By ALEX BRANDON and BEN FINLEY – Associated Press
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — A Walmart executive pulled out a gun before a routine employee meeting and began firing wildly into the cafeteria of a Virginia store, killing six people in the country’s second high-profile mass shooting in four days , police and witnesses said.
The gunman was dead when officers arrived late Tuesday night at the store in Chesapeake, Virginia’s second-largest city. According to authorities, he apparently shot himself. Police tried to determine a motive. One employee 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 hit. He said nothing. He didn’t look at anyone in a certain way,” Briana Tyler, a Walmart employee, said Wednesday.
Six people were injured in the shooting, which occurred just after 10 p.m. as shoppers approached Thanksgiving. According to police, there were about 50 people in the store at the time.
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The shooter was identified as Andre Bing, 31, a night shift team leader who had worked at Walmart since 2010. Police said he had a handgun and several magazines of ammunition.
Tyler said the overnight storage team of 15 to 20 people had just gathered in the break room to go through the morning plan. She said the meeting was about to begin, and a team leader said, “Okay guys, we’ve got a light night ahead of us.” Then Bing turned and opened fire on the staff.
At first, Tyler doubted the shooting was real, thinking it was active target practice.
“It all happened so fast,” she said, adding, “It’s by the grace of God that a bullet missed me. I saw the smoke coming out of the gun and I literally saw bodies fall. It was crazy.”
Police said three of the dead, including Bing, were found in the break room. One of the killed victims was found in front of the store. Three others were taken to hospitals where they died.
Tyler, who started working at Walmart two months ago and had only worked with Bing the night before, said she never had a negative encounter with him, but others told her he was “the manager to watch out for.” She said Bing had a history of writing people up for no reason.
“He just loved picking, to be honest. I think he just looked for little things… because he had the authority. That’s just the type of person he was. That’s what a lot of people said about him,” she said.
Employee Jessie Wilczewski told Norfolk television station WAVY that she was hiding under a table, and Bing looked and pointed his gun at her. He told her to go home and she left.
Police said the dead included a 16-year-old boy whose name was not released due to his age. The other victims were identified as Brian Pendleton, 38; Kelly Pyle, 52; Lorenzo Gambling, 43; and Randy Blevins, 70, who were all from Chesapeake; and Tyneka Johnson, 22, from nearby Portsmouth.
It was not immediately clear whether they were workers or shoppers.
Pyle was a “sweet, generous and kind person,” said Gwendolyn Bowe Baker Spencer, who said her son and Pyle had plans to get married next year. Pyle had adult children in Kentucky who will travel to Virginia, Spencer said.
“We love her,” Spencer said, adding, “She was a wonderful, kind person.”
The attack marked the second time in just over a week that Virginia has experienced a major shooting. Three University of Virginia football players were fatally shot on November 13 on a charter bus as they were returning to campus from a field trip. 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 people and injuring 17. Last spring, the nation was rocked by the death 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 23 people.
A database maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks every mass murder in America as of 2006 shows that the U.S. has had 40 mass murders so far in 2022. That compares to 45 for all of 2019, the highest year in the database, which defines a mass murder as at least four dead, not counting the killer.
According to the database, more than a quarter of the mass killings have occurred since Oct. 21, spanning eight states and claiming 51 lives. Nine of those 11 incidents were shootings.
President Joe Biden tweeted that he and the first lady were mourning, adding, “We mourn those who will have empty seats at their Thanksgiving table because of these tragic events.”
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 shape and spoke Wednesday, after initially being put on a ventilator.
Shupe said she learned of the shooting from a friend, who went to a family reunification center to learn where Jones was.
“If he’s not answering his phone, not answering text messages, and there’s gunfire at work, you’re putting two and two together,” Shupe said. “At first it was a shock, but in the end I kept thinking: he will be fine.”
Walmart said in a statement that it was cooperating with law enforcement and “doing everything we can to support our employees and their families.”
In the wake of the El Paso shooting, the company made a decision in September 2019 to stop selling certain types of ammunition and asked customers to stop openly carrying firearms in stores.
It stopped selling small arms and short-barreled rifle ammunition such as the .223 caliber and the 5.56 caliber used in military-style weapons.
The company stopped selling handguns in every state except Alaska in the mid-1990s, where sales continued through 2019. The changes marked a complete shutdown of that business and allowed Walmart to focus only on shotguns and related ammunition.
Many of his stores are located in rural areas where hunters rely on Walmart to get 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 to buy dish soap.
When he first heard the shots, he thought it could be balloons popping. But he soon saw other customers and employees fleeing, and he ran too.
Tate reached his car and called his granddaughter.
“I could see she was upset,” he said. “But I could also see that she was alive.”
Contributors to this report were Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie in Chesapeake; Michael Kunzelman and Sarah Brumfield in Silver Spring, Maryland; Matthew Barakat in Falls Church, Virginia; Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina; Anne D’Innocenzio and Alexandra Olson in New York; news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York; and video journalist Nathan Ellgren in Chesapeake.
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