After three mass shootings, a Thanksgiving with 14 empty chairs

A janitor who works his shift at a Walmart in Virginia. A 40-year-old woman returning to Colorado Springs for vacation. A young man at his girlfriend’s side watching her girlfriend in a drag show.

Three college football players. 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 tally of new deaths from just three of this month’s mass shootings is an accurate picture of the ideals – inclusivity, resolving differences – that America prides itself on every November at this time. Fourteen people who didn’t know their last Thanksgiving were already behind them.

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

That shooting came after three students were killed at the University of Virginia on November 13 and five people at a Colorado Springs gay club on Saturday night.

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

“She wanted to be at my house for Thanksgiving,” Natalee Skye Bingham said of friend Kelly Loving, a Memphis native who promised a menu of Southern fare — deviled eggs, collards and baked macaroni and cheese.

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

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

All three of the shoots were done in locations that felt very familiar to those on the inside. Secure.

Club Q has been widely described as “family” for LGBTQ and straight guests alike who came for a drink and a show. The University of Virginia athletes were shot dead on a bus while returning from a play they were watching for a class. And now a Walmart store, a place instantly recognizable across America, this one is in a former colony older than the country itself. The state seal of Virginia was created by a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His motto: “Sic Semper Tyrannis.” So always to the tyrants.

“It’s a small town and there’s the Walmart right up the street,” said Sapporah Watkins, 28, who lives nearby. “Either you worked at Walmart or you’re a friend of a friend or whatever the case may be. It’s unexpected. Definitive.”

At the University of Virginia, the murdered football players – Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry, “vibrant, handsome young men” – were celebrated at a memorial service attended by about 9,000 people.

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

His teammate, Mr. Perry, who once dressed up as a red Power Ranger for Halloween as a kid, was so taken 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 the age of 10 dancing with abandon in a parking lot.

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

Halfway 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 this smile that you would see anywhere in the club,” said a friend and colleague, Shadavia Green, 38, “and you literally said, ‘Let me find a reason to go there’ to be closer to Daniel.”

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

“He got crazy wigs and outfits and he jumped all over the stage and he could slide on his knees,” his mother, Sabrina Aston, told The Associated Press. “And he was quite entertaining. Everyone started hooting and yelling.”

Tiara Kelley, a drag performer, said both Mr. Rump and Mr. Aston welcomed her to the Club Q family a month ago, always ready with a shot of Fireball whiskey or some other special blend for her after the Show.

“They were just two of the most amazing people,” she said. “It’s just not something you see very often in a bar when the bartenders are that involved and interested,” she said.

Raymond Green Vance, 22, was the opposite of a regular — he’d first set foot in Club Q on Saturday to watch the show with his girlfriend since middle school and her father, Richard M. Fierro, a US veteran Army to see Veteran happy to be invited.

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

As the shooting began, Mr. Fierro jumped to his feet and charged the attacker, saving countless lives.

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

In Chesapeake, the dead were identified a day after Tuesday night’s shooting, in which a longtime Walmart executive came into 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 that set prices and arranged merchandise. Brian Pendleton, a maintenance technician known for helping with any problem.

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

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

Sweet.

Kind.

To smile.

exhilarated.

Nice.

Friend.

They are among the qualities for which Americans are most grateful, now echoed in obituaries that are too brief.

Chris Cameron, Amy Qin, Kris Rhim, Dave Philipps, Eliza Fawcett, Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Rich Griset contributed coverage.

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