‘They’re not alone’: Victims’ families, store employees attend church vigil after Chesapeake Walmart shooting

Hundreds gathered Sunday night at a Chesapeake prayer vigil to remember the six employees shot and killed by a supervisor at a local Walmart, and to provide comfort to a community struggling to understand and deal with the tragedy.

Among them were dozens of loved ones of the victims, several store employees, local clergy, and numerous city, state and national leaders.

Near the end of the 90-minute service — held at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church, also known as The Mount — relatives of the victims were called up to each light a tall, purple candle in memory of their family member. Employees of the Walmart on Sam’s Circle where the shooting occurred late Tuesday night also were invited to come forward as more than a dozen Chesapeake pastors gathered around them in prayer.

Killed were Tyneka Johnson, 22, of Portsmouth; and, from Chesapeake, Randall Blevins, 70; Lorenzo Gamble, 43; Brian Pendleton, 38; Kellie Pyle, 52; and Fernando Chavez-Barron, 16. All were employees of the Walmart store where the shooting occurred.

The event was hosted by the Chesapeake Coalition of Black Pastors. Bishop Kevin White, president of the coalition, said members gathered less than 24 hours after the shooting to discuss what they could do to help.

“It was all about the families. To let them know they’re not alone on this journey,” White said after the service. “We knew that bringing them together would help them and comfort them and I think we accomplished that tonight.”

Among the speakers at the event were U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, state Sen. Mamie Locke, and Chesapeake City Councilman Don Carey. Perhaps the loudest applause and cheers of the night came when Scott told the crowd of his hope that “elected leaders would do everything possible to end the scourge of gun violence.”

Shelia Bell, who’s worked at the Walmart where the shooting occurred since 2009, was among the employees who came. Bell worked the same shift as the victims, but was off the night it happened.

She said she knew and worked with most of those killed. She also knew the shooter: a 31-year-old overnight team leader who police said opened fire in a break room, killing six fellow employees and injuring three others, before turning the gun on himself.

What Bell didn’t know until Sunday night was that one of the employees killed — Lorenzo Gamble — was the son of one of her high school classmates.

Bell, 70, said she and Gamble’s mother graduated from Crestwood High School in Chesapeake in 1970. Bell guessed it had been at least 15 years since the two of them had seen each other. She immediately walked up to Gamble’s mother at the end of the service and embraced her.

“I didn’t know Lorenzo was your baby,” Bell said as she held her friend tight.

Bell described Gamble as a hard worker. “He was very quiet,” she said. “He came in and went straight to work. He didn’t bother anyone.”

Brian Pendleton was the victim Bell said she knew best. They often ate together and Pendleton would help her carry heavy and bulky items, she said.

Bell said she won’t be going back to work at the store when it reopens. She’d been considering retiring for a while, she said, and the shooting convinced her it was time.

“I’d been thinking about it but I think this put the cap on that,” she said.

Jane Harper, jane.harper@pilotonline.com