A Walmart employee shot dead six people at a US store bustling with Thanksgiving holiday shoppers — in the country’s second mass shooting in four days — before turning the pistol on himself, police said Wednesday.
Four other people remained hospitalised in unknown condition following the Tuesday night rampage in the Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, police chief Mark Solesky said.
Solesky told a news conference the gunman was believed to have died of a “self-inflicted gunshot wound” and that the motive behind the latest attack in America’s gun violence crisis was not immediately known.
The assault two days before Thanksgiving, the quintessential American family holiday marked this year on November 24, followed a weekend gun attack at an LGBTQ club in Colorado that killed five people.
It was also the second mass shooting in the state of Virginia this month: three students at the University of Virginia who played on its football team were killed November 13 by a classmate after a field trip.
Emergency calls were first made just after 10pm Tuesday (0300 GMT Wednesday) while the store was still open.
Officers arrived in a matter of two minutes and entered the Walmart two minutes later, Solesky said.
US media reported that the gunman opened fire in a room where employees take meal breaks but the police chief said he could not confirm this.
In the hours afterwards, news footage showed a major police presence around the Walmart, which is located about 150 miles (240 kilometres) southeast of the US capital Washington.
Chesapeake police officer Leo Kosinski said officers and investigators were carefully sweeping the store and securing the area.
Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States, issued a statement early Wednesday saying: “We are shocked at this tragic event.”
The company added that it was “praying for those impacted, the community and our associates. We’re working closely with law enforcement, and we are focused on supporting our associates.”
Virginia state Senator Louise Lucas, who represents the Chesapeake region, said she was “heartbroken that America’s latest mass shooting took place… in my district.”
“I will not rest until we find the solutions to end this gun violence epidemic in our country that has taken so many lives,” she wrote on Twitter.
Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia tweeted: “Tragically, our community is suffering from yet another incident of senseless gun violence just as families are gathering for Thanksgiving.”
The incident occurred three nights after a gunman opened fire inside an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five people and injuring at least 18, in what is being investigated as a possible hate crime.
Authorities said that suspect, identified as 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich, had used a long rifle at the club, where partygoers were marking the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which pays tribute to trans people targeted in violent attacks.
Gun violence occurs at an alarming rate in the United States, where more than 600 mass shootings have occurred so far in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive website.