CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — A Walmart executive pulled out a handgun before a routine employee meeting and began shooting wildly in the break room of a Virginia store, killing six people in the country’s second high-profile mass shooting in four days, police and witnesses said said on Wednesday.
The gunman was dead when officers arrived at the store in Chesapeake, Virginia’s second largest city, late Tuesday. Authorities said he appeared to have shot himself. The police tried to determine a motive. One worker described watching “bodies fall” as the attacker fired indiscriminately without saying a word.
“He just shot all over the room. It didn’t matter who he met. He did not say anything. He didn’t look at anyone a certain way,” said Briana Tyler, a Walmart employee.
Six people were injured in the shooting, which took place just after 10 p.m. as shoppers stocked up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Police said they believe around 50 people were inside the store at the time.
The shooter was identified as Andre Bing, 31, a night team leader who had been a Walmart employee since 2010. Police said he had a handgun and several magazines of ammunition.
Tyler said the night stocking team of 15 to 20 people just gathered in the break room to go through the morning schedule. She said the meeting was about to start, and a team leader said, “All right, guys, we’ve got a bright night ahead of us.” Then Bing turned and opened fire on the staff.
At first, Tyler doubted the shooting was real and thought it was active target practice.
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“It all happened so quickly,” she said, adding, “By the grace of God, a bullet missed me. I saw the smoke exit the gun and I literally watched bodies fall. It was crazy.”
Police said three of the dead, including Bing, 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.
Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago and had worked with Bing just the night before, said she’s never had a negative encounter with him, but others have told her he’s “the manager to watch out for.” She said Bing has texted people for no reason in the past.
“He just liked voting honestly. 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.
Clerk Jessie Wilczewski told Norfolk TV station WAVY that she hid under the table and Bing looked at her and pointed his gun at her. He told her to go home and she left.
Police said among the dead was a 16-year-old boy whose name was withheld because of his age. The other victims were identified as Brian Pendleton, 38; Kelly Pyle, 52; Lorenzo Gamble, 43; and Randy Blevins, 70, all from Chesapeake; and Tyneka Johnson, 38, from nearby Portsmouth.
It was not immediately clear whether they were workers or buyers.
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 attack on the Walmart came days after a person opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five and wounding 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 attack on a Walmart in 2019, when a gunman targeting Mexicans opened fire on 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 in 2022 so far, the US has recorded 40 mass murders. This compares to 45 for all of 2019, the highest year in the database that defines mass murder 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.
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.”
Kimberly Shupe, mother of Walmart employee Jalon Jones, told reporters her 24-year-old son was shot in the back. She said he was in good condition and spoke on Wednesday after initially being put on a ventilator.
Shupe said she learned about the shooting from a friend who went to a family reunification center to find out Jones’ whereabouts.
“If he doesn’t answer the phone, doesn’t answer text messages, and gets shot at his job, you just put two and two together,” Shupe said. “It was a shock at first, but in the end I just always thought he was going to be okay.”
Walmart said in a statement that it is working with law enforcement and is “focused on doing everything we can to support our employees and their families.”
In September 2019, following the El Paso shooting, the company decided to stop selling certain types of ammunition and urged customers to stop carrying firearms openly in 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.
The company stopped selling handguns in the mid-1990s in all states except Alaska, where sales continued through 2019. The changes marked a complete exit from that business, allowing Walmart 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.
Tyler’s grandfather, Richard Tate, said he dropped his granddaughter off for her 10 p.m. shift, then parked the car and went in to buy some dish soap.
When he first heard the shots, he thought it might be balloons bursting. But soon he saw other customers and employees flee and ran with them.
Tate got to his car and called his granddaughter.
“I could see that she was upset,” he said. “But I could also tell she was alive.”