An update on the shooting at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Va. A look at whether holiday travel is returning to pre-pandemic levels, and what the United Nations can do to support Iranian protesters.
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
The city of Chesapeake, Va., is reeling on this Thanksgiving Day from the mass shooting earlier this week at a Walmart. The city released the names of five of the six people killed. Authorities, though, are withholding the name and photo of the sixth victim, a minor. Police identified the shooter as a 31-year-old Walmart employee. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This was the third mass shooting in Virginia in just two weeks. Reporter William Wan has been tracking developments for The Washington Post. William, what more can you tell us about the victims?
WILLIAM WAN: Yeah, we’ve been learning a lot about them. It’s quite sad. You know, we talked to the mother of Lorenzo Gamble. You know, he’s 43 years old, has long time been a janitor at this Walmart. He was getting ready to make cake and banana pudding for his family. His mom said he had two sons. They were going to have 16 family members total at their Thanksgiving dinner. And she was telling him, you know, you got to cook more. It’s going to be a lot of people. And she talked about, you know, going into his house yesterday after everything happened, you know, making his bed, straightening his things and seeing the ingredients for that banana pudding cake on his kitchen and knowing he’d never be there to make it again. There is also Kellie Pyle. She was a young grandmother at age 52. She had two grown children and a 2-year-old granddaughter she was going to spend Thanksgiving with and really was looking forward to that and had just gotten engaged again with her high school sweetheart. Just story after story of these victims, real people who had plans, you know, and their life got cut short now.
MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. That’s just awful. What have you learned from the people who were inside the store when the shooting happened?
WAN: Yeah, I talked to a few of these workers who were just really shaken up. I talked to Donia Prillough (ph). She is on that overnight stocking crew that works at Walmart. You know, the shooting happened around 10 at night. And so this is the crew that, you know, refills the shelves every night at the store. What they described is a shooter – you know, he is a supervisor at that Walmart. And a team lead is what they call it. And so they describe him just walking into that break room where they are all kind of gathered, making plans for the weekend and just started shooting. They describe it going – you know, hearing this pop, pop, pop and the weird vision that seems surreal to a lot of them of just co-worker after co-worker falling on the ground. We know a few things, like it was a handgun. He shot many people. It seemed to begin from outside the store and culminated in that break room.
MARTÍNEZ: One more thing really quick, William. I mean, third mass shooting in Virginia in about two weeks – I mean, how are people there handling things?
WAN: It’s just – it’s difficult. Just, you know, 10 days ago, I was covering the University of Virginia shooting. There’s a lot of people shaken up. There’s talk of policy change, but there’s always talk of that as well. It’s hard right now, I think, especially with holidays.
MARTÍNEZ: That’s Washington Post reporter William Wan. Thanks a lot, William.
WAN: Thank you.
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MARTÍNEZ: All right. So hopefully, you got to your Thanksgiving destination safely and without too many hassles because the number of people traveling this week appears to be close to pre-pandemic levels. And that means long lines at airports and train stations, jampacked planes and gridlocked roads and highways. NPR’s transportation correspondent, David Schaper, is watching the roads and the skies to give us some perspective on Thanksgiving travel. David, I’ve been on quite a few planes the last couple of weeks. There has never been an empty seat anywhere on that plane. So are travelers and this travel season becoming more like pre-pandemic levels?
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Yeah. I mean, when it comes to flying in particular, travelers are definitely back. I mean, one airline industry official says this is the first normal holiday season in three years. The number of people flying between now and the start of the new year is expected to get very close to pre-pandemic levels, if not surpass pre-pandemic levels. Nick Calio, the head of the industry group Airlines for America, puts it this way.
NICK CALIO: It’s going to be very busy. We’re going to be flying over 2 million people a day. And it’s been a rough go. It’s been two years or three years since we’ve had a normal Thanksgiving.
SCHAPER: What’s interesting about this, A, is that airlines are actually flying fewer flights over the holidays this year than last year. It’s 4% fewer flights and 13% fewer flights than in 2019, according to the air travel data firm Cirium. But at the same time, they’re actually offering more seats.
MARTÍNEZ: OK. Fewer flights, more seats – how does that work, and how is it affecting airfares?
SCHAPER: Well, the airlines are just flying bigger planes while parking some of their smaller regional jets. It’s just more efficient and economical to fly more passengers on fewer planes with fewer pilots. So this means there will be more seats available on routes between big cities. But it’s going to be a lot more difficult to find flights to Grand Junction, Colo., or Duluth, Minn., or other smaller markets. And across the board, capacity is very tight, and the airlines’ costs are up. So airfares are up substantially – 43% over last year and 15% above 2019 levels.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, it used to be that yesterday, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday after were the busiest days for the airlines all year. Is that still true?
