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At This Hour

Six Walmart Employees Killed by Manager in Virginia Store; Suspect in Colorado LGBTQ Mass Shooting Held Without Bail; Justice Department Seeks Testimony from Mike Pence in January 6th Probe. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 24, 2022 - 12:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to a special holiday edition of AT THIS HOUR. I'm Erica Hill, in for Kate Bolduan.

We begin in Virginia this hour where we are learning new details about the victims of a mass shooting at a Walmart store this week. Six employees were killed by one of their managers when he opened fire in a break room. The victims who you see here range in age from 70 to just 16 years old. That young man's name has not been released because of his age.

Police say after shooting the victims the suspect turned the gun on himself. Authorities are now working to determine a motive for the attack. Survivors tell CNN the manager was a, quote, "loner" who sometimes said disturbing things.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is live in Chesapeake, Virginia, for us this morning.

Dianne, what more do we know about these six victims about their lives?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Erica, it's Thanksgiving and people often spend Thanksgiving with their family or their friends, and there are six families here in the Chesapeake area that aren't going to be able to do that and instead are trying to cope with what the rest of their lives look like without their loved ones but their friends, the people who were in this store that night, who spent their friends' unexpected last moments with them in those minutes of terror inside the store, they want people to know that these were good people.

They were their friends, but they were also like a family. When you work overnights in retail, look, you become very close oftentimes and, look, I want to go through their names so people know who they lost in the shooting, that it wasn't just a mass shooting, there are people involved in this here. Lorenzo Gamble was 43 years old. Brian Pendleton was 38. Kellie Pyle was 52, Randy Blevins was 70. Tyneka Johnson was 22. And there was this 16-year-old male who again whose name we are not using because the city said they're not identifying him because he is a minor. All of those victims age 16 to 70 years old were employees here at

Walmart. They were at work. Talking to the survivors, their colleagues who made it out that night, describing those moments of terror and how they're attempting to process it now, I want you to take a listen.


JESSIE WILCZEWSKI, SURVIVOR: I was hiding underneath a table. And he told me to come out and I had my bag and I put my bag out first as like, please, I don't have anything. You see my hands type thing. I slide from out underneath of the table and I'm shaking, and I probably looked like a chihuahua at that point, and he had just the gun to my forehead, and it's just really hard. He told me to go home and he took the gun away from my forehead and he was aiming it at the ceiling, and he said, Jessie, go home, and I made it right to where the egg aisle starts and I just remember gripping my bag and thinking, if he shoots me in the back well, he's going to have to try really hard because I'm running and I booked it.


GALLAGHER: That was just her fifth day at work at this Walmart. Talking to other survivors, many of them are trying to go through their memories to see if there was some kind of warning sign, if there was something that they should have picked up on but almost everyone that we've spoken to, employees, survivors, former employees, Erica, they say that he had issues, they thought. He wasn't a great person to work with, they didn't think, but had no idea it would come to this.

I do have one quick update. Of the five patients at the Norfolk Sentara General Hospital, we've just got word that one of those patients who was injured here in the shooting has since been released, Erica. Two patients remain in critical condition.


HILL: I suppose one bit of positive news that one of those shooting victims has been released and hopefully able to be surrounded by those that they love on this day.

Dianne, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

We are of course continuing to cover the mass shooting in Colorado where five people were killed inside an LGBTQ Plus bar. The suspect making their first court appearance looking bruised and bloodied. The alleged shooter is being held without bail on murder and potential hate crime charges.

CNN's Nick Watt is live in Colorado Springs this morning.

So, Nick, what happened in court yesterday?

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was brief, Erica. I can tell you that. The suspect spoke only to confirm name, said yes, that they had watched the video about their rights, no, they had no further questions. As you mentioned, the suspect bruised, slurring, slumped in a chair, live from this jailhouse behind me.

Remember that this suspect was beaten by three patrons of that club who took the suspect down as the suspect was firing trying to cause havoc in that club. Beaten around the face, kicked around the head by a young naval officer and a transwoman.

