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 a witness said Wednesday.
The gunman, who apparently shot himself, was dead when police found him, Chesapeake Police Chief Mark G. Solesky said. There was no clear motive for the shooting, which also put four people in the hospital.
The store was busy just before the attack Tuesday night with people stocking up ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, a shopper told a local TV station.
Employee Briana Tyler said workers had gathered in the store’s break room as they typically did ahead of their shifts.
“I looked up, and my manager just opened the door and he just opened fire,” she told ABC’s “Good Morning America,” adding that “multiple people” dropped to the floor.
“He didn’t say a word, he didn’t say anything at all,” she said.
Solesky confirmed that the shooter, who used a pistol, was a Walmart employee but did not give his name because his family had not been notified. The police chief could not confirm whether the victims were all employees.
Employee Jessie Wilczewski told Norfolk television station WAVY that she hid under the table and the shooter looked at her with his gun pointed at her, 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 guess it was so loud, I could feel it.”
Gov. Glenn Youngkin tweeted Wednesday morning that he was in contact with law enforcement officials and said he would make resources available as the investigation moves forward.
“Our hearts break with the community of Chesapeake this morning,” Youngkin wrote. “Heinous acts of violence have no place in our communities.”
It 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 injured in the shooting.
“I am devastated by the senseless act of violence that took place late last night in our city,” Mayor Rick W. West said in a statement posted on the city’s Twitter account Wednesday. “Chesapeake is a tight-knit community, and we are all shaken by this news.”
A database run by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University that tracks every mass killing in America going back to 2006 shows this year has been especially violent.
The U.S. has now had 40 mass killings so far this year, compared with 45 for all of 2019. The database defines a mass killing as at least four people killed, not including the killer.
The attack at the Walmart came three days after a person opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado, killing five people and wounding 17. Earlier in the year, the country was shaken by the deaths of 21 when a gunman stormed an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
A 911 call about the shooting in Chesapeake, which is Virginia’s second-largest city and lies next to the seaside communities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, came in just after 10 p.m. The store was open at the time, but Solesky didn’t know how many shoppers were inside or whether the gunman was working.
Asked whether there was a security guard present, the police chief said he didn’t know.
Joetta Jeffery told CNN that she received text messages from her mother who was inside the store when the shots were fired. Her mother, Betsy Umphlett, was not injured.
“I’m crying, I’m shaking,” Jeffery said. “I had just talked to her about buying turkeys for Thanksgiving, then this text came in.”
One man was seen wailing at a hospital after learning that his brother was dead, and others shrieked as they left a conference center set up as a family reunification center, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
Camille Buggs, a former Walmart employee, told the paper she went to the conference center seeking information about her former co-workers.
“You always say you don’t think it would happen in your town, in your neighborhood, in your store — in your favorite store and that’s the thing that has me shocked,” said Buggs, 58, of Chesapeake.
Walmart tweeted early Wednesday that it was “shocked at this tragic event.”
Sen. Mark Warner said in a tweet that he was “sickened by reports of yet another mass shooting, this time at a Walmart in Chesapeake.”
State Sen. Louise Lucas echoed Warner’s sentiment, tweeting that she was “absolutely heartbroken that America’s latest mass shooting took place in a Walmart in my district.”