SCHAPER: Yeah. I mean, those are still the two busiest travel days of the Thanksgiving period, but they’re not as busy as they used to be. You know, like everything else post-pandemic, people are changing the way they travel. Mike Arnot of the airline data firm Cirium says especially those who can work remotely, they seem to be spreading out their travel over the entire Thanksgiving week and beyond.
MIKE ARNOT: Instead of trying to get back to the office on the Monday after Thanksgiving, maybe you can use that flexible work schedule that you have to pick the cheaper travel day, which will be, you know, the Tuesday or the Wednesday right after Thanksgiving.
MARTÍNEZ: David, what about the people that don’t want to fly and want to drive? What do the roads look like?
SCHAPER: Well, they’re very busy. AAA estimates nearly 49 million people are driving for Thanksgiving, most of them leaving home yesterday, which gave us some of the worst traffic jams of the entire weekend. The mobility data analytics firm INRIX projects where the worst congestion will be and finds that there will likely be some pretty bad traffic jams on Sunday when many of us return home. And they’re even predicting some heavy traffic on Saturday in a lot of cities as well.
Now, meanwhile, the National Safety Council is urging drivers to be cautious, especially if, like me, you’re in a part of the country that’s likely getting snow. They estimate more than 500 people will die in preventable crashes on the nation’s roadways through Sunday, and many of them due to intoxicated drivers.
MARTÍNEZ: That’s NPR transportation correspondent David Schaper. David, thanks.
SCHAPER: My pleasure, A.
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MARTÍNEZ: While young Iranians continue two months of street protests, the U.S. and other countries are looking at whether there are things they can do to support their demands for more freedom. The United Nations Human Rights Council is discussing it today in Switzerland. Beth Van Schaack, who heads the State Department’s Global Criminal Justice Office, says that it’s a step in the right direction.
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BETH VAN SCHAACK: We know that young people are really in the lead here and that young people have borne the brunt of this crackdown. The Human Rights Council has not in the past really focused its attention in a laser way on Iran, and the recent events have finally sort of woken that institution up.
MARTÍNEZ: But what can the international community really do? Joining us to talk about all this is NPR’s Michele Kelemen. All right, Michele, so, first of all, tell us about this meeting in Geneva and what’s expected.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: So the plan is that they’ll set up a group that will kind of sift through the evidence of human rights violations and gather material that could eventually be used in trials against Iranian officials. You know, these protests began over the death in custody of a young Iranian woman back in September. And activists say several hundred Iranians have been killed since then, including many teenagers. Thousands have also been arrested. There are reports of torture and execution, lots of online video evidence. And Iranian American human rights lawyer Gissou Nia told me that a U.N. fact-finding team could help verify these videos and reports. Take a listen.
GISSOU NIA: Having a dedicated team that can do that and sort of put the imprint of an international, independent investigative process is really key, in my view.
KELEMEN: And she says that would give the world a clearer picture of what’s happening in Iran and can help shape the international response.
MARTÍNEZ: The U.S. and Europe have also been imposing sanctions on Iranian officials that are involved in the crackdown. Is there any more they can do?
KELEMEN: Yeah. There were actually more names added to a U.S. sanctions list just this week, and that will likely continue. There were also some other kind of more symbolic things that can be done to isolate Iran diplomatically. Many Iranian women and their supporters abroad want Iran kicked off the U.N. Commission on Women, for instance. The U.S. says it’s working on that. There’s going to be a meeting in New York in early December to discuss ways to get Iran off that commission or at least suspended from it.
MARTÍNEZ: But most of these things are – what? – symbolic, so why not do more?
KELEMEN: Well, you know, the U.S. is working with tech companies, for instance, to help Iranians communicate with each other and get around internet restrictions. There’s always a danger, though, that this kind of direct support could backfire and put protesters at even more risk because Iranian leaders always accused the U.S. and Israel of fomenting unrest in the country. They call these protests riots. And activists say that’s one reason why it’s important to bring these issues up at the U.N. and get non-Western countries on board to pressure Iran.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, before the protests, the big question was whether the U.S. and other world powers and Iran would revive the Iran nuclear deal. And that’s aimed at preventing Iran from making nuclear weapons. Where does the nuclear diplomacy with Iran fit into all this?
KELEMEN: Well, Iran’s been making major advances to its nuclear program, and the White House says it’s watching all that with deep concern. The U.S. still thinks the best way to contain Iran’s nuclear program is through diplomacy. But it says Iran has been adding too many demands, and the world’s focus now is on the protesters.
MARTÍNEZ: All right. That’s NPR’s Michele Kelemen. Michele, thanks.
KELEMEN: Thank you.
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