(WRIC/ABC) — From the beginning to the end, many of this year’s biggest news stories were centered around violence, terror threats or fear.
Here is a list of some of the biggest news stories we saw nationally in 2015:
1. Deaths by Police Officers
After George Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, #BlackLivesMatter was born in 2013. The deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner among others by police officers in Missouri and New York, respectively, carried the outrage through 2014. It was the deaths of Walter Scott and Freddie Gray, both at the hands of police officers, that fueled the outcry in 2015.
Scott was fatally shot by a police officer following a traffic stop in South Carolina on April 4. Video footage of the incident was recorded by a bystander. It appeared to show Scott, who was unarmed, running away from the officer, who was later identified as Michael Slager. Slager was arrested three days after Scott’s death and charged with murder. His attorney says Slager insists he’s not guilty.
Just over a week later, a man named Freddie Gray was picked up by police in Baltimore. He was put in a police transport vehicle without being properly strapped in. During the ride, Gray suffered spinal injuries, which led to his death. Protests, some violent, erupted across Baltimore. Gray’s death was ruled a homicide on May 1. Six police officers were charged in connection to his death. All have pleaded not guilty. The first officer’s trial just concluded with a hung jury. A retrial is set for next June, after the other five officers are tried.
Chicago police also came under scrutiny for alleged misuse of force this year after footage of an October 2014 fatal shooting by police was released in November 2015 following a court order. The video showed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being struck by gunfire 16 times. The officer involved in that shooting, Jason Van Dyke, was charged with his murder and has pleaded not guilty. Public criticism of the way authorities handled this case resulted in the firing of Chicago’s police superintendent, and a public apology from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
2. Amtrak Train Crash
A train derailment in Philadelphia killed eight and injured more than 200 Amtrak passengers in May after the Northeast Regional train sped around a curve and went off the track. The train’s engineer, who survived, could not explain what caused the deadly crash. An investigation of the incident led by the National Transportation Safety Board determined that the train accelerated before the crash and was traveling in excess of 100 mph — more than twice the speed limit for that area of the track.
3. Prison Escape in New York
One of the biggest stories of the summer seemed like something straight out of a film. It involved two prisoners, a sexual liaison with a prison worker who smuggled tools hidden in frozen meat and a midnight escape with a smiley-faced getaway note. David Sweat and Richard Matt, both convicted murderers, escaped from the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York on June 6, crawling out of sewage pipes and digging through cell walls.
A huge manhunt was launched and took place for the next three weeks over much of northern New York. Law enforcement officers shot and killed Matt on June 26. They found Sweat two days later. In November, he pleaded guilty to all charges related to his escape.
Joyce Mitchell, the prison seamstress, was arrested and admitted to having had a sexual relationship with Matt, as well as providing the tools. She was sentenced to up to seven years in prison. Corrections officer Gene Palmer was charged with assisting the pair of inmates to escape. He has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.
4. Charleston Church Shooting
One of the year’s deadliest mass shootings struck a particularly heartbreaking chord because of where it happened: inside a church. The shooting at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church in June prompted national mourning and outrage after a 21-year-old, who reportedly had white supremacist beliefs, attended a Bible study session at the famed predominantly African-American church before allegedly opening fire on the group. The accused shooter, Dylann Roof, was arrested the morning after the June 17 attack. He’s currently awaiting trial on 33 counts, including murder and firearms charges, as well as federal hate crime charges. The judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.
The shooting along with Roof’s purported racist beliefs resulted in a debate over the state’s continued use of the Confederate Battle Flag at South Carolina’s Capitol. After heated debate, the state legislature voted to have the flag taken down. It will be exhibited at a nearby museum.
5. Major Murder Trials
Four of the biggest trials of the year all resulted in guilty verdicts. Now, one of those murderers faces a death sentence. The first verdict came in February when Eddie Ray Routh was found guilty of killing “American Sniper” Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield. Though Kyle was well-known before the trial because of his bestselling book, the case gained even more national attention when his biopic came out just over a month before the trial began. Routh received a sentence of life without parole. He has filed a notice of appeal.
Former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez was found guilty in April and sentenced to life in prison without parole after killing Odin Lloyd, who was dating Hernandez’ fiancee’s sister. The case turned into a family drama as both Hernandez’s fiancee, who was granted immunity for her testimony, and her sister took turns on the witness stand. His appeal is underway.
In another case, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother of a pair of siblings, was found guilty in April of all 30 charges that he faced in connection to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and his ensuing flight from police, which included the killing of an MIT police officer. One month later, he was sentenced to death after the conclusion of the penalty phase of his trial. The first of many expected appeals is underway.
James Holmes, the shooter who opened fire inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, was found guilty in July of killing 12 people in the rampage and injuring 70 others. While it took jurors only 12 hours to find him guilty, they were unable to reach a unanimous decision when it came to the penalty phase so he was spared the death penalty and sentenced in August to one life sentence for each life he took, plus 3,138 years for the attempted murders, without the possibility of parole. He has not appealed.
6. Same-Sex Marriage Debate
The Supreme Court made a landmark decision in June, voting to allow same-sex couples to marry nationwide. The 5-4 decision was praised by many, including President Obama, who called it a “victory for America.” Not everyone was pleased with the decision, though. A county clerk in Kentucky became a touchstone for the national debate after she claimed it was against her religious beliefs to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Kim Davis was jailed for nearly a week for defying a judge’s order to issue any marriage licenses in Rowan County.
7. Pope Francis Visits the U.S.
One of the biggest moments of national excitement came when Pope Francis made his inaugural visit to the United States, sweeping the country up in a serious case of Pope-mania. His visit started in Washington, D.C., after a trip to Cuba, and he went on to visit New York and Philadelphia before returning to the Vatican. Some of the highlights of the trip included a historic address to Congress and frequent rides in his Fiat.
8. Mass shootings (Roseburg, Lafayette, Chattanooga, Planned Parenthood, San Bernardino)
From a college campus in Roseburg, Oregon, where 10 people were killed, to a military recruiting office in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where five people died and a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, that left three dead — shootings were an all-too-familiar occurrence in this calendar year. The deadliest happened on December 2 in San Bernardino, California, where it’s alleged that a married couple opened fire at the Inland Regional Center during a Department of Public Health conference and holiday luncheon.
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