CHESAPEAKE, Va. — Doris Manuel knelt before a cross that had been set up beneath the stage for a vigil at Chesapeake City Park. It bore the name of her nephew, Brian Pendleton, who was one of six Walmart employees shot and killed at the store last week.
Manuel was among several hundred people who gathered Monday to pray and light candles as they mourned the six who authorities say were fatally shot by a colleague.
“I’m here to support my sister,” Manuel said, adding that she had stayed a couple of days with Pendleton’s mother after driving down from her home in Gloucester. “This is her oldest son, and shockingly the second child she has lost this year. … She’s a strong woman of faith, but something like this is not easy for anyone.”
Chesapeake Mayor Rick West and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) spoke at the hour-long service as community members stood holding electric candles on the lawn of the amphitheater. Seats were reserved in front for friends and families of those killed and wounded.
Killed last Tuesday in the Walmart were Tyneka Johnson, 22; Randall Blevins, 70; Kellie Pyle, 52; Lorenzo Gamble, 43; Fernando Chavez-Barron, 16; and Pendleton, 39. Several others were wounded.
Police identified the shooter as 31-year-old Andre Bing, an overnight supervisor who left a “death note” — a rambling 11-paragraph message that claimed colleagues harassed him, betrayed him and wanted to get rid of him. He indicated he intended to spare one person, suggesting she, like his deceased mother, had cancer. Police said he purchased a 9mm gun from a local store on the day of the attack.
West opened the vigil by saying the shooting marked the city’s darkest hour.
“I cannot think of a more appropriate way to overcome this darkness than with a candlelight vigil,” he said. “Tonight we will light our candles together as one community, sending the message to six lives that we have lost.”
He said the vigil was only the beginning. “There is much to do to find emotional, spiritual and financial healing, because we are truly a city that cares.”
Youngkin said the killings highlighted the need for mental health care, and pledged to work across party lines to enact it. “We have a mental health and a behavioral health crisis in the United States and in Virginia, a crisis that shows up in all facets of our society, in our homes and our schools and our workplace, at times tragically manifesting itself in violence, murder, and in suicides.”
He filled his remarks with scripture. “My Christian faith says to give me hope in times such as these, when I question why terrible, horrific things happen, when I question why we lose innocent loved ones,” he said. “I pray that you may find comfort in the words of our Lord.”
The vigil on Monday night followed one on Sunday organized by the Chesapeake Coalition of Black Pastors at the Mount at Chesapeake church. Dozens of people who had lost someone, knew someone who was wounded or worked at the store stood at the end of a 90-minute service.
Another was held Thursday in the Walmart parking lot, organized by friends and family of 16-year-old Chavez-Barron, the youngest victim in the slaying. A crowd of several dozen recited prayers, beginning as the sun set and lasting into darkness as overhead lights cast long shadows. Congregants released silver balloons into the night sky as the service concluded.
Manuel, who works at the Christian Broadcasting Network, said at Monday night’s vigil that Pendleton’s older sister died in May. The family’s faith in Jesus, she said, was giving them comfort. “We believe in his power,” she said. “The Bible says he is nearer to the brokenhearted.”
She had spent days after the shooting with her sister before returning home to Gloucester. But she returned for the vigil. On her drive to Chesapeake, she passed tree after tree bearing fiery fall leaves. “We learned when I was home-schooling my daughter that as beautiful as the leaves are, they are dying,” she said. “Today I’m reminded that the Lord can make death beautiful.”
Michelle Joachim, who was among those at the Monday night vigil, said the Walmart is “where I buy my eggs and my bread and my bacon.”
“I wasn’t in the store at the time [of the shooting], but this hurts because this is my neighborhood,” she said. “I hurt because we hurt. This is a small town. When people look at us, they talk about violence now instead of the beauty of the bay.”
Tammy Hawkins, 54, signed the cross for Chavez-Barron, who she said was a friend of her 16-year-old son, Christian. “He loved him like a brother,” she said. She said she also knew Randy Blevins from the time she was a child, and had seen him last month at the Walmart.
Linda Moyer, who came to the vigil with her daughter and grandson, worked at the Walmart on Battlefield Boulevard for 20 years until retiring three years ago. She was friends with Pendleton and Blevins, and would see them during shopping visits.
Moyer, who worked as a greeter during the holidays, recalled how she made it a point to dress up — and Pendleton always remarked on her choices.
“Brian said, ‘Ms. Linda, you just make my day. Every time, I wonder what you’re going to look like,’” Moyer said.
“It was touching,” she added, her voice cracking.
Jahi Chikwendiu contributed to this report.