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Walmart gunman showed troubling behavior before attack, ex-colleagues say

A memorial for the victims of the Walmart shooting in the store's parking lot in Chesapeake, Va. (Mike Caudill for The Washington Post)

The bright blue-and-yellow break room at the Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., was supposed to be a sanctuary. It was a place to spend a few minutes not worrying about unloading freight, stocking shelves, collecting carts or helping customers. It was a place to chat and laugh with co-workers, play games on a phone, down a quick meal.

But two nights before Thanksgiving, the sanctuary at Walmart’s Supercenter #1841 became a killing zone. Using a semiautomatic handgun he had purchased that morning, Andre Bing, an overnight supervisor at the store, methodically shot co-workers who had gathered for their assignments, authorities said. Six would die. Four others were injured, three of them by gunfire. Bing then took his own life.

In the days since the rampage, some clues about what led Bing, 31, to commit the crime have emerged, prompting questions about whether Walmart did enough to identify him as a threat and take action. In interviews, court filings and public statements, victims’ family members and former employees at the Walmart described a workplace where complaints about Bing were ignored or dismissed and where Bing, too, felt harassed by co-workers and managers.

Walmart shooter described as aggressive, angry, but motive unclear

The most striking complaints came in a lawsuit filed by a survivor of the shooting, who alleges that Walmart should have known that Bing “demonstrated a pattern of disturbing behavior leading up to the shooting,” and that his actions “put Walmart on notice … that Mr. Bing was violent and could harm others.”

The lawsuit from Donya Prioleau alleges that Bing asked her if she liked guns and told store employees, including managers, that if he were ever fired, he would retaliate, adding “people will remember my name.” It claims Bing repeatedly asked co-workers if they had received active shooter training, and when they responded that they had, he smiled and walked away.

Prioleau did not respond to multiple requests for comments, and her attorneys would not make her available for an interview.

It was not immediately known how many of the specifics in the suit were relayed to Walmart in advance of the shooting. Prioleau alleges her mother visited the store in September to complain about Bing, saying she was “very concerned for her daughter’s safety.” Bing, Prioleau alleges, had made harassing comments to her. At least one other employee said he had lodged a complaint about Bing before the shooting, for writing him up unfairly, and another said he was told Bing had been disciplined twice.

“To me, they saw something with Andre but they didn’t really do anything to try and stop it,” said James Credle, 19, who worked at the Walmart on Bing’s overnight team for two months earlier this year and alleged he had previously complained to the company about his boss.

Walmart issued a statement Tuesday about the lawsuit, saying it was “reviewing the Complaint and will be responding as appropriate with the court.” The company declined to answer questions regarding complaints about Bing, saying, “we are not discussing personnel matters related to our associates.” In a previous emailed statement, Walmart spokesman Charles Crowson wrote: “Simply stated, there is nothing that can justify taking innocent lives, and our focus remains on the families who are grieving and supporting our associates through this difficult time.”

‘Jessie, go home’

Jessie Wilczewski, 28, knew nothing about any conflicts between Bing and his co-workers. She had started working at the Walmart just a week earlier and had only talked with him once.

Wilczewski was still learning the basics, such as what to do with items that were overstocked, when she showed up to work on Nov. 22. It was her sixth shift at the store.

Wilczewski was sitting in the break room with about 15 other workers when Bing entered and started shooting.

“He came in and aimed left first,” she said in an interview. “I got on the ground with my co-worker … we were underneath the table and I watched him put bullets in the two girls in front of me and then he shot another person to the right of me.”

Families of Chesapeake Walmart shooting victims mourn their losses

Bing then ran out of the room, pursuing those who fled, Wilczewski said. She said she stayed under the table, and soon Bing returned and shot another of her co-workers, also huddling under a table.

“I watched him shoot her and I thought I was next,” she said. “And he told me to get out from under the table. So I grabbed my bag and slid out from underneath the table.”

Wilczewski said she “looked up and saw the barrel of the gun.”

“And I just remember looking at his face,” she said. “And he just told me: ‘Jessie, go home.’ He took the barrel out of my face and told me to go home.”

Wilczewski said she ran, not stopping until she reached her car in the Walmart parking lot. She said “sorry” to those left in the room as she ran, not even sure if anyone was alive. She said she doesn’t know what prompted Bing to kill so many people — and she doesn’t know why he spared her.

A note authorities recovered from Bing’s phone and later released publicly referenced several of his colleagues by name, airing a variety of grievances. Wilczewski said she could not identify any of the names.

“I’d only talked to Andre once,” Wilczewski said. “The only thing I ever mentioned was my kid. I talked about my son all the time at work. I talked about the struggles of motherhood.”

‘Management told me that I had a demonic aura’

Prioleau was also in the break room that night. According to the $50 million lawsuit she filed against Walmart, bullets flew past her face and side when Bing started shooting, and she looked into the eyes of a co-worker who had been shot in the neck. Prioleau alleges in the suit she was injured when she fell running from the room.

Prioleau alleges that “it was well known that Mr. Bing had a bad attitude and would retaliate against fellow employees for the smallest perceived slight or inadequacy. Mr. Bing was known for being a mean and cruel supervisor.”

