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We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.

Atlanta orchestra picks Nathalie Stutzmann as conductor

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra chose Nathalie Stutzmann, a French conductor and singer, to be its next music director in 2022, making her the only female director to currently lead one of the 25 largest orchestras in the United States.

Stutzmann, 56, will be just the second woman in history to direct a top 25 American orchestra after Marin Alsop, who led the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra for fourteen years.

“I’m not looking for a world dominated by women,” Stutzmann told the New York Times in a video call. “I’m just looking for equality—that we will one day not be considered as a minority, but as musicians, conductors and maestros.”

Stutzmann, who only began conducting about ten years ago, is a contralto and has performed works by Mahler, Handel, and Bach. Last year, the Philadelphia Orchestra appointed her to be the principal guest conductor. She was the chief conductor of the Kristiansand Symphony Orchestra in Norway.

“What she will do is give them more colors and more daring and more shape,” Simon Rattle, Stutzmann’s mentor, told the Times. “She’s a wonderfully warm and explosive personality.” —Melanie Wilcox

Southwest Airlines’ mass cancellations leave passengers stranded

Hordes of infuriated passengers took to social media to vent their frustrations after Southwest Airlines unceremoniously canceled thousands of flights last-minute. The Dallas-based airline canceled almost two thousand flights over the weekend and canceled or delayed almost a thousand more on Monday.

On Sunday, the airline completely canceled a stunning 30 percent of its flights, stranding travelers across the country. As one passenger lamented on Twitter: “Now we missed a wedding and our luggage is stuck at Midway with mine and my wife's medication.” Others shared similar horror stories of missed weddings or of being stranded overnight with small children in tow.

The airline originally cited “weather issues” when cancellations began to pick up on Friday. On Saturday, the airline blamed the chaos on “ATC and disruptive issues.” On Sunday, incoming Southwest President Mike van De Wen told employees that there were “issues with staffing shortages.” On Monday, the airline once again spoke up, this time to counter rumors swirling online that the airline’s leadership was lying about the cause of the mayhem to cover up a purported employee “walk out” in protest of the federal order to mandate vaccines for employees of companies larger than a hundred people.

Critics of the airline’s denial of employee demonstrations pointed to social media posts of stranded Southwest passengers who claimed they were “told in airports that the cancellations were due to Southwest employees walking out in protest at the airline's decision to enforce COVID-19 vaccinations.” The mass cancellations come at the same time that some Southwest employees move to sue the company. Indeed, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association asked a federal court on Friday to “block the airline’s order that all employees get vaccinated.” Still, Southwest officials deny any connection. —Mariel Lindsay

Gabby Petito’s cause of death was strangulation

Gabby Petito died of strangulation by manner of homicide, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue said Tuesday. The cause of death, disclosed in a legal document Blue filed on October 5 with the Teton County Clerk of District Court, was determined to be “manual strangulation/throttling.”

“We believe this was strangling by a human being,” the coroner told CNN. He estimated Petito died about three or four weeks prior to when her body was found on September 19 in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. Petito reportedly FaceTimed with her mom on August 24 and exchanged texts over the following days. The last text the Petito family received stated, “No service in Yosemite,” and Richard Stafford, the family’s attorney, has indicated they do not think Gabby wrote it. Blue explained that the timeline his office established is not precise enough to determine whether she was already dead at the time the text was sent.

Petito’s body is at a mortuary in Wyoming. Her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who is a “person of interest” in her death, is still missing. —MW

Scientists discover new species of water bear frozen in amber

A new paleontological find is being described as “once in a generation.” A fossilized species of tardigrade, an ancient, microscopic animal also known as a “water bear,” has been discovered inside a 16 million-year-old piece of amber.

Researchers at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Harvard University named the new species “Paradoryphoribius chronocaribbeus.” It’s just the third fossil of its kind humans have identified, and its modern relatives in the tardigrade family are still living today. It’s also so tiny that researchers, who were originally studying ants frozen in the amber, didn’t notice it for months.

Tardigrades are called “water bears” because of their cute, bear-like shape and claws. The microscopic creatures are found on every continent, can survive for decades without water, and can live in every temperature on earth. They’ve even been studied on the International Space Station in a bid to learn more about their amazing attributes. —Margaret Brady

Everything is still getting more expensive

If you’ve noticed your bills costing you more recently, you’re not alone. At the grocery store, at the gas pump, and in your heating bill, prices are rising. In fact, the inflation rate is at its highest in more than 10 years. MarketWatch reports that “compared to last year, consumers still paid 5.3 percent more for goods and services across the board in August.” That percentage rose slightly in September.

Nearly 80 percent of Americans are concerned about rising prices, and it doesn’t appear that their concerns will be soothed anytime soon. The Wall Street Journal reports: “The stretch of higher inflation—which many economists now expect to linger—is weighing on policy decisions at the Federal Reserve and starting to have a broader impact on the overall cost of living, wages, and social benefits programs.”

Labor shortages, driven in part by generous federal unemployment benefits and vaccine mandates, are colliding with supply chain disruptions to create a spike in prices. President Joe Biden’s proposed trillions of dollars in federal spending likely aren’t helping, either. While the Biden administration has brushed aside price rise concerns, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reports that inflation is growing faster than wages and, according to CBO Director Phillip Swagel, “has eroded the purchasing power of families.” —Madeline Fry Schultz

New Brittany Murphy documentary explores her suspicious death

A documentary released October 14 on HBO Max considers theories about Brittany Murphy’s untimely passing.

The film, What Happened, Brittany Murphy? looks at how she went from a young star in films like Clueless and Girl, Interrupted to a tragic case. The 32-year-old’s life ended in December 2009 in the bathroom of the West Hollywood home she shared with husband Simon Monjack. She was pronounced dead at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, reportedly from pneumonia, prescription drug intoxication and severe anemia. However, the documentary suggests that Monjack played a role in her death.

In the two-part documentary, reporter Amber Ryland said she interviewed Monjack after Murphy died. “It was in the back of my mind, ‘Am I sitting with a murderer?’” she says. “’Could he have killed his wife?’”

Murphy was born in Atlanta in 1977 and started acting at the age of five. As a teen, she played roles in Murphy Brown, Sister, Sister, Boy Meets World, and other television shows. She later hit it big as a star in Girl, Interrupted, 8 Mile, Clueless and Sin City.

Murphy reportedly started dating Monjack in 2006. After her death, it was revealed that Monjack spent $3 million of her money in just a few years, “invested” in fake jewels, stocks, and real estate, and had taken complete control of Murphy’s career, even demanding to be her makeup artist on-set. Monjack died only a few months after his wife, under similarly odd circumstances. —MW

Good News of the Week

Three children were rescued after getting lost overnight in Texas forest

Three children were rescued by a volunteer and police last week after getting lost at night. On Thursday, the children, ages 2, 6, and 7, lost their way in the Sam Houston National Forest after going off the trail. The next morning, a volunteer found them and contacted police, whose bodycam footage shows the rescue. “I’m really hungry right now,” one of the children said, after which the policeman and volunteer vow to get them cheeseburgers. 

The children told authorities that their parents told them that if they ever get lost they should stay together and wait for help. The kids took those words to heart and say they slept under a fallen tree overnight. Sometimes we just need to hear a story like this to remember to hold on in the moments when all seems lost. —Mary Rose Somarriba

Watch of the Week

Nick Cummins, a former Bachelor Australia contestant and rugby player, went viral this week with a video that shows him saving a sheep caught in a barbed wire fence. You can even hear the adorable animal give a “baaa” of gratitude as it runs away!