It was the final hour of the store’s extended opening Tuesday at the Walmart Supercenter in the commercial heart of Chesapeake, Virginia’s second-largest city. Shoppers rushed to make last-minute purchases for Thanksgiving. Then shots rang out.
Shortly after 10:00 p.m., an employee, supposedly a manager, entered a break room at the rear of the store where staff were gathering at the start of the night shift and, according to an eyewitness, “just started spraying.” The gunman used a handgun to take down his victims and then turned it on himself, all in a matter of minutes.
Donya Prioleau, a worker at the store, captured the horror of the moment on Facebook. She expressed not only her own trauma at seeing three friends killed by a silent gunman right in front of her, but also a broader despair over another mass shooting two days before a holiday meant for reflection and celebration.
She wrote: “Someone’s baby, mommy, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparents… who didn’t make it home tonight! Thanksgiving is a holiday we celebrate with friends and family…some people can’t. I can’t stop watching what happened in that break room.”
It’s not just the families and friends of the dead and injured who won’t be celebrating 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 to be thankful for. 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 bloodshed in Chesapeake and Colorado Springs, four people were killed on Sunday at a marijuana farm in Oklahoma; a mother and her three children were shot and killed in Richmond, Virginia on Friday; and mass shootings, defined as four or more people killed or injured with a firearm, that occurred in Illinois, Mississippi, and Texas.
In all, Thanksgiving week has seen 22 people killed and 44 injured, all from the muzzle of a gun.
By the file’s definition, there have been 606 mass shootings in the US this year. That means 2022 is shaping up to be one of the worst years in recent memory, on par with or surpassing the bloodshed 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 jubilation may be cause for a deep examination of conscience. But the public response has slipped quickly and predictably into patterns all too familiar to observers of the US arms crisis.
In Virginia, the Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, scored the second of the week’s mass shootings with the time-worn refrain: “Our hearts break with the Chesapeake community this morning…Heinous acts of violence have no place in our communities.”
As one of the most astute gun control advocates, Shannon Watts, pointed out, the governor’s response lacked two poignant words: “gunman” and “shooting.” In her own analysis of a devastating week, Watts was more direct.
“It’s the damn 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, has given us a firearm homicide rate 25 times higher than any other nation.”
In Colorado, the suspect in the Club Q shooting has been released from the 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 documents, defense attorneys for the suspect said they are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.
The suspect appears to have been in possession of deadly weapons prior to the shooting despite an incident 18 months ago in which his mother was threatened with a pipe bomb. There is no indication that authorities have invoked a red flag state law that allows the seizure of weapons from anyone deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Colorado Springs has a reputation for being one of the most conservative American cities. It is home to several prominent anti-abortion and evangelical Christian groups.
In 2019, El Paso County, which covers the city, declared itself a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.” The measure referred to the constitutional right to bear arms, exercised in protest against attempts to tighten gun controls in the state after several gruesome mass shootings.