Now, we have been told by the legal representation for the suspect that the suspect identifies as nonbinary but it was interesting to note that the judge did not use they-them pronouns during the hearing. So next appearance is now scheduled for December 6th so a little under two weeks from now and that's when we expect the formal charges.

Right now we have the arrest warrant charges, five counts of first degree murder, five counts of bias-related crimes. Investigators are trying to prove that what looks like hate was, indeed, driven by hate -- Erica.

HILL: Nick Watt, appreciate it. Thank you.

Joining me now CNN law enforcement analyst Jonathan Wackrow, CNN legal analyst Areva Martin.

Good to see you both this morning. Areva, picking up where Nick left off there in Colorado, he mentioned the charges. Of course, the next court date December 6th. Do you expect that more charges could be brought here potentially involving the surviving victims who were in that bar?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, good morning, Erica. We do know from reports from the district attorney in that jurisdiction that he does plan to file additional charges, charges as you said related to all of the victims, those that survived because they also experienced, you know, an assault based on being in that nightclub as that shooter, as that defendant was shooting and killing the individuals we know who, unfortunately, lost their lives.

And we also know, Erica, that there is this racially -- not racially but biased motivated crimes, essentially hate crime charges that the district attorney is also looking at and he's going to be investigating whether this individual had issues that caused him to target this gay bar. We know the defendant has indicated that they are nonbinary so the question is, was this related to other individuals because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

Text messages, e-mails, social media posts. All of those things are going to be combed through as investigators try to determine if this was a biased motivated crime.

HILL: Text messages, social media, e-mails, all of that will also be a focus in Virginia, Jonathan, where the shooter turned the gun on himself, died of that self-inflicted gunshot wound but there are so, so many questions about motive. Looking into all of that information will be key here for investigators as they try to piece this together.

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, absolutely, Erica, and, you know, when we start looking at, you know, the attack at the Walmart, you know, while we don't know the motive, and it's going to be very difficult because the shooter is dead, we can't interview them, so what do we have to do? We have to look at other things that are, you know, contributing factors to this attack, to try to piece together what was the shooter's intent and motivation in launching this, you know, horrific crime.

And what we've seen is patterns of past mass shootings, one of which is that targeted acts of violence, typically in response to some type of grievance. And when we talk about the workplace, worker-on-worker violence, you know, was there some sort of precipitating event that had occurred that, you know, angered this worker with a potential other worker?

You know, what's really tragic about workplace violence incidents is that the attacker knows the environment and we see this very clearly here. This was a pre-shift meeting before the midnight shift. Everyone was gathered in one location. The attacker knew that. So, again, that's all going to go, you know, to the investigative process is, you know, was this moment in time selected because this group was together and was this attacker trying to focus in on one or multiple people within that room.


So a challenge for law enforcement that the attacker is dead. But, you know, I think that there is enough contributing factors here that they will be able to get a motive, you know, relatively soon.

HILL: And a number of former employees have been talking to CNN as you pointed out earlier, Jonathan, and as we heard in our reporting, about their views of the shooter and what it was like to work for him, to work under him.

Areva, if, and I know this is an important part of the equation, but if Walmart was aware of some of these concerns, what does that mean potentially in terms of liability for the company?

MARTIN: Yes, there are a couple of different classes of individuals involved. Some of the individuals that are hospitalized, Erica, we don't know if all are employees or if they are shoppers. Clearly the shoppers are going to have a clear pathway in terms of filing lawsuits against Walmart, negligent hiring, negligent supervision related to this employee.

The employees who lost their lives, their loved ones may have a more difficult challenge because these individuals were shot during the course and scope of their employment, but if there were glaring red flags that were ignored, red flags that suggested that this individual was violent or had the capability of being violent, that may give these victims' families an opportunity to skirt typical workers' compensation laws which make it very difficult in states for employees or their loved ones or descendants, heirs included, to sue an employer for a work-related injury or death.

