tuesday night, an hour before the shooting. “My heart sank,” she said.
President Joe Biden issued a statement thanking first responders and pledged support and assistance. Referring to a gun reform bill passed earlier this year, he called for “more action” to curb gun violence.
“Because of yet another horrific and senseless act of violence, there are now even more tables across the country that will have empty seats this Thanksgiving,” the statement said. “There are now more families who know the worst loss and pain imaginable.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it supports the investigation. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who ordered half-crew flags to be flown by Sunday, said he was making state resources available.
“Our hearts are breaking with the Chesapeake community this morning,” he said.
Mayor Rick W. West also commended the efforts of first responders in a statement posted on Twitter.
“I am devastated by the senseless act of violence that took place in our city last night,” West tweeted. “Chesapeake is a close-knit community and we are all devastated by this news.”
In the hours after the attack, concern and rumors spread. At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the city tweeted a warning that “rumors of an active shooter at Target in Chesapeake are FALSE. Please help us control the rumors by only sharing information from this account.”
Comedian and former Saturday Night Live cast member Jay Pharoah, who hails from Chesapeake, vented on Twitter: “My heart goes out to my city and my anger grows at the redundancy of these acts. Right in my backyard, right where I grew up. Chesapeake is strong and we will continue to be, but this has to stop. Too many innocents lost and not enough care to change it.
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Chesapeake fires after a wave of deadly attacks
The Chesapeake shooting is the latest incident to rock the country in the coming days a massacre at a prominent LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado that killed five and injured 17.
Earlier this month, three University of Virginia football players were killed and two others hospitalized after a campus shooting — on the same day four University of Idaho students were found dead from multiple stab wounds.
A database maintained by USA TODAY, The Associated Press and Northeastern University that has tracked mass killings since 2006 counts 40 mass killings so far this year, second only to the 45 that took place in all of 2019. The database defines a mass killing as at least four people killed, not including the killer.
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Families and friends are looking for information about loved ones involved in Walmart shootings
Police tweeted that a family reunification facility had been set up at the Chesapeake Conference Center.
Amanda Lambert, a teacher at a Chesapeake public school with students who shop and work at Walmart, became concerned when she learned of the shooting Tuesday night.
“It was the second time in half a week that I’ve had to wonder if my students are okay because alumni[attend University of Virginia, site of a recent attack],” said Lambert, 42.
Seeing her students at school on Wednesday was a relief, but Lambert said she was furious: “I don’t see any change.”
Walmart scene of mass shooting again
Walmart released a statement on Twitter early Wednesday: “We are shocked by this tragic event at our store in Chesapeake, Virginia. We pray for those affected, the community and our employees. We work closely with law enforcement and are focused on supporting our employees. “
Senator Mark Warner of Virginia tweeted that he was “disgusted by reports of another mass shooting, this time at a Chesapeake Walmart.”
Echoing Warner’s sentiments, State Senator Louise Lucas tweeted that she was “absolutely heartbroken that America’s most recent mass shooting took place at a Walmart in my district.”
Chesapeake, Virginia’s second largest city with a population of about 250,000, is 100 miles southeast of the capital, Richmond. The city is located on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, just a few miles from the Virginia Beach shoreline and downtown Norfolk.
“Chesapeake offers an endless array of outdoor activities, great shopping, phenomenal dining and beautiful wildlife,” according to the city’s website.
Contribution: Charles Ventura, USA TODAY; The Associated Press