NORFOLK, Va. — Two survivors of the Walmart mass shooting in Chesapeake are thankful to be alive, and on Thanksgiving, they expressed their gratitude by serving others.
For Mechele Hairston, this holiday is now a story of survival and perseverance.
“Beyond the adversity, just move forward," she said.
Hairston and Maceo Harrison were up bright and early Thursday to host a Thanksgiving celebration in Norfolk's Berkley neighborhood.
The event, held at the St. Helena ballfield, included food for local families and youth football games between teams in the Norfolk community. It also honored Lake Taylor Middle School football players for winning an area championship.
The event is part of Harrison and Hairston's nonprofit, Impact Virginia Inc.
“Just coming out and being able to see the volunteers and the youth gives us the sense of hope that it will get better. We just gotta keep persevering," said Hairston.
But this event almost didn’t happen.
The pair thought about canceling, after the terror they experienced while shopping for the occasion earlier in the week.
On Tuesday night, Hairston said she and Harrison needed supplies. They decided to stop by the Walmart off Battlefield Boulevard in Chesapeake.
They needed eggs, but Hairston said she had to pick up barbecue sauce for her daughter, first.
“Had we been in the back where the eggs were, it could have been different,” she said.
Not long after entering the store, tragedy struck.
Hairston and Harrison were among the nearly 50 people police say were inside the Walmart store, when an employee started shooting.
The gunman shot and killed six people and injured seven others. Some of those people remain hospitalized as of Thursday night.
“We just heard, ‘He’s back there shooting!’ Then we heard the shots again," said Hairston.
She said she and Harrison got separated, and she hid in a freezer. She prayed until police arrived.
Next to her was a woman and her small child, she recalled.
"At the time, all I could say was ‘Jesus,'" said Hairston.
Chesapeake Police Chief Mark Solesky said officers arrived and entered the building within four minutes of the initial 911 call.
The officers found the gunman dead inside the store. He'd turned the weapon on himself, said Solesky.
“And as I sat in that freezer, [she said] ‘Just Lord, if you give me one more chance, I’ll make an even bigger impact,” she said.
Hairston vividly recounted the terror and panic. She said she doubts she’ll ever forget what she experienced.
As fate would have it, Hairston recounted something she wrote on social media just hours before the shooting.
It reads in part, “My life is worth living.”
"It gave me a sense of hope, that no matter how Tuesday night was, I can face tomorrow. I can continue to persevere," she said.
That’s why Hairston and Harrison knew they couldn't give up on their work.
“I mean, we are here. God gave us another chance, and we are alive because there is more," said Hairston.
Hairston said her prayers are with all of the survivors and the families of the victims.