So lots of questions about what Walmart knew or should have known and what actions they took, if any, to protect the other employees. We hear a lot about employers doing active shooter drills and doing things to prepare employees for outside people coming into the workplace, but employers also, Erica, have to be concerned about employee-on-employee violence such as this.

HILL: Areva, Jonathan, thank you both for your time. Thanks for giving up part of your holiday to be with us as well. Appreciate it.

WACKROW: Thank you, Erica.

HILL: Coming up here, the Justice Department hitting a critical point in its January 6th investigation. Will former Vice President Mike Pence cooperate with prosecutors? We'll discuss next.



HILL: President Biden and the first lady honoring some of America's first responders on this Thanksgiving, stopping by a firehouse in Nantucket to thank them for keeping the community safe. Biden seen chatting with the folks there for several minutes and also dropped off what appeared to be a couple of pies.

Well, is Mike Pence a willing witness? The Justice Department intends to find out. CNN has learned federal prosecutors have reached out to the former vice president's team in recent weeks to seek his testimony about the actions of Donald Trump and his allies to impede the transfer of power after the 2020 election.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live this morning in Washington.

So, Katelyn, what more do we know here? Do we know just how willing the former vice president may or may not be in terms of cooperating with the DOJ's investigation?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems right now that he's not saying no so we're watching really closely, though, in these coming weeks. The new Special Counsel Jack Smith and the decisions that he will be making now that he leads the criminal investigation around the 2020 election, and negotiating with Mike Pence's team for testimony is not going to be a small thing.

Our understanding, according to multiple sources, Erica, is that Pence's team was approached by Justice Department prosecutors weeks ago, seeking his testimony. That would be before Smith's appointment as special counsel. And Pence has been open to finding a possible agreement where he could become a witness in this investigation so it's not clear yet how hard the special counsel will be pushing for Pence to speak but the former vice president has flushed out a lot of his version of what happened in recent weeks whenever he released his book.

He's sharing exactly the types of details like direct conversations he had with Donald Trump about Trump's wish that he block the congressional vote for the president on January 6th, Pence also spoke about Trump calling him a wimp to his face. Those are the things that prosecutors would want to likely directly hear from Pence if they do get his testimony.

So, Erica, Pence is not saying no or digging in his heels at this point, but we still will need to see how this plays out. There could be a long road ahead including watching whether Donald Trump tries to block his own vice president's testimony -- Erica.

HILL: I think most folks would not be shocked were that to happen given the track record. Katielyn, appreciate it. Happy Thanksgiving.

Joining me now CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein who's a senior editor at "The Atlantic."

Ron, good to see you this morning. So I think what's interesting about this is we know a lot about what Mike Pence would likely say because he's written about it in his book, and he's also talking a lot about it on his book tour. If he were to go voluntarily testify, could that help perhaps remove some of the cries of, oh, the DOJ is so political, look at the politics here, right? Not that there's any proof to those protests. But even just the simple fact of Mike Pence saying, yes, I'm going to come in and I'm going to talk to you, how helpful could that be in the end?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, look, first of all, Happy Thanksgiving to you and everybody watching, Erica.

HILL: And to you.

BROWNSTEIN: I think this is a moment of truth for Mike Pence. I mean, obviously he did the right thing on January 6th under enormous pressure and even physical threat. But in the time since he has only gone so far in criticizing Trump or breaking with Trump. I mean, he has stopped short of I think doing anything that would be seen as an irrevocable break with the former president.

He's called him reckless in his actions, but he hasn't, for example, and hasn't I think as far as I know, said that his actions on January 6th disqualify him from being president again, and of course he's refusing to testify to the January 6th Committee.


Whatever he tells the investigators, if he does voluntarily testify as you say he validates the inquiry, and I think taking that step of voluntarily testifying, I think, would be a more significant break from Trump than anything he has done so far whereas I say he has been careful to go so far but only so far in criticizing the former president.

