It was the final hour of extended store opening on Tuesday at the Walmart Supercenter in the commercial heart of Chesapeake, Virginia’s second-largest city. Shoppers scrambled to make last-minute purchases for Thanksgiving. Then shots rang out.
Shortly after 10pm an employee, said to be a manager, entered a break room at the back of the store where staff were gathering at the start of the overnight shift, and according to an eyewitness “just started spraying”. The gunman used a pistol to take down his victims and then turned the weapon on himself, all within minutes.
Donya Prioleau, a worker at the store, captured on Facebook the horror of the moment. She expressed not only her own trauma at seeing three friends killed by a silent gunman right in front of her, but also a wider despair at yet another mass shooting two days before a holiday meant for reflection and celebration.
She wrote: “Somebody’s baby, mom, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparents … whoever did not make it home tonight! Thanksgiving is a holiday we celebrate with friends and family … there are those who cannot. I cannot unsee what happened in that breakroom.”
It is not just the families and friends of the dead and injured who will not be celebrating on Thursday. Three days before the Walmart shooting, a man armed with a long rifle entered an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs and opened fire.
As a result, the families of five people who were killed and 25 injured have also been left with nothing for which to give thanks. And it doesn’t end there.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been seven mass shootings in the US in as many days. In addition to the bloodletting in Chesapeake and Colorado Springs, four people were killed at a marijuana farm in Oklahoma on Sunday; a mother and her three children were shot dead in Richmond, Virginia on Friday; and mass shootings – defined as four people or more killed or injured with a firearm – occurred in Illinois, Mississippi and Texas.
All in all, Thanksgiving week has seen 22 people killed and 44 injured, all through the barrel of a gun.
By the archive’s definition, there have been 606 mass shootings in the US this year. That means that 2022 is shaping up to be one of the worst years in recent memory, on a par or exceeding the bloodletting of 2020 which recorded 610 such incidents and last year which saw 690.
The painful collision of so much tragedy in a week of national rejoicing would perhaps be cause for widespread soul-searching. But the public response has fallen quickly and predictably into patterns all too familiar to observers of America’s gun crisis.
In Virginia, the Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, marked the second of the week’s mass shootings with the time-worn refrain: “Our hearts break with the community of Chesapeake this morning … Heinous acts of violence have no place in our communities.”
As one of the most astute gun control advocates, Shannon Watts, noted, the governor’s response lacked two poignant words: “gunman” and “shooting”. In her own analysis of a devastating week, Watts was more forthright.
“It’s the fucking guns,” she tweeted. “If more guns and fewer gun laws made us safer, America would be the safest nation in the world. But 400,000,000 guns in the hands of civilians coupled with weak gun laws have given us a 25 times higher gun homicide rate than any peer nation.”
In Colorado, the suspect in the Club Q shooting has been discharged from hospital and is now being held in the local county jail. Anderson Lee Aldrich, 22, was expected to appear in court for the first time on Wednesday, facing possible murder and hate crime charges.
The suspect’s name was changed six years ago from Nicholas Franklin Brink. In court filings, the suspect’s defense lawyers said they are nonbinary and use they/them pronouns.
The suspect appears to have had possession of deadly weapons before the shooting despite an incident 18 months ago in which their mother was threatened with a homemade bomb. There is no indication that authorities invoked a state red flag law that allows the seizure of weapons from anyone considered a danger to themselves or others.
Colorado Springs has a reputation as one of the most conservative US cities. It is home to several prominent evangelical Christian and anti-abortion groups.
In 2019, El Paso county, which covers the city, declared itself a “second amendment sanctuary”. The measure referenced the constitutional right to bear arms, wielded in protest against attempts to tighten gun controls in the state in the wake of several gruesome mass shootings.