CHESAPEAKE, Virginia – Flags across Virginia were flying at half staff Wednesday, hours after a store manager opened fire at a Walmart in Chesapeake, killing six people as a wave of deadly gun violence continued to sweep the nation.
The first 911 call came in at 10:12 p.m. Tuesday, and the first officers arrived two minutes later, Chesapeake Police Chief Mark Solesky said Wednesday. Police spokesman Leo Kosinski said several people were wounded or hiding in the store and that rescue and tactical teams swept through providing “life-saving measures.”
The assailant was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and a handgun was recovered at the scene, Solesky said. The shooter’s home was being searched but his identity was not released pending notification of family, the chief said.
At least six survivors were transported to local hospitals, one in critical condition, the city said in a social media post.
“You hope a day like this never comes, but we train for it, we practice, we talk about it, we learn lessons,” City Manager Chris Price said at the briefing. “You hope that those lessons will never have to be put to use.”
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Employee Briana Tyler told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that workers had gathered in the store’s break room at the start of a shift when the man, a manager, walked in and without saying a word started firing.
“He literally just started shooting throughout the entire break room,” she said. “And I watched multiple people just drop down to the floor, whether they were trying to duck for cover or they were hit. … He looked directly at me but luckily he missed my head by like an inch or two.”
Employee Jessie Wilczewski told WAVY-TV that she was hiding under a table when the shooter looked at her with his gun pointed at her – then told her to go home.
“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.”
President Joe Biden issue a statement expressing gratitude to the first responders and pledging support and assistance. He referenced a gun reform law passed earlier this year and urged “greater action” to curb gun violence.
“Because of yet another horrific and senseless act of violence, there are now even more tables across the country that will have empty seats this Thanksgiving,” the statement said. “There are now more families who know the worst kind of loss and pain imaginable.”
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said it was assisting with the investigation. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who ordered flags flown at half staff through Sunday, said he was making state resources available.
“Our hearts break with the community of Chesapeake this morning,” he said. “Heinous acts of violence have no place in our communities.”
Mayor Rick W. West, in a statement posted on Twitter, also lauded the efforts of first responders.
“I am devastated by the senseless act of violence that took place late last night in our city,” West tweeted. “Chesapeake is a tightknit community and we are all shaken by this news.”
Anxiety and rumors spread in the hours after the attack. At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the city posted a notice on Twitter warning that “rumors of an active shooter at Target in Chesapeake are UNTRUE. Please help us control rumors by only sharing information from this account.”
Comic and former Saturday Night Live cast member Jay Pharoah, a city native, vented on Twitter: “My heart goes out to my city and my rage grows from the redundancy of these acts. Right in my backyard, right where I grew up. Chesapeake is strong and we will continue to be but this has got to stop. Too many innocent lost and not enough care to change it.”
Mary Glisson, 73, a housewife from nearby Great Bridge, was shopping in the area. Glisson, who said she sometimes stops at Walmart, heard about the shooting on the news.
“I thought I would stop and give condolences, I guess you could say,” Glisson said.
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The shooting in Chesapeake is the latest incident to rock the country, coming days after a massacre in a well-known LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where five people were killed.
Earlier this month, three University of Virginia football players were killed and two other people hospitalized following a campus shooting – the same day four University of Idaho students were found dead with multiple stab wounds.
A database run by USA TODAY, The Associated Press and Northeastern University that tracks mass killings since 2006 counts 40 mass killings so far this year, second to the 45 that occurred for all of 2019. The database defines a mass killing as at least four people killed, not including the killer.
In Chesapeake, police tweeted that a family reunification site had been set up at the Chesapeake Conference Center. Among those gathered outside early Wednesday was Camille Buggs, a former Walmart employee who told the Virginian-Pilot she hoped to learn the fate of some of her former coworkers she had not been able to reach after the shooting.
“You always say you don’t think it would happen in your town, in your neighborhood, in your store, in your favorite store,” Buggs, 58, of Chesapeake told the outlet. “That’s the thing that has me shocked.”
Stunned employees also gathered at the nearby Sam’s Club, where attendance was taken, WAVY-TV reported. Police said all employees had been accounted for.
A Walmart in El Paso, Texas, was the scene of one of the nation’s bloodiest attacks in 2019, when a gunman police say was targeting Mexicans killed 22 people.
Walmart released a statement on Twitter early Wednesday: “We are shocked at this tragic event at our Chesapeake, Virginia store. We’re praying for those impacted, the community and our associates. We’re working closely with law enforcement, and we are focused on supporting our associates.”
Sen. Mark Warner tweeted he is “sickened by reports of yet another mass shooting, this time at a Walmart in Chesapeake.”
State Sen. Louise Lucas echoed Warner’s sentiment, tweeting she was “absolutely heartbroken that America’s latest mass shooting took place in a Walmart in my district.”
Chesapeake is a city of about 250,000 people, 100 miles southeast of Richmond. The city sits on the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, a few miles from the Virginia Beach oceanfront and downtown Norfolk.
“Chesapeake offers an endless range of outdoor activities, terrific shopping, phenomenal food and beautiful wildlife,” the city says on its website. “Here you will find an impressively diverse collection of geography encompassing urban delights, rural masterpieces and an endless menu of outdoor options and indoor fun.”
Contributing: Paul Bibeau; Charles Ventura, USA TODAY; The Associated Press