CHESAPEAKE, VA– A Walmart executive opened fire on co-workers in the break room of a store in Chesapeake, Virginia, killing six people in the country’s second high-profile mass shooting in four days, police and witnesses said Wednesday.
City officials identified five of the victims as Lorenzo Gamble, Brian Pendleton, Kellie Pyle, Randall Blevins and Tyneka Johnson. The sixth victim is a 16-year-old man whose name and photo are withheld due to his age.
The gunman, who appeared to have shot himself, was dead when officers found him, police said. There was no clear motive for the shooting, which also left at least six people injured, including one seriously.
The store was packed just before Tuesday night’s attack as people stocked up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, a shopper told a local TV station.
Staff member Briana Tyler said the night stocking team of about 15 or 20 people had just gathered in the break room to go through the morning schedule. She said the meeting was about to start, and her team leader said, “Alright guys, we’ve got a bright night ahead of us,” as her manager turned and opened fire on the staff.
“It’s by the grace of God that a bullet missed me,” Tyler said. “I saw the smoke exit the gun and I literally watched bodies fall off. It was crazy.”
Officials said on the City of Chesapeake Twitter account that three of the dead, including the gunman, were found in the break room. One of the victims killed was found near the front of the store. Three others were taken to hospitals, where they died from their wounds.
Walmart identified the shooter as Andre Bing and confirmed he was a team leader and had been with Walmart since 2010.
At first, Tyler didn’t believe the shooting was real. “Everything happened so fast. I thought it was some kind of test. For example, if you have an active shooter, react like this.”
Tyler, who worked with the manager just the night before, said the attacker did not aim at anyone.
“He just shot all over the room. It didn’t matter who he met. He said nothing. He didn’t look at anyone a certain way.”
Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago, said she’s never had a negative encounter with the manager, but others have told her he’s “the manager to watch out for.” She said the manager has texted people for no reason in the past.
“Honestly, he just liked voting. I think he was just looking for little things because he had the authority. That’s just the kind of person he was. A lot of people said that about him,” she said.
Chesapeake Police Chief Mark G. Solesky said the shooter used a handgun. He could not confirm whether the victims were employees.
Clerk Jessie Wilczewski told Norfolk TV station WAVY that she hid under the table and the gunman looked at her with his gun pointed at her. He told her to go home and she left.
“It didn’t even look real until you could feel the… ‘pow-pow-pow,’ you can feel it,” Wilczewski said. “I couldn’t hear it at first because I think it was so loud I could feel it.”
Gov. Glenn Youngkin tweeted that he was in contact with law enforcement officials in Chesapeake, Virginia’s second largest city, which is adjacent to the coastal communities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
“Our hearts are breaking with the Chesapeake community this morning,” Youngkin wrote. “Heinous acts of violence have no place in our communities.” He ordered flags to be lowered over all government buildings by sundown on Sunday.
The attack marked the second time in just over a week that Virginia had experienced a major shooting. Three University of Virginia football players were fatally shot on a charter bus while returning to campus from a field trip on November 13. Two other students were injured.
The Walmart attack came three days after a person opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado, killing five and injuring 17. Last spring, the country was rocked by the deaths of 21 when a gunman stormed an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Tuesday night’s shooting also brought back memories of another at a Walmart in 2019, when a gunman targeting Mexicans opened fire at a store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people.
A database maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today, and Northeastern University that tracks every mass murder in America since 2006 shows that the number of mass murders this year has been about average, despite the recent shootings that have attracted public attention.
There have been 40 mass homicides in the US so far in 2022, compared to 45 for all of 2019. The database defines a mass homicide as four or more people killed, not counting the killer.
More than a quarter of the mass killings, which spanned eight states and claimed 51 lives, have occurred since Oct. 21, according to the database. Nine of those eleven incidents were shootings.
In particular, the database does not include recent shootings at the University of Virginia because that attack did not reach the four deaths threshold, not counting the shooter.
Chesapeake Mayor Rick W. West expressed his gratitude for the quick response of first responders in a statement posted to the city’s Twitter account.
“I am devastated by the senseless act of violence that took place in our city late yesterday,” West said. “Chesapeake is a close-knit community and we are all devastated by this news.”
President Joe Biden tweeted that he and the first lady were mourning the victims’ families. “We mourn those who will have empty seats at their Thanksgiving table because of these tragic events – we must take greater action.”
An 911 call about the shooting came in just after 10 p.m. Solesky didn’t know how many buyers were inside, whether the gunman was working, or if a security guard was present.
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.”
A man was seen at a hospital upon learning his brother was dead, and others screamed as they exited a conference center set up as a family reunion center, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
Camille Buggs, a former Walmart employee, told the newspaper she went to the conference center to get information about her former colleagues.
“You keep saying you don’t think it would happen in your town, in your neighborhood, in your store — your favorite store, and that’s what shocks me,” Buggs said.
Walmart tweeted early Wednesday that it was “shocked by this tragic event.”
In September 2019, following the El Paso shooting, Walmart made the decision to stop selling certain types of ammunition and asked customers to stop openly carrying firearms in its stores.
It stopped selling handgun ammunition and short-barreled rifle ammunition, such as. B. the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber used in military style guns. Walmart also stopped selling handguns in Alaska.
The company had ceased selling handguns in all states except Alaska by the mid-1990s. The latest move marked a complete exit from that business, allowing the company to focus solely on hunting rifles and related ammunition.
Many of its stores are in rural areas where hunters depend on Walmart for their gear.
In a statement, President Joe Biden said:
“Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, one of our happiest holidays, bringing us together as Americans and as families as we hug loved ones and count our blessings. But because of yet another horrifying and senseless act of violence, there are now even more tables across the country that will have empty seats this Thanksgiving. There are now more families who know the worst kinds of loss and pain imaginable.
“Jill and I mourn for these families, for the Chesapeake community and for the Commonwealth of Virginia who just suffered a horrific shooting at the University of Virginia this month. We also mourn for all those across America who have lost loved ones to these tragic shootings that we must come together as a nation against.
“This year I signed the most significant gun reform in a generation, but that’s not nearly enough. We need to take more action.
“We are grateful to the first responders who have mobilized to assist the victims, and I have directed federal officials to provide any needed support and assistance to the people of Chesapeake.”
US Senator Mark Warner said in a tweet that he was “disgusted by reports of another mass shooting, this time at a Chesapeake Walmart.”
State Senator Louise Lucas echoed Warner’s sentiments, tweeting that she was “absolutely heartbroken that America’s most recent mass shooting took place at a Walmart in my district.”
Associated Press news researcher Rhonda Shafner of New York contributed to this report.
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