CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) – A Walmart manager pulled out a gun before a routine meeting with employees and began shooting wildly through a break room at a Virginia store, killing six people in the state’s second mass shooting in four days, police and witnesses said.
The gunman was dead when officers arrived late Tuesday at the convenience store in Chesapeake, Virginia’s second-largest city. Authorities said he apparently shot himself. The police were trying to determine the motive. One employee described watching bodies “fall” as the gunman fired at random, wordlessly.
“He was just shooting all over the room. It didn’t matter who he hit. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t look at anybody in any particular way,” Briana Tyler, a Walmart employee, said Wednesday.
Six people were wounded in the shooting, which happened just after 10 p.m. as shoppers were stocking up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Police said they believe there were about 50 people in the store at the time.
The gunman was identified as Andre Bing, 31, an overnight team leader who had been a Walmart employee since 2010. Police said he had one handgun and several magazines of ammunition.
Tyler said the night socks team of 15 to 20 people had just gathered in the break room to go over the morning’s plan. She said the meeting was about to start, and one of the team leaders said, “Okay guys, it’s going to be an easy night.” Then Bing turned and opened fire on the stick.
At first, Tyler doubted the shooting was real, thinking it was an active shooter drill.
“Everything happened so fast,” she said, adding, “By the grace of God, the bullet missed.” I saw smoke coming out of the gun, and I literally watched the bodies fall. It was crazy.”
Police said three of the dead, including Bing, were found in the rest room. One of the murdered victims was found near the front of the store. Three others were taken to hospitals where they died.
Tyler, who started working 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 “a manager to watch out for.” She said Bing had a history of writing people for no reason.
“He just liked to pick, honestly. I think he was just asking for small things… because he had the authority. That’s 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 hid under a table and Bing looked up and pointed a gun at her. He told her he was going home and she left.
Police said the dead included a 16-year-old boy whose name has not been released due to his age. The other victims were identified as Brian Pendleton, 38; Kellie Pyle, 52; Lorenzo Gamble, 43; and Randy Blevins, 70, all of Chesapeake; and Tyneka Johnson, 22, from nearby Portsmouth.
It was not immediately clear whether they were workers or customers.
Pyle was a “lovely, generous and kind person,” said Gwendolyn Bowe Baker Spencer, who said her son and Pyle plan to marry next year. Pyle had grown children in Kentucky who would travel to Virginia, Spencer said.
“We love her,” Spencer said, adding, “She was a great, kind person.”
The attack was 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 a charter bus while returning to campus from a field trip on Nov. 13. Two other students were wounded.
The Walmart attack came days after a man opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people and wounding 17. Last spring, the country was rocked by the deaths of 21 people when a gunman stormed an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. .
Tuesday night’s shooting also brought to mind another Walmart attack in 2019, when a gunman targeting Mexicans opened fire at a store in El Paso, Texas, killing 23 people.
A database run by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks every mass killing in America since 2006 shows the U.S. has had 40 mass killings so far in 2022. That compares to 45 for all of 2019. which is the highest of the year in the database, which defines mass murder as at least four people killed, not including 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 grieving, adding, “We grieve for those who will have empty seats at the Thanksgiving table because of these tragic events.”
Kimberly Shupe, the mother of Walmart employee Jalon Jones, told reporters that her 24-year-old son was shot in the back. She said he was in good condition and talking 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 find out where Jones was.
“If he’s not answering the phone, he’s not responding to texts, and there’s a shooting at his job, you just put two and two together,” Shupe said. “At first it was a shock, but in the end I just kept thinking, ‘he’s going to be fine.'”
Walmart said in a statement that it is working with law enforcement and is “focused on doing everything we can to support our associates and their families.”
After the El Paso shooting, the company made the decision in September 2019 to stop selling certain types of ammunition and asked customers to no longer openly carry firearms in stores.
It stopped selling handgun ammunition, as well as short-barreled ammunition, such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber used in military-style weapons.
The company stopped selling handguns in the mid-1990s in all states except Alaska, where sales continued until 2019. The changes marked a complete exit from that business and allowed Walmart to focus solely on hunting rifles and related ammunition.
Many of its stores are in rural areas where hunters depend on Walmart to get their gear.
Tyler’s grandfather, Richard Tate, said he dropped his granddaughter off at her 10 p.m. shift, then parked his car and went inside to buy dish soap.
When he first heard the gunshots, he thought they might be balloons popping. But soon he saw other customers and employees running away, so he ran away too.
Tate reached his car and called his granddaughter.
“I could tell she was upset,” he said. “But I could also tell she was alive.”
Associated Press writers Denise Lavoie in Chesapeake contributed to this report; 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 reporter Nathan Ellgren in Chesapeake.