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Morning news brief

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

We start this morning with news of another mass shooting, this time at Michigan State University.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah, three people are dead, five more people hospitalized for their injuries. Law enforcement say the suspect has also died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. And this mass shooting, well, it's the 67th this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. And that's more mass shootings than days in 2023.

KHALID: Arjun Thakkar from member station WKAR in East Lansing joins us now to discuss what we know about the shooting so far. And, Arjun, it's good to have you with us. Thank you.

ARJUN THAKKAR, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

KHALID: So let's start with what we know about the timeline for the shooting. Can you walk us through that?

THAKKAR: Yeah. What law enforcement are currently saying is that at about a quarter after 8 p.m. yesterday, they received calls reporting shots fired at Berkey Hall, an academic building on campus. Soon after, they say the incident shifted, and shots were also reported at a separate study space building, the MSU Union. They say the suspect fled the scene on foot. So the result of the shootings on campus is, in total, three confirmed fatalities and five injured, who - from what we've heard, some sustained life-threatening injuries and remain in critical condition at a nearby hospital.

KHALID: OK. And what do we know about the shooter so far? Do we know why he was at Michigan State University?

THAKKAR: What the campus police have shared so far at their most recent press conference is that the shooter was a 43-year-old male. They also shared that he died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound in neighboring city Lansing, Michigan's capital. And they believe he died after law enforcement confronted him. In terms of why he was on campus, that's something that's still unclear and that investigators remain confused about. Here's what the school's interim deputy police chief, Chris Rozman, had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHRIS ROZMAN: That 43-year-old male is not affiliated in any way with Michigan State University. He's not a student, faculty, staff. And we have no idea why he came to campus to do this tonight.

THAKKAR: So it appears that he doesn't have any connection to MSU. And this is one of many details that officials say they hope to learn more about as part of their investigation.

KHALID: Right. And how has the university responded to the shooting itself?

THAKKAR: Well, MSU is scheduled to have no classes and no activity on campus for the next 48 hours. MSU's interim president, Teresa Woodruff, came to the last press conference and said that the community is mourning the lives lost in the tragedy. She offered up resources to students and faculty here who've - you know, they've seen some real trauma. And she also added that the university wants to ensure that this never happens again at the campus. I should add that part of the message officials are sharing is kind of emphasizing that across the mid-Michigan region, law enforcement and local governments acted in unison to respond and are also all offering their resources to the community or anyone who needs support.

KHALID: So it sounds like, from what you've been describing, Arjun, there are still some key unanswered questions. And I'm curious if you can help us understand what law enforcement still wants to know while they continue to investigate?

THAKKAR: Right. Law enforcement emphasized that this is still an ongoing investigation. And top of mind, from what the investigators said, is they want to know more about the shooter, specifically why they came to MSU, and any possible motive they could also identify. And they also want to know, who are the people that are injured or dead after the shooting? Law enforcement couldn't share any information about the victims last we checked. And they said they want to be sensitive about the incident to respect their families. So I imagine that's something folks will want to know more about, especially if it's students or faculty who were killed.

KHALID: Yeah.

THAKKAR: And we also expect more information is likely to come out today at 8 a.m., at another press conference with campus police as well as university officials.

KHALID: That's Arjun Thakkar. He's politics and civics reporter with member station WKAR in East Lansing. Thank you very much for taking the time. We really appreciate it.

THAKKAR: Thanks for having me. Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KHALID: Next, we turn to the recent string of airspace intrusions. The White House has cleared up one big question about the unidentified flying objects shot down over North America this past weekend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: There is no - again, no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns.

FADEL: That was Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. And the answer, as you heard, got laughs from the press. But it needed to be said. It's unprecedented that three fighter jets shoot down three objects over the course of just three days.

KHALID: Despite the unprecedented situation, though, President Biden himself has yet to offer any explanations about what is happening. For more, we are joined by NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Scott, it is good to speak with you.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning, Asma.

KHALID: So this is an unusual situation, I think, to say the least. Why has the president not explained what's going on?

DETROW: I mean, that's a great question. And the White House has not answered direct questions about when we can expect to hear from the president. He did not hold any public events yesterday. He is giving a speech today, but it's on a different topic. And that has really generated a lot of criticism. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell summed most of it up on the Senate floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: President Biden owes the American people some answers. What are we shooting down? Where do they come from, whether they are hostile or not? Is there coherent guidance about when to shoot them down?

DETROW: And I will say, some of this is deliberate. The White House does not want people to panic or think that this is a crisis. So they are giving a lot of briefings. But as of yet, they are not elevating it to a presidential statement or speech. Today, the Senate will get a classified briefing. But I'll say, even if it's not aliens, even if the White House doesn't view it as a crisis, I would say three objects being shot out of the sky over the course of three days is something I think many people likely expect to hear from the president about.

KHALID: OK. So what is the White House saying? If the president himself hasn't come out and spoken, what is the White House saying about this sudden surge of unidentified flying objects?

