Candles, crosses, and prayers: Chesapeake, Va. community still reeling from mass shooting

Gun Rights

By Reginald Williams.
Special to the AFRO.
Megan Sayles and Tashi McQueen,
Report for America Corps Members

Hundreds gathered in Chesapeake City Park on Nov. 28 to honor the six innocent lives taken in the mass shooting at a Virginia Walmart last week. 

The crowd was solemn as they remembered the victims, who were killed by a night supervisor shortly before the store was set to close on Nov. 22.

“We honor and pray for all those who were injured that night and for those throughout our community who suffered emotional wounds,” said City Council Member Don J. Carey III. “We see you, we love you, we are here for you. We pray that the grace of God be with you in the sweet immune of his spirit.”

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Before turning the gun upon himself, Andre Bing, a night manager for one of the largest businesses in the country, shot his six colleagues with a 9mm handgun purchased earlier that same day.

Four additional employees were wounded and hospitalized. The six fatalities were Tyneka Johnson, 22, of Portsmouth; Lorenzo Gamble, 43; Randy Blevins, 70; Brian Pendleton, 38; Kellie Pyle, 52; and Fernando Chavez-Barron, from Chesapeake. 

Jalon Jones, 24, one of the victims hospitalized, was grazed behind his ear, shot in the back, and is recovering in the hospital.

Carey fought back tears as he spoke about each victim killed in the shooting just before the holiday.

“Randall was a kind and gentle man, a loving son, brother, husband and father, he was a wonderful family man,” said Carey. “His favorite holiday was Thanksgiving because he would have the day off from work and could spend time with his family.”

Coworkers, family members and residents stood in complete silence as the councilman spoke about the youngest employee shot dead as he tried to help his family make a living.

“Fernando was only 16 years old, he was a good student and he loved to read. He loved taking care of his family and adored his parents. He started working so that he could be responsible and lessen the burden for his family,” said Carey. “He was so responsible, supportive and always helped his dad.”

Walmart was Fernando’s first job.

“We feel tragedies like this personally and deeply, but this one is harrowing as we have learned the gunman was a Walmart associate,” said John Furner, president and CEO of Walmart U.S., in a statement. “The entire Walmart family is heartbroken. Our hearts and prayers are with those impacted, and we are grateful for the actions of first responders.” 

Overnight stocker and trainer Donya Prioleau sued Walmart on Nov. 29 for $50 million, alleging that she filed a formal complaint with the store against Bing in September after he harassed her on multiple occasions, according to the complaint. 

Current employees, including Jess Wilczewski, have taken to social media to express their feelings surrounding the tragedy. Wilczewski had only been working at the Walmart for five days, and she divulged that Bing told her to go home after shooting several of her coworkers. 

In several Facebook posts, Wilczewski further detailed how traumatic the event was, saying in one: “I’m hurt, and I’m scared, I’m lost, my mind has been altered by horrific and traumatic scenes that should never be displayed by any other human ever. And even in my sleep, I can’t run from it, so now I’m gonna have to face it head on.” 

Bing, who worked for Walmart for 12 years, left behind a death note that detailed several emotional challenges he was trying to navigate. He opened the manifesto by apologizing to God. 

“Sorry God, I’ve failed you, this was not your fault but my own. I failed to listen to the groans of the holy spirit which made me a poor representation of You,” read Bing’s note. “I was harassed by idiots with low intelligence and a lack of wisdom. I remained strong through most of the torment but my dignity was completely taken beyond repair by my phone getting hacked.”

The suicide note also stated that he was one of the most loving people in the world and that he never meant to murder anyone.

Many Virginians were still trying to process the death of three University of Virginia football players, fatally shot nine days earlier. 

“We still haven’t gotten over the University of Virginia,” said Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va-3). “The Commonwealth has had many horrific incidents starting with Virginia Tech and Virginia Beach.” 

More than 3,000 people have been shot in 604 mass shootings in 2022; 637 people have died. Scott said that America has a gun problem, and we need to do something about gun violence.

President Biden addressed the Chesapeake community as they grappled with the brutal attack.

“There are now more families who know the worst kind of loss and pain imaginable,” he said in a statement. “Jill and I grieve for those families, for the Chesapeake community, and for the Commonwealth of Virginia, which just suffered a terrible shooting at the University of Virginia this month. We also mourn for all those across America who have lost loved ones to these tragic shootings that we must come together as a nation to stand against.”

Virginia’s gun laws currently say that no state permit is required to “purchase or possess a rifle, shotgun or handgun,” according to the NRA-ILA institute for legislative action. 

The state also allows gun owners to open carry, meaning they do not have to conceal the weapon in public.

Early Wednesday morning, the Walmart store remained closed to the public, but workers could be seen unloading shipments and using machinery to move pallets. Mourners said prayers and left flowers at a memorial a short distance away.

The company has detailed how they are helping the families affected, their employees and all those affected in the Chesapeake area. 

“Nothing can replace these beautiful lives, or heal the scars their loved ones have now suffered,” said a statement released by Walmart. “As we grieve, we’re supporting these families with funeral, travel and other expenses. And we have a physical site set up where associates can meet, connect and speak to counselors.” 

Walmart will offer “associates and their families have access to confidential and mental health support resources at no cost – including phone, chat-based or video support.”

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