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After 3 mass shootings, a Thanksgiving with 14 empty chairs


A janitor working his shift at a Virginia Walmart. A 40-year-old woman returns home to Colorado Springs for vacation. A young man alongside his girlfriend, watching her friend perform in a drag show.

Three college footballers. A mother who worked to help foster children. A bartender who remembered your drink and another who danced.

White and black, gay and straight, old and young. The collection of new deaths from just three of this month’s mass shootings epitomizes the ideals – inclusiveness, setting aside differences – that America prides itself on at this time every November. Fourteen people who didn’t know their last Thanksgiving were already behind them.

Tuesday’s rampage, in which six people were killed at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va., was the 33rd mass shooting in November alone and the 606th nationwide this year, according to Gun Violence Archive.

The shooting happened after three students were killed at the University of Virginia on Nov. 13 and five people were killed Saturday night at a gay club in Colorado Springs.

Yesterday’s parents, children and friends have become Thursday’s empty chairs.

“She was going to be at my house for Thanksgiving,” Natalee Skye Bingham said of her friend, Memphis native Kelly Loving, who promised a variety of Southern dishes – deviled eggs, collard greens and baked mac and cheese .

“She couldn’t wait to cook for me,” Ms Bingham said. “And I was looking forward to cooking for her.”

Instead, she was killed inside Club Q on a night meant to cheer her up. “Now it’s one less person at my table,” Ms Bingham said.

All three shoots were done in locations that, to those inside, felt warmly familiar. Sure.

Club Q was widely described as a “family” for LGBTQ and straight patrons who came there for a drink and a show. The University of Virginia athletes were shot on a bus returning from a room they had watched during a class. And now a Walmart store, an instantly recognizable spot across America, this one located in a former colony older than the country itself. The Virginia state seal was created by a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His motto: “Sic Semper Tyrannis”. So always to tyrants.

“It’s a small town, and it’s Walmart just down the street,” said Sapporah Watkins, 28, who lives nearby. “Either you worked at Walmart, or a friend of a friend, or whatever. It’s unexpected. Absolutely.”

At the University of Virginia, slain football players – Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry, ‘spiritual and handsome young men’ – were celebrated at a memorial service that drew some 9,000 people.

Fearsome on the field, the players are remembered as nice young boys. Mr. Davis, a wide receiver on the team, had the freeway exit number leading to his hometown of Ridgeville, SC tattooed on his arm, and he made it sound like “the greatest city in the world.” world,” recalls a teammate. .

His teammate, Mr. Perry, once dressed as a red Power Ranger for Halloween as a child, so impressed with his costume that he didn’t take it off until after Thanksgiving. And Mr. Chandler’s family still had a video of him at age 10, dancing with abandon in a parking lot.

“To my three young kings, I am eternally grateful to you,” their coach, Tony Elliott, said during the service. “Thank you for being a light to the world.”

Across the country, at Club Q, with its bingo and karaoke nights and weekend drag shows, Derrick Rump and Daniel Aston were popular bartenders.

“Daniel had that smile you’d see from all over the club,” said friend and colleague Shadavia Green, 38, “and you’d literally be like, ‘Let me find a reason to walk over there,’ just to be closer to Daniel.

Mr Aston, a 28-year-old transgender man, loved performing at the shows.

“He would have crazy wigs and outfits and he would jump across the stage and he could slide on his knees,” his mother, Sabrina Aston, told The Associated Press. “And it was quite fun. Everyone started screaming and screaming.

Tiara Kelley, a drag performer, said Mr Rump and Mr Aston welcomed her into the Club Q family a month ago, always ready with a shot of Fireball whiskey or another special concoction for her after the spectacle.

“They were just two of the most amazing people,” she said. “It’s just not something you get very often in a bar, to have the bartenders so involved and interested,” she said.

Raymond Green Vance, 22, was the complete opposite of a regular — he had only set foot in Club Q for the first time on Saturday, to watch the show with his girlfriend from college and his father, Richard M. Fierro, a serviceman in the United States Army. veteran happy to be invited.

“These kids want to live this way, want to have a good time, have fun,” he said later describing the night. “I’m happy about it because that’s what I fought for, so they can do what they want.”

When the shooting began, Mr. Fierro jumped to his feet and tackled the assailant, saving countless lives.

But later, as the survivors regrouped, the faithful boyfriend was not among them. “My little girl, she screamed,” Mr. Fierro said, “and I cried with her.”

In Chesapeake, the dead were identified a day after Tuesday night’s shooting, in which a longtime Walmart manager arrived at the store with a handgun and extra ammunition and opened fire before killing himself. , police said.

First came the names: Randall Blevins, a longtime member of the team who set prices and organized merchandise. Brian Pendleton, a maintenance man known to help with any problem.

Then came the painfully familiar adjectives: “Quiet,” a neighbor said of one victim, Tyneka Johnson. Another called her “a sweet young woman”.

“Such a nice guy,” posted a friend on Facebook, speaking of Mr Pendleton.

Sweet.

Pleasant.

Smile.

Vibrant.

Beautiful.

Friend.

They are among the qualities for which Americans are most grateful, rendered now in overly short obituaries.

Chris Cameron, Amy Qin, Kris Rhim, david phillips, Eliza Fawcett, Nicolas Bogel-Burroughs and Rich Griset contributed reporting.

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