CHESAPEAKE, Va. — A Walmart executive opened fire on co-workers 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 appeared to have shot himself, was dead when officers found him, police said. There was no clear motive for the shooting, which also took four people to the hospital.
The store was packed just before Tuesday night’s attack as people stocked up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, a shopper told a local TV station.
Staff member Briana Tyler said the overnight camp team of about 15 or 20 people had just gathered in the break room to discuss the morning plan. As soon as the team was supposed to start, she said she looked up and her manager turned and opened fire on the staff.
“It’s by the grace of God that a bullet missed me,” Tyler said. “I saw the smoke exit the gun and I literally watched bodies fall. It was crazy.”
At first she didn’t believe the shooting was real. “Everything happened so fast. I thought it was some kind of test. For example, if you have an active shooter, react like this.”
Tyler, who worked with the manager just the night before, said the attacker did not aim at anyone.
“He just shot all over the room. It didn’t matter who he met. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t look at anyone in any particular way.”
Chesapeake Police Chief Mark G. Solesky confirmed that the shooter, who used a handgun, was a Walmart employee, but did not provide his name because his family had not been notified. Solesky could not confirm whether the victims were employees.
Clerk Jessie Wilczewski told Norfolk TV station WAVY that she hid under the table and the gunman looked at her with his gun pointed at her. He told her to go home and she left.
“It didn’t even look real until you could feel the… ‘pow-pow-pow,’ you can feel it,” Wilczewski said. “I couldn’t hear it at first because I think it was so loud, I could feel it.”
Gov. Glenn Youngkin tweeted that he was in contact with law enforcement officials in Chesapeake, Virginia’s second largest city, which is adjacent to the coastal communities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
“Our hearts are breaking with the Chesapeake community this morning,” Youngkin wrote. “Heinous acts of violence have no place in our communities.”
The attack marked the second time in just over a week that Virginia had 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 November 13. Two other students were injured.
The Walmart attack came three days after a person opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado, killing five and injuring 17. Last spring, the country was rocked 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 targeting Mexicans opened fire at a store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people.
A database maintained by The Associated Press, USA Today, and Northeastern University that tracks every mass murder in America since 2006 shows that year was particularly violent.
There have been 40 mass homicides in the US so far in 2022, compared to 45 for all of 2019. The database defines a mass homicide as four or more people killed, not counting the killer.
More than a quarter of the mass killings, which spanned eight states and claimed 51 lives, have occurred since Oct. 21, according to the database. Nine of those eleven incidents were shootings.
In particular, the database does not include recent shootings at the University of Virginia because that attack did not reach the four deaths threshold, not counting the shooter.
Chesapeake Mayor Rick W. West expressed his gratitude for the quick response of first responders in a statement posted to the city’s Twitter account.
“I am devastated by the senseless act of violence that took place in our city late yesterday,” West said. “Chesapeake is a close-knit community and we are all devastated by this news.”
An 911 call about the shooting came in just after 10 p.m. Solesky didn’t know how many buyers were inside, whether the gunman was working, or if a security guard was present.
Joetta Jeffery told CNN that she received text messages from her mother, who was at the store when the shots were fired. Her mother, Betsy Umphlett, was not injured.
“I’m crying, I’m shaking,” Jeffery said. “I was just talking to her about buying turkeys for Thanksgiving when this text came in.”
A man was seen at a hospital upon learning his brother was dead, and others screamed as they exited a conference center set up as a family reunion center, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
Camille Buggs, a former Walmart employee, told the newspaper she went to the conference center to get information about her former colleagues.
“You keep saying you don’t think it would happen in your town, in your neighborhood, in your store — your favorite store, and that’s what shocks me,” Buggs said.
Walmart tweeted early Wednesday that it was “shocked by this tragic event.”
In September 2019, following the El Paso shooting, Walmart made the decision to stop selling certain types of ammunition and asked customers to stop openly carrying firearms in its stores.
It stopped selling handgun ammunition and short-barreled rifle ammunition, such as. B. the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber used in military style guns. Walmart also stopped selling handguns in Alaska.
The company had ceased selling handguns in all states except Alaska by the mid-1990s. The latest move marked a complete exit from that business, allowing the company to focus solely on hunting rifles and related ammunition.
Many of its stores are in rural areas where hunters depend on Walmart for their gear.