After an ordinary workday turned deadly Tuesday night at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, survivors and investigators are spending the Thanksgiving holiday questioning the motive of an employee who opened fire on coworkers, killing six before fatally turning the gun on himself.
Employees were preparing for an overnight shift when a manager opened fire with a handgun in the break room just after 10 p.m., officials said.
Authorities identified the people who were killed as Randy Blevins, 70; Lorenzo Gamble, 43; Tyneka Johnson, 22; Brian Pendleton, 38; Kellie Pyle, 52; and a 16-year-old boy, who’s not being named because he’s a minor.
Four people injured in the shooting were still hospitalized on the eve of Thanksgiving, with at least two of them in critical condition, according to Dr. Michael Hooper, vice president and chief medical officer of Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
“I know this community, and I know it well. And I know that we will come together and lend a helping hand to the victims’ families,” Chesapeake Mayor Rick West said Wednesday in a video message.
The shooting, yet another example of how horrific gun violence upends American life in the most conventional settings, has left many grieving the loss of loved ones and survivors traumatized from what they witnessed in their workplace. As the long journey of processing those feelings begins, questions on what could have led to the killings linger.
Donya Prioleau told CNN she was inside the employee break room when the shooter began firing at coworkers.
“We don’t know what made him do this,” Prioleau said. “None of us can understand why it happened.”
The gunman was identified as Andre Bing, who was working as a team lead on the overnight shift. Bing, 31, had been working for Walmart since 2010, the company said.
Bing “came in, shot three of my friends … before I took off running. Half of us didn’t believe it was real until some of us saw all the blood on the floor,” Prioleau said.
Two slain victims and the shooter were found in the break room, while another was found at the front of the store, Chesapeake city officials said, and three others died at the hospital. Officials are trying to determine the exact number of injuries as some people may 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 the backdrop of grief many people around the country are enduring this Thanksgiving as loved ones were lost or wounded in shootings.
Just 170 miles west of Chesapeake, a 22-year-old student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville allegedly opened fire on fellow students on November 13, killing three of them on a bus returning to campus from a field trip to Washington, DC.
Last weekend, a 22-year-old shot and killed five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and 19 others were injured, authorities said.
Overall, the US has suffered more than 600 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Both the non-profit and CNN define mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, not including the assailant.
In Chesapeake, the horror began less than an hour before the store was set to close after a busy holiday shopping day.
Jessie Wilczewski, who was recently hired, told CNN she was in an employee meeting when she saw the shooter pointing a gun at those in the break room as he stood near the doorway.
Initially, she didn’t think what she was seeing was real. But then she felt her chest pounding and her ears ringing as a torrent of gunshots erupted, she said.
Wilczewski hid under a table as the gunman walked away down a nearby hallway. She could see some of her coworkers were on the floor or lying on chairs – all still and some likely dead, she said. But she stayed because she didn’t want to leave them alone.
“I want to let you know, I could have ran 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. “I stayed just so they wouldn’t be alone.”
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 door which was covered (in blood),” she said. “I just remember gripping my bag and thinking, ‘If he’s going to shoot me in the back, well he’s going to have to try really hard cause I’m running,’ and I booked it. … and I didn’t stop until I got to my car and then I had a meltdown.”
Briana Tyler, also a newly hired employee, had just begun her shift when the gunfire erupted.
“All of a sudden you just hear ‘pa pa pa pa pa pa pa,’” Tyler told CNN, adding that she saw bullets flying just inches from her face.
“It wasn’t a break in between them to where you could really try to process it,” she said.
Tyler said the shooter had a “blank stare on his face” as he looked around the room and shot at people.
“There were people just dropping to the floor,” Tyler said. “Everybody was screaming, gasping. And yeah, he just walked away after that and just continued throughout the store and just kept shooting.”
CNN spoke with other employees who said the shooter displayed some disturbing behavior in the past.
Shaundrayia Reese, who worked with the shooter from 2015 to 2018, described him as a loner.
“He was always saying 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 had made ominous threats if he ever lost his job.
“He said if he ever got fired from his job, 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 working with local law enforcement in the investigation.
“We feel tragedies like this personally and deeply. But this one is especially painful as we have learned the gunman was a Walmart associate,” President and CEO of Walmart US John Furner said in a statement. “The entire Walmart family is heartbroken. Our hearts and prayers are with those impacted.”
CNN’s Chris Boyette, Amanda Jackson, Paul P. Murphy, David Williams, Holmes Lybrand, Michelle Watson, Holly Yan, Ariane de Vogue, John Miller, Caroll Alvarado, Curt Devine, Eliott C. McLaughlin, Paradise Afshar, Christina Maxouris, Dave Alsup, Joe Sutton, Braden Walker, Lauren Koenig and Brian Todd contributed to this report.