The deadly assault at a Virginia Walmart store came two days before Thanksgiving, the quintessential American family holiday

Washington (AFP) - A Walmart employee shot dead six people at a store bustling with Thanksgiving holiday shoppers, before turning the pistol on himself, police said Wednesday, in America’s second mass shooting in four days.

Four other people remained hospitalized in unknown condition following the Tuesday night rampage 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 country’s latest deadly outburst of gun violence was not immediately known.

President Joe Biden condemned “yet another horrific and senseless” attack, mourning the fact “there are now even more tables across the country that will have empty seats this Thanksgiving.”

He added: “There are now more families who know the worst kind of loss and pain imaginable.”

The assault two days before 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.

Virginia shooting

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 10:00 pm 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 kilometers) southeast of the US capital Washington.

- ‘Senseless violence’ -

Gun attacks in grocery stores in America have become increasingly common in recent years. A teenage gunman killed 10 people, most of them Black, at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York in May.

Last year a shooting at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado also left 10 dead. And in a particularly gruesome attack in 2019, a young gunman killed 23 and wounded 26 as he stalked shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

An advocacy group called Guns Down America has reported that from January 1, 2020 to May 14 of this year there were 448 “gun incidents” and 137 deaths at 12 large national retailers.

In Chesapeake, local resident Edna Dunham told CBS news after the shooting, “That could have been me.”

“It could’ve been any of us because we go there so much. It could’ve been any of us,” Dunham said.

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.

So far in 2022, the Gun Violence Archive website has tracked more than 600 mass shootings in the United States – defined as an incident with four or more people shot or killed, not including the shooter.