HILL: And that's such an interesting point because we are starting to see this shift or this break, however you want to characterize it, of perhaps some Republicans starting to move maybe slowly but starting to move away from the former president. Some of that is fallout from the midterms. Some of that perhaps is using the cover of the midterms to make that move.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, it's really striking, you know, as I've said before, you know, extorting the government of Ukraine, trying to overturn the 2020 election, basically fomenting a riot around that effort, stockpiling classified documents after he left the presidency, none of that was sufficient because Republicans in masse the leadership to break from Donald Trump so long as they thought they had electoral advantage from his ability to mobilize his base.

The bridge too far for them was Trump pushing through candidates who were poorly situated to run and win in 2022. That is the point at which, you know, they say this is too much. No further. We'll see how that works out in practice because while I think that is a pretty broad view in the Republican leadership, it's another question whether the base is there, it's another question even whether House Republicans are there given that they have signaled an investigative agenda that is focused heavily on Trump grievances.

So we'll see how far the party can really get away from him. But there's no question that at the elite level, donors and more elected officials, see Trump as kind of a dead end for 2024.

HILL: Way to set up my next question, Ron Brownstein, so thank you for that. As we dive into what things are going to look like come January. So we are still waiting on one House seat, just one, so the current split is 221, Republican, 213 Democrats there. That's the current balance. It is a slim margin for Republicans.

Number one on the agenda before we even get to, you know, can they pass -- as a caucus can they pass legislation, number one if Kevin McCarthy can actually get that speakership, whether there are enough votes among Republicans. I mean, what are you anticipating when this new Congress is sworn in?

BROWNSTEIN: You know, first of all, you know, the speakership is harder than becoming the leader of the minority caucus obviously or even in the Senate becoming the majority leader because you need a majority of the body, not just a majority of your caucus, and with such a narrow edge for Republicans, that gives enormous leverage to really any group that wants to, you know, exert the pressure that they have.

I suspect in the end McCarthy will get the vote with a lot of concessions to the right, and that goes to kind of the poor challenge that Republicans will face in governing. Not only on legislation, but even as they pursue what they promise will be a very aggressive investigative agenda on Joe Biden. The vast majority of the Republican caucus, about roughly three-quarters of them, in the House, in the new House will be from districts that are very pro-Trump, Trump country, places that he won by 10 points or more in 2020.

But their majority is dependent on 18 House Republicans in districts that voted for Biden in 2020, most of those, a majority of those are New York and California. States that will unquestionably be tougher for Republicans in a presidential year than they were in the off-year, and those members will be the ones who are exposed if the House Republicans pursue an agenda whether on policy or investigation that really reaffirms kind of their identity as the party of Trump after an election in which we saw in purple and blue states a real recoil from that among voters.

HILL: Yes, well, certainly be interesting to see. Quickly, before I let you go, we did get that important court decision out of Georgia. The state Supreme Court there saying early voting can, in fact, take place on Saturday, rejecting a bid from Republicans to block it.

This is a pretty significant ruling.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, I mean it's important. Look, turnout obviously in the midterm is key. To me the critical question is not the Democratic turnout. I suspect that will be robust and comparable to what we saw in November. The issue is whether Republicans who have had their doubts about Herschel Walker, and certainly there are many reasons for that, will they come out again now that he can no longer be the 51st vote that creates a Republican Senate majority? Will those Republicans uneasy about Walker who maybe came out for Kemp and maybe came out because they want McConnell not Schumer to be running the place? Will they feel motivated to come out again now that control of the Senate has already been settled? I think that is the real challenge for Republicans even more than whatever the Democrats do.

HILL: Yes, well, I guess we'll be watching and know the answer in a matter of a week, two weeks.


BROWNSTEIN: A couple weeks.

HILL: There we go. Couple of weeks. Ron, good to see you. Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Happy Thanksgiving.

HILL: Just ahead here, Russia continues to strike Ukraine's energy infrastructure, knocking out power to millions of Ukrainians. We're going to get the latest from the war in Ukraine next.