According to Prioleau’s suit, Walmart’s managers were well aware of Bing’s threatening behavior, but “Walmart did not enact any preventative measures to keep Walmart customers and employees safe.” She alleges Bing maintained a “kill list” of potential targets; her attorneys clarified that refers to the note found in Bing’s phone. Police said none of those named in the note were shot.

“While the cruelty of murdering six defenseless people is truly unimaginable, Ms. Prioleau alleges that she and her co-workers had been concerned for months that such an incident could occur at any time,” attorneys for Prioleau, John Morgan and Peter Anderson, said in a statement.

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Other current and former employees echoed some of her concerns.

A former Walmart employee who asked not to be identified to protect her privacy said the moment she heard that a shooting had been committed inside a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., her first thought was: “I hope that’s not Andre.”

Bing had harbored a growing anger and resentment toward his colleagues for years, said the former employee, a 47-year-old woman who had worked at the Walmart for about three years and was close friends with Bing.

The former worker said colleagues routinely harassed Bing.

The former worker said Bing was at some point demoted from his position as an overnight support manager. That meant less money per hour, but, she added, Bing was still being given many of the same responsibilities. The Post could not immediately confirm that account, and Walmart declined to answer questions about it. Text messages provided to The Post between her and Bing from October 2020 show a growing sense of alienation between Bing and his colleagues.

“Management told me that I had a demonic aura and the associates were scared,” he wrote.

“Wtf,” his friend replied. “U just need to change environment a new store new start.”

“I live 8 minutes away, so I have to runaway because someone saids dumb s--- about me?” Bing wrote.

“That’s a tainted environment it’s never gonna get better,” came the reply. “They let it fester and now it’s toxic and the only way you gonna have peace of mind is to transfer.”

“You are probably right but I know that I’m not ready to hear it,” Bing wrote.

Bing never did request a transfer to a different store, the friend said.

The note recovered from Bing’s phone also used the phrase “demonic aura.”

Credle, the 19-year-old who worked under Bing, said employees knew to avoid Bing.

“He was the one you wanted to stay away from,” Credle said in an interview Wednesday. “He would nitpick you. He wrote me up two days in a row for really little stuff.”

Credle said he went to Bing’s managers this summer to register a complaint. “I reported Andre and said that he was targeting me,” he said. When managers told him Bing wasn’t treating him unfairly, Credle said he decided to leave the job. He said a number of other employees had complained about Bing, and he believes Walmart should have interceded more forcefully.

Nathan Sinclair, a former Walmart employee who worked the second shift, said Bing “had too many moments where he’d be overly aggressive,” and that Bing had been written up at least twice by supervisors, though it was not clear why. Sinclair also said Bing was “kind of picked on a little bit by some associates at the store.”

“He was difficult to people and people were difficult to him,” Sinclair said.

‘A gross lack of accountability’

Those killed in the attack ranged in age from 16 to 70 — some long-term employees, others who had only recently begun work there, according to information released by Walmart.

Randy Blevins, the company said, had worked at Walmart for 29 years. The 70-year-old never missed a day of work.

Fernando “Jesus” Chavez-Barron, 16, was an 11th-grade honors student who’d recently started working at the store to help his family.

Lorenzo Gamble, 43, was a 15-year employee whose greatest joys were football and spending time with his two sons.

Tyneka Johnson, 22, loved music, dancing and dreamed of attending college soon.

Brian Pendleton, 39, was a 10-year employee who always arrived early to work and loved joking with his fellow associates.

And Kellie Pyle, 52, had recently moved to the region to marry. She is survived by two children, a granddaughter and her fiance.

Two of the four Walmart employees who were injured in the attack remain hospitalized.

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Workplace violence is increasingly common and employers have a primary responsibility to provide a safe working environment for employees, said Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, co-executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. That responsibility, she said, extends to protecting them from co-workers exhibiting threatening behavior.

A report released last month by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics identified 392 workplace homicides in 2020, the most recent year for which it provided data. There were also 37,060 nonfatal workplace injuries in 2020 intentionally inflicted by another person.

Goldstein-Gelb said that, based on what she has read and heard about the Chesapeake incident so far, “it seems that there is a gross lack of accountability by Walmart in addressing very serious risks that were posed to their employees.”

“If, in fact, there are mental health issues, you obviously need to balance the workers’ rights,” Goldstein-Gelb said. “But you can do that and protect the well-being of other workers.”

Now, back home with her 15-month-old son, Jessie Wilczewski is not sure what to do. Or how to go forward. She’s talked to the media — and been criticized for it, she said. “The only reason I spoke out is to let the families know that they weren’t alone in their last moments,” she said. “Somebody was at least there.”

Wilczewski just wants the images in her head — a constant replay of carnage — to stop.

“I couldn’t imagine my son not having me here,” she said. “I’m blessed for that part, but I feel horrible being here. Because there was other families that lost their mom or their loved ones and they’re not here. The guilt from that has been eating me alive.”

Alice Crites, Olivia Diaz, Justin Jouvenal and Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.

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