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Chesapeake, Virginia, has now joined the long list of places in America where a lone gunman committed sudden, mass murder. Police say a Walmart employee opened fire in the store, killing at least six before taking his own life. William Brangham reports.
On this night before Thanksgiving, there is shock and mourning in the Southeastern Virginia city of Chesapeake. It has now joined the long list of places in the United States where a lone gunman committed sudden mass murder.
William Brangham begins our coverage.
Just after 10:00 p.m. last night, at this Walmart in Virginia's Tidewater area, a store employee named Andre Bing opened fire, killing at least six and then taking his own life.
Governor Glenn Youngkin spoke this morning.
GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN (R-VA):
Our hearts are just completely broken this morning yet again in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
One employee recounted being in the break room when the gunman, who was a manager at the Chesapeake store, entered and started firing.
BRIANA TYLER, Witness:
I looked up, and my manager turned around. And he just opened fire on everybody in the break room. And it is by the grace of God that a bullet missed me. I'm not going to lie. I literally looked at him. I saw the smoke leaving the gun, and I literally watched bodies drop.
Police found the shooter dead when they arrived. He had worked at Walmart for over a decade, and his motive remains unknown.
MARK SOLESKY, Chesapeake, Virginia, Police Chief:
The Chesapeake police SWAT team executed a search warrant at the suspect'S residence. There's no risk to the public at this time.
This tragedy marks the seventh mass shooting in the past seven days in America. The Gun Violence Archive, which tracks these tragedies, classifies a mass shooting as at least four people being injured or killed. They have documented more than 600 of these attacks so far this year.
Virginia has seen its share of its share this month, after a University of Virginia student shot and killed three football players in Charlottesville less than two weeks ago. The Walmart killing deepened this fresh wound for many.
GOV. GLENN YOUNGKIN:
We have had two horrific acts of violence in the Commonwealth of Virginia in two weeks. And that absolutely brings with it a sense of anger, a sense of fear, a sense of deep, deep grief.
In a statement, President Biden also expressed his grief over the tragedies, calling the Chesapeake attack a horrific and senseless act of violence. The president again pushed for greater action on gun control measures.
Late today, the police released the names of five of the victims, Lorenzo Gamble, Brian Pendleton, Kellie Pyle, Randall Blevins, and Tyneka Johnson. The sixth victim is a minor. His name was withheld.
This killing comes while many are still processing the loss of life in the mass shooting this weekend in Colorado Springs, where a gunman killed five at an LGBTQ nightclub, yet another of the gun tragedies in America that far exceed any other developed nation.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm William Brangham.
For some reaction to this shooting and others in the past two weeks, I spoke earlier today with Virginia State Senator Louise Lucas. She's a Democrat whose district includes the area where today's shooting happened.
Senator Louise Lucas, thank you so much for joining us.
First of all, our condolences to your community to be going through this, yet another shooting in Virginia. Have you learned anything new in the last few hours about what happened, about the motive of the shooter, the weapon and so forth?
STATE SEN. L. LOUISE LUCAS (D-VA):
Nothing yet, Judy.
The only thing we know is that the investigation is ongoing, and that the local law enforcement officers are gathering information as best they can, trying to put it all together, meeting with the families to try and provide counseling and whatever other comfort services they can for them to try to get them through this.
I mean, just imagine, if you will, how these families are feeling on today, on the day before Thanksgiving. And, tomorrow, they're going to have empty seats to the table at a time when they should be hugging their loved ones and giving thanks for all that that we have together.
And I just can't tell you just how upset I have been about this. But the thing that grieves me as much is a fact that we have within our power to enact some commonsense gun prevention measures and have failed to do it. And I think that is the thing that we need the most think about, pray about, and try to energize a mass — a critical mass of people to contact their legislators about.
And that is to stop this gun violence. And the only way that can happen, Judy, is through legislative action. And it needs to take place. And it needs to take place now. How many more people have to die before legislative bodies all around this country understand that we are the ones who can control these guns and have people have such ready access to them?
And I do want to ask you about that, because we know, just a couple of years ago, Virginia passed a number of gun control measures, including stricter background checks.
We just looked at the list. So what does that say to you, that you do have laws on the books in Virginia? In fact, I saw that the group Everytown for Gun Safety rates Virginia, I believe its 14th in the country best in terms of its gun control measures.
STATE SEN. L. LOUISE LUCAS:
Obviously, we have not done a good enough job of trying to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.
And I'm not just talking about people who have mental health issues, because I know that's one of the first things that people will harp on, but we need to do a better job of making sure that people don't have such easily — easy access to guns. That's the problem. I mean, there are just too many guns in the hands of people who should not have them.
Could I just ask you, what specific law would you like to see on the books either at the state or the federal level that you think might have prevented what happened not just in Chesapeake, but at the University of Virginia the other day?
Well, you know what? President Biden has introduced has introduced legislation.
The thing of it is, it just doesn't go far enough, because he doesn't have the will or the backbone of the members of Congress to make it go to the extent it needs to go to, to make sure we get these guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.
There are measures on the books, but most of them do not go far enough. And I'm saying, until the members of Congress and the members of legislative bodies all around this country come to the understanding that we have the controls over how this legislation gets introduced and passed, we can stop this senseless gun violence by introducing legislation that limits the number of handguns that people have, and especially those people who should not have them in the first place.
And when you say members of either a state legislature or of the Congress, who are you speaking about in particular?
Are you pointing a finger at one political party or another? I mean, who is responsible here?
Well, I'm trying not to point fingers here, because I'm trying not to make this political.
But if you look at the gun control or gun prevention measures that were introduced in the legislature, all you got to do is go down that list and you see who voted yea and who voted nay.
And so, without calling names, I just want to say I and some members of our caucus introduced an omnibus package of gun prevention measures to include universal back checks — background checks, as I have indicated, and — but I think they just don't go far enough. We need to beef them up. It's not working.
What we have done is not working, so we need to do more.
Do you think the public is behind you, most American people, most Virginians are behind you on wanting to get these laws changed, Senator Lucas?
I absolutely think they are, because I think everybody understands that a person with a gun that should not have one does not know, does not care the community that they go into.
So if you think your school is exempt, or your church, or your synagogue, or your grocery store, or your Walmart is exempt, then think again, because these things are happening every day all across the country, and who knows what community is going to be hit next?
Yes, I think the vast majority of people are behind us. I just hope that there's a critical mass who will talk to the members of their legislative bodies, who will talk to whomever is in a position of authority to help bring about some of these measures to make sure that we can stop these senseless mass murders.
Well, as we said at the outset, our condolences are with you, with your community, as you go through yet another tragic, tragic shooting.
State Senator Louise Lucas in Virginia, thank you very much.
Thank you so much for having me on.
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William Brangham is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour in Washington, D.C. He joined the flagship PBS program in 2015, after spending two years with PBS NewsHour Weekend in New York City.
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