A store employee who survived the shooting at a Walmart in Virginia said she'd filed a complaint about the shooter's "disturbing behavior" shortly before the deadly attack, but nothing was done.
The employee, Donya Prioleau, filed a lawsuit against Walmart on Tuesday, a week after six people were killed at the Chesapeake store where she had worked for over a year.
The six victims have been identified as Lorenzo Gamble, 43; Brian Pendleton, 38; Kellie Pyle, 52; Randall Blevins, 70; Tyneka Johnson, 22; and 16-year-old Fernando Chavez-Barron.
The suspect — who killed himself after the shooting — was identified as Andre Bing, 31, who had worked at the store since 2010 and served as the overnight "team lead."
Bing had a "long-standing pattern of disturbing and threatening behavior" that was well known among staff, according to the lawsuit. He allegedly told coworkers that "if he was ever fired, he would retaliate and 'people will remember my name,'" and claimed he once "ran over a turtle with a lawnmower just to see its [guts] spray out, which made him hungry and reminded him of ramen noodles."
"Prior to the shooting, Mr. Bing repeatedly asked coworkers if they had received their active shooter training," the lawsuit states. "When coworkers responded that they had, Mr. Bing just smiled and walked away without saying anything."
On Sept. 10, Prioleau submitted a formal complaint to Walmart, according to the lawsuit, after Bing had made inappropriate comments about her age, asking her, “Isn’t your lady clock ticking? Shouldn’t you be having kids?” Prioleau also complained that he "had harassed her for being poor and being short" and called her a bitch.
Prioleau's mother was so concerned about her safety that she came to the store that day to speak with the manager about Bing. But, the lawsuit alleges, the store manager replied that "there was nothing that could be done about Mr. Bing because he was liked by management."
On Nov. 22, just over two months after Prioleau filed her complaint, Bing opened fire in the store, killing six people and wounding several others. Prioleau narrowly escaped the bullets, but saw "several of her coworkers being brutally murdered on either side of her."
"Ms. Prioleau looked at one of her coworkers in the eyes right after she had been shot in the neck," the lawsuit states. "Ms. Prioleau saw the bullet wound in her coworker’s neck, the blood rushing out of it, and the shocked look on her coworker’s helpless face."
Prioleau is seeking $50 million in damages from Walmart, saying she has experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder since the shooting, as well as knee and arm injuries she sustained while fleeing the attack.
The lawsuit accuses Walmart of being aware of Bing's behavior prior to the shooting but failing to take action that could have prevented it. Multiple complaints had previously been made against him for "bullying, threatening, and harassing other employees," and he had even once been demoted because of it, but was then reinstated, according to the lawsuit.
John Morgan and Peter Anderson, the lawyers representing Prioleau, said in a statement "that she and her coworkers had been concerned for months that such an incident could occur at any time."
"As workplace shootings and violence become horrifyingly common, employers have a responsibility to understand the warning signs and take threats seriously in order to protect their employees and customers," they said. "Our hearts are broken for the families of those who lost loved ones and for those, like Ms. Prioleau, whose lives will never be the same because of this trauma. We will work to hold Walmart accountable for failing to stop this tragedy.”
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Walmart said they were "reviewing the Complaint and will be responding as appropriate with the court.”
“The entire Walmart family is heartbroken by the loss of the valued members of our team," the spokesperson said. "Our deepest sympathies go out to our associates and everyone impacted, including those who were injured. We are focused on supporting all our associates with significant resources, including counseling."
The shooting in Chesapeake came just days after the one at Club Q, a gay bar in Colorado Springs, which left five dead and at least 18 more wounded. And just days before that, three football players were fatally shot at the University of Virginia after a fellow student opened fire on a bus returning from a class field trip.
Workplaces are one of the most common sites of mass shootings in the US. Last April, a former employee fatally shot eight coworkers and himself at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. In 2019, a man killed 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal building just hours after sending in his resignation letter. In 2016, a lawn care company employee fatally shot three people at his workplace before he was killed by police in Hesston, Kansas.
The American Public Health Association says gun violence in the US is a public health crisis. It is a leading cause of premature death in the country, responsible for more than 38,000 deaths annually. As of Nov. 29, 18,409 people have died from gun violence this year, and another 21,978 have died by suicide, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.