By Jay Paul and Nathan Layne
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (Reuters) – A Walmart supervisor armed with a handgun and several magazines of ammunition opened fire on fellow employees in a Virginia store, killing six people before turning the gun on himself in a break room, witnesses and police said on Wednesday.
The country’s latest mass shooting on Tuesday night shook the town of Chesapeake, about 200 miles (320 km) south of Washington, and comes on the heels of last weekend’s massacre in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where a gunman killed five at an LBGTQ nightclub.
The Virginia gunman, identified as Andre Bing, 31, of Chesapeake, said nothing as he began firing on workers gathered before their overnight shift, according to two employees who were in the break room, where the rampage ended and Bing shot himself.
“I just watched 3 of my coworkers/friends be killed in front of me,” Donya Prioleau wrote in a Facebook post. “Andre killed them in cold blood … I cannot unsee what happened in that break room.”
Police said at least three people were wounded in the attack, which took place while about 50 people were in the store, a cavernous Walmart Supercenter just off Battlefield Boulevard in Chesapeake, a city of about 250,000 people.
The dead included a 16-year-old boy who police did not identify and 70-year-old Randy Blevins, who was planning to retire within the year, a cousin wrote on Facebook.
The others were Kellie Pyle, 52, Lorenzo Gamble, 43, and Randy Blevins, 70, all from Chesapeake, and Tyneka Johnson, 22, of neighboring Portsmouth.
Authorities say they were investigating what may have motivated Bing, an hourly employee who supervised an overnight shift and had worked for the company since 2010. The city said its SWAT team had executed a search warrant at his house.
“I looked up and my manager just opened the door and he just opened fire,” another Walmart employee, Briana Tyler, told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Several co-workers of Bing told CNN he had exhibited strange and sometimes threatening behavior in the past. He also made paranoid comments, expressing concerns the government was monitoring him, according to CNN’s interviews.
Jessie Wilczewski told WAVY-TV she hid under a table and the shooter pointed the gun at her and told her to go home.
“It didn’t even look real until you could feel the pow-pow-pow. You can feel it,” the store employee said. “I couldn’t hear it at first because I guess it was so loud. I could feel it.”
The latest massacre prompted a renewed round of condemnations by public officials and activist calls for tighter gun control.
President Joe Biden called the shooting “yet another horrific and senseless act of violence,” noting a shooting this month that killed three University of Virginia students.
“There are now even more tables across the country that will have empty seats this Thanksgiving,” Biden said in a statement.
The United States averages two mass shootings per day, when defined as an incident killing or injuring four or more people, according to GunViolenceArchive.org.
Jessica Burgess, a surgeon who treated victims at a Norfolk hospital, said she had contacted a colleague in Colorado Springs just two days earlier to offer support.
“So it’s very disheartening that I’m now in the same position with my colleagues from across the country checking in on me and my team,” Burgess said. “Sometimes there is only so much we can do when the injuries have already been done.”
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who was already facing stepped-up calls for policies to address gun violence after the University of Virginia killings, ordered flags at local, state and federal buildings to be flown at half-staff.
Walmart, which has thousands of stores across the country, has been hit by gun violence before.
In August 2019, 23 people were killed at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, near the U.S.-Mexico border in an act described as domestic terrorism by law enforcement. It was also the deadliest attack on the Hispanic community in the United States in modern times.
Walmart enacted new restrictions on gun and ammunition sales following that 2019 shooting, as it had after other shootings at its stores.
“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,” Walmart Chief Executive Doug McMillon wrote in a LinkedIn post.
(Reporting by Rich McKay, Susan Heavey, Siddharth Cavale, Bharat Govind Gautam, Abinaya Vijayaraghavan and Shubham Kalia; Additional reporting by Juby Babu; Editing by Gareth Jones, Mark Porter, Bill Berkrot and Deepa Babington)