WASHINGTON — A leadership crisis at the University of Maryland and within D.C.’s Catholic Archdiocese. Record rain and another 1,000-year-flood that devastated a community. A 10-year-old’s senseless slaying, and a D.C. sports team’s triumph on the ice. Take a look back at some of the local news stories that dominated the headlines in 2018.
Abuse claims emerge from the shadows
A series of shocking newspaper articles and then an unprecedented grand jury report out of Pennsylvania cast a spotlight on crimes that had been allowed to fester in the shadows for decades.
The latest slow-motion scandal over the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church began unfolding over the summer and eventually led to some high-profile resignations in the hierarchy of the D.C. Archdiocese.
First, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington between 2001 and 2006, was removed from ministry over the allegations he sexually abused a teen 50 years ago while serving as a priest in the Archdiocese of New York.
In an unprecedented move, Pope Francis accepted McCarrick’s resignation, stripping the retired prelate of his title and ordering him to conduct a “life of prayer and penance.”
Later in the summer, the then-current Archbishop of D.C. Cardinal Donald Wuerl became embroiled in a scandal over his handling of abusive priests when he served as bishop in Pittsburgh. Those revelations came to light in a grand jury report released by the Pennsylvania attorney general, which concluded that Wuerl and other Catholic bishops hadn’t done enough to prevent abuse dating back decades and had, in fact, tried to cover up abuse.
The disclosures about Wuerl’s role — which he has denied — led to emotional pleas from some parishioners for Wuerl to step aside.
“It is no longer about him. It is no longer about the archdiocese. It’s now about the faith and the trust and the confidence that Catholics have in their leadership,” said Winnie Obike, a woman who started a Change.org petition seeking to remove Wuerl. The petition garnered more than 141,000 co-signers.
Pope Francis accepted Wuerl’s resignation in October.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
A Maryland school shooting — then a march for action
The shots rang out in a southern Maryland high school hallway in March. A 17-year-old student, Austin Wyatt Rollins, armed with his father’s Glock semi-automatic handgun opened fire, gravely wounding 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey and injuring another teen. Rollins turned the gun on himself, fatally shooting himself after being shot at by a school resource officer.
The gunfire came just over a month after one of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, when a former student shot and killed 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Now, the violence had hit closer to home. Officials at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, called the shooting “our worst fear.”
For the Willey family, it was worse than a nightmare. The teen girl was rushed to a hospital in Prince George’s County, barely clinging to life. Doctors were able to stabilize her condition. Three days after the shooting, her family made the difficult decision to remove her from life support.
“She will not make it,” Jaelynn’s mother, Melissa Willey, said in an emotional public statement. Her daughter was brain dead; there was “no life left in her,” she said.
Less than a week after the shooting at Great Mills High School, students from Great Mills joined hundreds of thousands of other students who streamed into downtown D.C. for the student-fueled rally against gun violence known as the “ March for Our Lives.” Amid the throngs of young people marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, some of the Great Mills students held aloft signs reading, “I March for Jaelynn.”
(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
(AP/Jose Luis Magana)
Washington Redskins’ quarterback carousel continues
D.C. — for better or worse — remains a Redskins town. And the quarterback of the Burgundy and Gold is often the second-most scrutinized person inside the Capital Beltway.
Since the decline and fall of 1992’s Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, the Skins have dealt with a procession of quarterbacks that range from first-round failures (Heath Shuler, Patrick Ramsey, Jason Campbell and Robert Griffin III) or veteran acquisitions who faded (Donovan McNabb, Mark Brunell and Jeff George).
So, when the team won the NFC East in 2015 as Kirk Cousins broke Jay Schroeder’s 29-year-old team record for passing yards in a season, it seemed as though coach Jay Gruden and company finally had a quarterback to build their team around.
Only they didn’t.
Instead, the Redskins applied the franchise tag to Cousins — and, at the time, it made sense. The fourth-year player had only one full season as a starter under his belt. Cousins answered with 4,917 passing yards in 2016 to break his own record but was undermined by a defense that ranked 28th overall. He then threw for 4,093 yards in 2017, directing an offense minus his top two receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Neither team had a strong running game.
But, the book on Cousins was he wasn’t a winner — and the front office let the 29-year-old seek a big payday elsewhere. Cousins got one with Minnesota: three years and $84 million — all guaranteed.
The Redskins responded with a January trade for Kansas City veteran Alex Smith, giving up a third-round pick as well as cornerback Kendall Fuller (12 starts in two years with the team). They also signed Smith to a four-year contract extension worth $94 million ($71 million of it guaranteed). Never mind that Smith was four years older than Cousins.
From opening weekend, the quarterback comparison was inevitable: Cousins ranks 10th in the NFL in passer rating and averages the 11th-most yards per game, while Smith stands 26th and 27th in those categories. But, Smith was more than mere numbers, having led the team to a 6-3 start that had the team in first place entering the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Then, a devastating turn of events for Smith: During a game on Nov. 18, Smith suffered a compound fracture to his fibula and tibia against Houston. Smith isn’t just done for the year. It’s questionable if the 34-year-old ever takes a regular season snap again.
Backup Colt McCoy saw his 2018 season end 15 days later, when he went down with a broken leg against Philadelphia.
Plan C Mark Sanchez started against the New York Giants and posted a passer rating of 10.7 in a 40-16 loss.
Now, the Redskins are on Plan D: Josh Johnson just won his first start since 2011 in a season-salvaging victory at Jacksonville.