DETROW: Yesterday, spokesman John Kirby echoed what the Pentagon had said, that the initial spy balloon caused the military to reassess how it looks at the radar. It had been set to essentially ignore high-flying, slow-moving objects. That was tweaked. And suddenly, the military noticed these smaller objects. Over the weekend, these three different objects were deemed a risk to commercial flights, particularly because they were flying at lower altitudes than that initial balloon. And I asked John Kirby during this briefing yesterday, should we assume that this many objects are typically flying over the U.S.? Or is there some sort of surge of activity right now? And there's not a clear answer to that question.

KHALID: You know, Scott, I want to ask you about how this relates to what we saw with the initial balloon that the Pentagon and the White House were very clear was a Chinese spy balloon, you know? It's striking to me that we are not hearing similar claims with any of these latest objects.

DETROW: Yeah, it's interesting. They're talking about this in such a different manner. They're much more cautious. And Kirby was clear to repeatedly say, we're just not sure what these were. He even mentioned a few times - and I thought this was interesting - it could be commercial or research balloons. But, you know, given the circumstances of that first balloon and the fact that the U.S. has been learning more about these broader balloon operations, they're suddenly taking a much more aggressive approach now.

KHALID: So Scott, if U.S. officials are identifying more of these objects in the sky, is the new norm going to be that they just shoot down anything at this altitude?

DETROW: That is yet another good question without a clear answer right now. The White House says it's planning to study this more and consult with allies about it. But it's less clear how they're going to talk to China about this issue. Remember, President Biden and the White House talk so much about wanting competition with China, not conflict. They say over and over and over that they want clear communication, to be on the same page. Now we have meetings between top U.S. and Chinese officials being canceled. And I think there's a real threat that relations could veer in the direction of conflict instead of compromise if this continues.

KHALID: All right. That's NPR's Scott Detrow. It is always good to talk to you.

DETROW: Talk to you soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KHALID: There is grief over the more than 35,000 people who have died so far as a result of last week's earthquake. But in Turkey, that is mixed with anger over the government's response.

FADEL: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been deflecting blame for what he calls the disaster of the century. But he's under increased pressure after old videos have emerged showing him praising a policy of forgiving construction violations, even for some of the very buildings that collapsed and killed so many.

KHALID: NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Istanbul and joins us now. Good morning, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Asma.

KHALID: So why would the president of Turkey have allowed unsafe buildings to be built in this earthquake-prone area?

ESTRIN: Well, it means that housing gets built a lot faster and a lot more cheaply. Let me play you this video from 2019. Erdogan was on the campaign trail for his party and touting housing projects in Marash, which ended up being one of the most hard-hit areas from the earthquake. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: He's saying, we solved the problem of 144,156 citizens of Marash with zoning amnesty. Now, amnesty means some contractors who don't build according to earthquake code can just pay a fine and all is forgiven. For Erdogan, this is all about economic growth. Turkey's economy has been booming with these massive construction projects. It's helped keep him in power all these years. But now, after the earthquake, the government says it's arresting contractors who helped build these shoddy buildings that collapsed. Although, we're seeing reports now of tens of thousands of these amnesty certificates granted by the government in these earthquake-struck areas.

KHALID: So Daniel, how are people that you've been speaking with responding to this situation? Are they blaming Erdogan specifically? Are they, you know, blaming the way things broadly get done in the country?

ESTRIN: I spoke to some university students, who are actually being forced to leave their dorm to make way for earthquake evacuees. And they said, you know, everyone has been worried for a long time about buildings not being safe enough in earthquake zones. I met this one young law student at a protest. She gave only her first name, Ayshenoor (ph). She fears he could get in trouble for criticizing the government. And she says her family lives in one of the cities that was hit by the earthquake. Their home is OK. But they made sure it was built safely before they moved in.

AYSHENOOR: We researched that. We looked, like, can you give us the official report if it's safe? So that's why we didn't have any problems with it, thank God. But just two blocks away, people died.

ESTRIN: Now, you know, Istanbul is also in a seismic zone. And I asked her about these new signs in the Istanbul metro asking people to prepare an emergency bag in case of an earthquake.

AYSHENOOR: It's garbage. They're like, we're not going to make the building safe. But you should have water, a bag, food, so you will deal with it. When I read it, it's like they're mocking us.

KHALID: Oh, wow. So Daniel, Erdogan and his government are clearly very much in the spotlight right now. And I'm curious what this all could mean for his grip on power?

ESTRIN: You know, there are elections that are supposed to be held this spring. But already, there are calls from within Erdogan's party to postpone the election because of the earthquake. It's hard to see how you can even have voting in some of these damaged areas. But it's also hard to see why Erdogan would even want an election right now, given the trouble he might be in. But, you know, many people are not really focused on these politics now. Their priority is to help people get through this crisis and to help people grieve.

KHALID: All right. That's NPR's Daniel Estrin. Thank you so much.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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United States & World Morning Edition
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.