CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Employees at a Chesapeake Walmart would gather in the break room each evening as they got into the night shift around 10 p.m.
They chatted and prepared for the long shift ahead, then set to work cleaning and stocking up the store for the next day. Hours ran late and the work could be tiring, but members of the team — some of whom had worked there for years — said they were often buoyed by the camaraderie they found.
“Our lodging team, we were a family when I was there,” said Shaundrayia Reese, 27, who worked at Walmart in a Chesapeake mall for several years from about 2015 to 2018. “Everyone loved each other,” she recalled.
On Tuesday night, six Walmart employees, many of whom were part of that tight-knit team, were fatally shot by a longtime night crew supervisor, according to authorities, who opened fire in the break room where the team had so often congregated.
Among the dead were employees who had worked in the business for years: Randall Blevins, a beloved father and coin collector; Lorenzo Gamble, the father of two sons who appreciated the Mustang he drove; and Brian Pendleton, a maintenance worker whom colleagues say employees wanted to lean on. Newer employees were also among those killed, including Kellie Pyle, who was due to marry next year, and Tyneka Johnson, who described relatives and neighbors as kind. Authorities said a 16-year-old boy who worked at the store, whose name has yet to be released, was also killed.
As of Thursday, two others remained hospitalized with injuries, officials said. The shooter, authorities say, also died from a self-inflicted gunshot. Police have yet to provide a motive for the shooting and say their investigation is continuing.
Some employees and their families came to a hotel near the market on Thursday for advice and support; Some sobbed as they were led inside. “My heart aches for our employees and the Chesapeake community who have lost or injured loved ones,” Walmart president and chief executive Doug McMillon said in a statement Wednesday.
Police have identified the shooter as Andre Bing, 31, a night attendant who had worked at Walmart since 2010. At the start of his shift, he assembled his team for a meeting and handed out assignments and notes from previous shifts to Nathan Sinclair, who had worked as a manager on a previous shift, according to reports.
Former employees described Mr Bing as a repulsive manager who expressed concerns about government surveillance; Neighbors described him as quiet and someone they rarely saw unless he was mowing his lawn. He drove to work at night and came back in the morning. “That’s all you would see of him,” said Brittany Jennings, 37, a neighbor.
Among the victims, Ms Johnson, who was in her early 20s and was described as cute by her neighbors, had only recently started working at the store.
“She was young and wanted to make her own money,” said a cousin, Theodore Johnson, 41, adding that Ms Johnson lived with her mother. ”
Kellie Pyle, 52, was kindhearted and generous and planning to get married in the near future, The Associated Press reported. She had adult children in Kentucky who wanted to travel to Virginia after the massacre.
“We love her,” Gwendolyn Bowe Baker Spencer, the mother of Ms. Pyle’s partner, told The AP. “She wanted to marry my son next year. She was a great, kind person – yes, she was.”
Randall Blevins, 70, was a longtime member of the store team who sets prices and arranges merchandise, according to Ms. Reese, who said she knows him as “Mr. Cool.”
Mr Blevins loved Norfolk Admirals hockey games, photographed and collected coins, said his daughter Cassandra Yeats.
“He never missed a single day’s work,” she said. “He loved his family and was supportive of everyone.”
A family friend of the 16-year-old shooting victim said the boy attended a local high school while taking an overnight job at Walmart to help his family. “He wanted to help a little bit,” says Rosy Perez, the family friend. “He was a very good kid.”
Another victim, Mr. Pendleton, was a maintenance worker who a former employee described as one of the hardest workers at the store.
“If you had any problems, you could go to Brian,” said former clerk Josh Johnson, who worked at the store for two and a half years. “He would hit for you and help you with everything.”
Ms. Reese said she was particularly close to Mr. Pendleton.
“He never raised his voice, never had a bad bone in his body,” she said. “No one could ever say anything bad about this man. He was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met in my life.”
Mr Gamble had worked at Walmart for about 15 years, according to his mother, clocking in at night and returning home in the morning in his silver and black Mustang. The mother, Linda Gamble, said her son is known as the quiet one in the family and has two sons.
On Tuesday night, Ms Gamble was preparing for Thanksgiving when she heard there had been a shooting at Walmart. Her husband drove to the Chesapeake Conference Center, where authorities had told the families to meet to await word from their relatives.
He came back a few hours later, Ms Gamble recalled, telling her, “Your baby is gone.”
“All I could do,” she said, “was fall off the chair and scream.”
Reporting was contributed by Edward Medina, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Michael Korker, Jenny Gross and Rich Griset. Sheelagh McNeill, Kitty Bennett and Kirsten Noyes contributed research.