CHESAPEAKE, Va. — As nighttime shoppers browsed for household items or Thanksgiving necessities, an employee of a Walmart in Chesapeake took out a pistol and, without a word, a witness said, opened fire, killing five of his co-workers and a 16-year-old boy, and wounding several others before turning the weapon on himself.
The bodies of the gunman and two victims were found in an employee break room, authorities said, and another near the front of the store. Three died after being taken to nearby hospitals.
The burst of workplace violence, just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, tore at the holiday cheer of a popular shopping center now cordoned off with yellow police tape. And it thrust the nation, again, for the third time in less than two weeks, into a familiar and increasingly frequent cycle of mourning and soul-searching, prayer-sending and finger-pointing, in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting.
Days earlier, an attacker killed five people and wounded 18 others at a Colorado Springs, Colorado, nightclub that had been seen as a haven for the local LGBTQ community. Earlier this month, a student at the University of Virginia shot and killed three members of the school’s football team on a bus as they returned from a class trip.
“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,” President Joe Biden said in a statement Wednesday after the Walmart shooting.
Biden said that gun control legislation signed into law this year in response to the massacre of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, had not been enough.
“We must take greater action,” he said. His sentiment was echoed by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., on Wednesday. Neither said what changes they would seek.
Little drew together the shootings this month other than the fact of a gun in the hands of an assailant bent on killing. A manager at a Walmart with a pistol who appeared to have targeted his colleagues, a worker at the store said. A 22-year-old with an AR-15-style rifle and a handgun who may have been motivated by hatred, police said, to open fire at the nightclub. A college student, also 22, who tried repeatedly to purchase weapons before finally succeeding and then, prosecutors said, aiming to kill some of his classmates.
“Our hearts break with the community of Chesapeake this morning,” Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, said in a statement Wednesday, adding, “Heinous acts of violence have no place in our communities.”
The governor ordered flags across the state to be lowered to half-staff Wednesday, the second time he had done so this month.
Police identified the six people killed in the shooting as Lorenzo Gamble, Brian Pendleton, Kellie Pyle, Randall Blevins, Tyneka Johnson and a 16-year-old boy whose name was being withheld. Walmart said the five adults all worked there; the company did not immediately respond to queries about the teenager.
It was not clear how the gunman, identified as Andre Bing, 31, had acquired his weapon nor what events led to the shooting. Bing was an “overnight team lead” who had been employed by the company since 2010, Walmart said in a statement.
“The devastating news of last night’s shooting at our Chesapeake, Va., store at the hands of one of our associates has hit our Walmart family hard,” Doug McMillon, the president and CEO of Walmart, said in a statement. “My heart hurts for our associates and the Chesapeake community who have lost or injured loved ones.”
Donya Prioleau said she was working in the store at the time of the shooting and identified the gunman as her overnight manager.
She said she had been in the break room when the manager entered and, without a word, began firing. “I just watched three of my friends killed in front of me,” Prioleau said.
“I was directly in front of it,” she said in a brief phone interview. “None of us deserved to witness that.”
The first 911 call came in at 10:12 p.m., and officers entered the store about four minutes later, said Chief Mark G. Solesky of the Chesapeake Police Department. By the time they arrived, the gunman was dead. In a statement, city officials said that the gunman acted alone, had been wearing “civilian clothing” and carrying a handgun along with multiple magazines, and appeared to have killed himself. At the time of the shooting, there were at least 50 people inside the store.
“There is no clear motive at this time,” said Solesky, adding that there was no indication that the gunman was known to police before the shooting.
Shaundrayia Reese, 27, who used to work at the Chesapeake Walmart on an overnight crew, said that she had worked directly with Bing.
He did not seem to have many friends and did not like having his picture taken, Reese said. He would cover the camera of his phone with black tape, saying that he was concerned about government surveillance. She added that he did not strike her as violent, despite his sometimes odd behavior.
