By BEN FINLEY (Associated Press)
CHESAPEAKE, Va. (AP) — People living in Virginia’s second-largest city have begun to honor six people who were killed in a mass shooting while working for the nation’s largest employer, Walmart, in this sprawling but tight-knit community near the coast.
Hundreds attended Monday evening’s candlelight vigil in Chesapeake to pay tribute to a diverse group of third-shift workers, ages 16 to 70, who unloaded trucks, broke down cardboard boxes and stocked shelves.
Police say they were gunned down Tuesday night by a store supervisor, who also died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Six others were wounded, some critically.
Doris Manuel, whose nephew Brian Pendleton was among the victims, said she came to show her support for his mother, her sister. Manuel wrote “I love you” on a white makeshift cross in honor of Pendleton and said she and others around the country are praying for everyone involved.
“We know when something like this happens it’s not just us. It’s a whole city, a whole region. Especially this time of the year,” she said.
Earlier Monday, the City Council held a brief special meeting to approve a resolution that will help free up funding for the response to and recovery from the shooting.
This particular Walmart, still closed from the shooting, sits along a suburban strip of box stores that are located about a half-hour drive from the Atlantic Ocean and the Chesapeake Bay. For many here, the store served as a de facto community center that facilitated unplanned chats in the aisles.
“You could run into your physician, teachers, principals,” Cliff Hayes, a lawmaker in Virginia’s House of Delegates, told The Associated Press before Monday’s vigil. “This was a centralized place that will forever be changed.”
Walmart has more than 4,700 stores across the county and employs about 1.7 million people in the U.S. And yet each store can be unique in its own way, said Adam Reich, a Columbia University sociology professor who co-wrote the book, “Working for Respect, Community and Conflict at Walmart.”
The book describes life experiences that drew workers to the company and analyzes dynamics among employees. In some stores — though not all – workers formed strong bonds despite their varying backgrounds, Reich said. And it was often those tight relationships that kept Walmart associates in their jobs for long periods of time.
“It’s sort of astonishing that, on the one hand, Walmart is so standardized,” Reich said. “But on the other hand, there’s just so much variation and uniqueness that workers manage to establish and carve out in their individual stores. I don’t know the story of this store, but it sounds from the little I’ve read that that’s what workers had done here.”
Shaundrayia Reese, who worked at the Chesapeake store from around 2015 to 2018, told The New York Times that the overnight crew was like a family when she was there. “Everyone loved each other,” she told the newspaper.
The Walmart store associates who died were in various stages of life.
Fernando “Jesus” Chavez-Barron, 16, had just started driving and gotten his first part-time job at Walmart to help out his family. Kellie Pyle, 52, recently moved back to the region after reconnecting with her high school sweetheart. They planned to marry next year.
Randy Blevins, 70, had worked at the Walmart for more than 30 years after owning his own five-and-dime store. Pendleton, 38, had recently celebrated his 10-year anniversary at the store and was a “happy-go-lucky” guy who loved to tell jokes.
Lorenzo Gamble, 43, worked there for 15 years as a custodian. He was the quiet one in his family and enjoyed going to his 19-year-old’s football games. Tyneka Johnson, 22, was young and wanted to make her own money. She also had a sense of style and love for music and dancing.
Police said the shooter left behind a note that claimed he was harassed and pushed to the brink by a perception his phone was hacked.
The Nov. 22 rampage marked the nation’s second high-profile mass shooting in four days after a person opened fire at a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people and wounding 17.