By ALEX BRANDON and BEN FINLEY
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — A Walmart manager opened fire on fellow employees 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 Wednesday.
The gunman, who apparently shot himself, was dead when officers found him, police said. There was no clear motive for the shooting, which also left at least six people wounded, including one critically.
The store in Chesapeake, Virginia’s second-largest city, was busy just before the attack Tuesday night as people stocked up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, a shopper told a local TV station.
Employee Briana Tyler said the overnight stocking team of 15 to 20 people had just gathered in the break room to go over the morning plan. She said the meeting was about to start, and a team leader said: “All right guys, we have a light night ahead of us,” when another team leader, 31-year-old Andre Bing, turned around and opened fire on the staff.
“It is by the grace of God that a bullet missed me,” Tyler said. “I saw the smoke leaving the gun, and I literally watched bodies drop. It was crazy.”
Officials said on the city’s Twitter account that three of the dead, including Bing, were found in the break room. One of the slain victims was found near the front of the store. Three others were taken to hospitals where they died of their wounds.
Walmart said in a statement that Bing was an overnight team leader and had been with the company since 2010.
At first, Tyler didn’t think the shooting was real. “It was all happening so fast. I thought it was like a test type of thing. Like, if you do have an active shooter, this is how you respond.”
Tyler, who worked with Bing just the night before, said he did not aim at anyone specific.
“He was just shooting all throughout the room. It didn’t matter who he hit. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t look at anybody in any specific type of way.”
Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago, said she never had a negative encounter with Bing, but others told her that he was “the manager to look out for.” She said Bing had a history of writing people up for no reason.
“He just liked to pick, honestly. I think he just looked for little things to go about, because he had the authority. That’s just the type of person that he was. That’s what a lot of people said about him,” she said.
A neighbor, Alicia McDuffie, said police “swarmed the whole street” in the middle of the night and forced their way into Bing’s house. Her mother, Vera McDuffie, saw officers approach Bing’s front door with a battering ram.
Chesapeake Police Chief Mark G. Solesky said Bing used a pistol, and police said later that he had multiple magazines. Solesky could not confirm whether the victims were all employees.
Employee Jessie Wilczewski told Norfolk television station WAVY that she hid under the table, and Bing looked and pointed his gun at her. He told her to go home, and she left.
The attack was the second time in a little more than a week that Virginia has experienced a major shooting. Three University of Virginia football players were fatally shot on a charter bus as they returned to campus from a field trip on Nov. 13. Two other students were wounded.
The assault at the Walmart came three days after a person opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado, killing five people and wounding 17. Last spring, the country was shaken 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 at a Walmart in 2019, when a gunman who targeted Mexicans opened fire at a store in El Paso, Texas, and killed 22 people.
A database run by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks every mass killing in America going back to 2006 shows that the U.S. has now had 40 mass killings so far in 2022. That compares with 45 for all of 2019, the highest year in the database, which defines a mass killing as at least four people killed, not including the killer.
The database defines a mass killing 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.
Notably, the database does not include the recent shooting at the University of Virginia because that attack did not meet the threshold of four dead, not including the shooter.
President Joe Biden tweeted that he and the first lady were grieving for the victims’ families. “We mourn for those who will have empty seats at their Thanksgiving table because of these tragic events – we must take greater action.”
A 911 call about the shooting came in just after 10 p.m. Solesky did not know how many shoppers were inside, whether the gunman was working or whether a security guard was present.
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 talking Wednesday, after initially being placed on a ventilator.
Shupe said she learned of the shooting from a friend, who went to a family reunification center to find out Jones’ whereabouts.
“If he’s not answering his phone, he’s not answering text messages and there’s a shooting at his job, you just kind of put two and two together,” Shupe said. “It was shock at first, but ultimately, I just kept thinking, he’s going to be all right.”
Walmart said in a statement that it was working with law enforcement and “focused on doing everything we can to support our associates and their families.”
In the aftermath of the El Paso shooting, the company made a decision in September 2019 to discontinue sales of certain kinds of ammunition and asked that customers no longer openly carry firearms in its stores.
It stopped selling handgun ammunition as well as short-barrel rifle ammunition, such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber used in military style weapons. Walmart also discontinued handgun sales in Alaska.
The company stopped selling handguns in the mid-1990s in every state but Alaska. The latest move marked its complete exit from that business and allowed it to focus on hunting rifles and related ammunition only.
Many of its stores are in rural areas where hunters depend on Walmart to get their equipment.
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 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 tell that she was upset,” he said. “But I could also tell that she was alive.”
Contributing 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.