“He used to tell us the government was watching him,” she said. “Everyone did complain to the managers about Andre’s behavior.”
She added: “He was really a loner. He was real lonely.”
Nathan Sinclair, 21, who previously worked as a manager on the shift before Bing’s, said that Bing could be difficult to work with.
“He was kind of aggressive,” said Sinclair, who left his job this month. He added that on most nights around 10:15 — about the time that Tuesday’s shooting took place — Bing would assemble his team for a meeting and hand out assignments. The store closed to customers at 11 p.m.
Reese, who now works at a 7-Eleven, said she also knew two of the victims, including Pendleton, whom she described as a maintenance janitor who “never had a bad bone in his body.”
She also knew Blevins, whom she called “Mr. Randy,” and said he had been a longtime member of a team at the store who worked on setting prices and arranging merchandise.
Neighbors of Johnson described her as someone who kept to herself. “She was a sweet young lady,” said Irene Hope, 66, adding: “It’s just terrible. Too close to home.” Mass shootings in public are more common at workplaces than in other settings, according to a database maintained by the Violence Project, a nonprofit research center that has compiled information on shootings going back decades.
In May 2021, a transit worker opened fire as workers gathered for a morning shift at a rail yard in San Jose, California, killing nine people. The month before, a former employee shot and killed eight people at a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis. Both gunmen killed themselves shortly after their rampages.
But mass shootings at retail stores have also become increasingly familiar. There was the killing of 10 Black shoppers at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, in May, and the targeting of Hispanic shoppers during a mass shooting that killed 23 at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in 2019. Both gunmen were motivated by racial hatred, authorities have said.
Virginia, home to the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, has historically had permissive gun laws. The state allows the open carrying of handguns without a permit, for example, with some exceptions. But after Democrats took full control of the state government in 2019, the legislature passed new restrictions, including universal background checks, reporting requirements for lost or stolen firearms, and some limits on purchasing.
Republicans won back the governorship and the House of Delegates a year ago, and the legislature passed no significant gun measures in its 2022 session. Youngkin has said that he would support repealing some of the Democratic-led policies if Republicans also regained control of the state Senate.
Youngkin said Wednesday that the shootings in Virginia and elsewhere in recent weeks were an example of the country’s “mental health crisis” and suggested he would provide more resources.
At the Walmart in Chesapeake, Jeromy Basham had been looking for Thanksgiving tablecloths and disposable cutlery for an office potluck the next day. Then he heard what he described as several loud claps.
“I thought someone had knocked over some huge shelf or something,” said Basham, 47, a manager at a company in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “It was a group of several really, really loud, identical noises, followed with no noise.” A few seconds later, he heard people yelling: “It’s a gun! Get out!” Because of Walmart’s size and geographic reach — it has more than 4,000 stores spread across the United States — the retailer is often the site of crimes, some of them violent. During the coronavirus pandemic, some retailers and their employees have said, violence increased in all types of stores.
Walmart has said that it has taken steps to bolster security in some stores, such as installing cameras in parking lots and hiring off-duty police officers during busy shopping days.
The store has also frequently been at the center of the debate over gun violence. Although the chain sells guns, Walmart has imposed increasingly strict restrictions on firearm sales in the wake of mass shootings. In recent years, it stopped selling handguns and certain rifles, including AR-15s, and raised the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21.
In Chesapeake, the Walmart provided a hub for many residents. Some people interviewed Wednesday said they visited just days before, preparing for Thanksgiving. Others said they had planned to visit either the night of the shooting or later in the week.
By late Wednesday, two victims remained in critical condition, hospital officials said. One of them was Sarah Walker, a Walmart employee and mother of three, who suffered five gunshot wounds, according to Jennie Walp, a friend of Walker’s.
“She was always a force to be reckoned with, determined to work hard to provide for her kids, and always good for a laugh,” Walp said. “It’s definitely shocking to have it hit so close to home, with the ongoing violence that continues to happen all over our country.”