Believe it or not, the Skins can still make the playoffs — depending on how Cousins and Minnesota fare over the final two weeks. Just another year on the Redskins’ quarterback carousel.
WTOP’s Dave Preston contributed to this entry.
(AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
Unite the Right: 1 year later
August marked one year since a deadly white nationalist rally tore apart Charlottesville, Virginia. During the 2017 rally, sparked by a debate over removing a Confederate war memorial from a city park, violent clashes broke out on the streets of the city, and an Ohio man rammed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing a 32-year-old woman.
This year, organizers said they wanted to do it all over again.
The rallygoers’ efforts to gather in Charlottesville were stymied by a series of court decisions, before organizer Jason Kessler shifted the plan to D.C.’s Lafayette Park — directly across from the White House.
The news spurred a frenzy of preparations, with both Virginia and D.C. declaring states of emergency, mobilizing police and the National Guard to prepare for any confrontations.
Controversy and outrage soon followed over reports that Metro planned to offer rallygoers their own, separate Metro car to travel from Northern Virginia to downtown D.C. (Metro later insisted it didn’t give white nationalists any preferential treatment, but did take measures to keep opposing groups from confronting each other on the rail system.)
In the end, the white nationalist participants in the Unite the Right 2 rally in D.C. turned out to be far outnumbered by counterprotesters who had gathered in opposition, and there was no repeat of the deadly violence seen last year.
Still, the anniversary rallies came with a hefty price tag. D.C. officials estimated the District spent nearly $2.6 million responding to the rally.
Four months after the anniversary rally, James Fields, the man charged in the 2017 car attack in Charlottesville, was found guilty of first-degree murder by a Virginia jury that recommended he serve a life sentence.
(Courtesy Wilson Dizard)
(Courtesy Wilson Dizard)
Rain, rain — it was here to stay
This year may be memorable for many reasons, but it’s going in the record books for one wet one in particular: It was the rainiest year in D.C. since modern record-keeping began in 1871.
Yes, in 2018, April showers brought May showers and June showers and July showers and — you get the picture.
The year’s precipitation — more than 64 inches in total — bested a previous record set in 1889 (that was the Benjamin Harrison administration for you history buffs). D.C. shot past the record thanks, in part, to a super-soaking December weekend rainstorm that dumped more than 2 and 1/2 inches of rain over the area.
Flood warnings and watches were numerous this year, and the heavy rains turned some roadways into temporary rivers. During one memorable July monsoon, a rapid downpour flooded out part of the George Washington Parkway in Arlington, Virginia, trapping dozens of drivers in their cars and forcing local fire departments to perform dramatic water rescues.
Another ‘1,000-year-flood’ devastates Ellicott City
Though the year’s unusually wet weather was one for the record books, it also spelled misfortune for the flood-prone community of Ellicott City, Maryland. For the second time in as many years, a deadly flash flood ripped through the heart of the historic downtown district, killing a man and destroying several businesses.
Eddie Hermond, a Maryland National Guardsman, was swept away and killed while trying to help a woman during the flooding.
Similar flash flooding in 2016 killed two drivers who were trapped in their cars and caused millions of dollars in damage.
After the second so-called thousand-year flood to hit the town in less than two years, business owners were left yet again to pick up the pieces — and the focus quickly turned to preventing the threat of another one.
A controversial five-year plan OK’d by the Howard County Council in October recommended buying and then demolishing a total of 19 buildings in the historic Main Street area in an attempt to reduce flooding risks. But, the move was temporarily paused by the new Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, who defeated incumbent Allan Kittleman in this fall’s election.
Until the plans are hammered out, some business owners are feeling “just kind of stuck.”
“Ellicott City can’t wait,” Sherry Fackler-Berkowitz told a reporter this fall. “We need to move forward, and we need to move quickly to keep us from losing everything we have.”
(Libby Solomon/The Baltimore Sun via AP)
The leadership crisis spurred by a player’s tragic death
It was a strenuous team workout that ended in a player’s death — triggering a full-blown crisis in the ranks of the University of Maryland leadership.
Jordan McNair, a 19-year-old offensive lineman for the Terrapins, collapsed on the sidelines May 29 and died in the hospital two weeks later without ever recovering. The cause was heatstroke.
An independent investigation ordered by university officials later exposed a glaring gap in team safety policies, finding team trainers failed to follow proper procedures after McNair collapsed.
After McNair’s death, questions also began swirling about coach DJ Durkin’s leadership of the team, amid media reports of a culture marred by bullying and a “toxic” environment. However, a separate report commissioned by the university system’s Board of Regents later said it found no evidence of a “toxic” culture within the football program, and it said the coach had been unfairly blamed.
Durkin, who had been placed on leave during that investigation, was cleared to return to the field — a decision that led to outrage among many students, faculty and even Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. In the face of the blowback, the university did another about-face, dismissing Durkin. And then, a few days later, another domino fell: The chairman of the Board of Regents, who had signed off on the report clearing the coach, announced he, too, was resigning.
Meanwhile, university President Wallace Loh has announced plans to retire next summer. A few months after McNair’s death, Loh told reporters he had met with the player’s family and apologized.
“You entrusted Jordan to our care,” he said he told McNair’s parents, “and he is never returning home again.”
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
A 10-year-old’s senseless killing
On a hot July evening, dozens of people in the Clay Terrace community in Northeast D.C. had gathered in an apartment courtyard to enjoy a summer evening. A 10-year-old girl, with $5 in her pocket, was on her way to an ice cream truck. That’s when a stolen car sped into the parking lot of the apartment complex, and four gunmen jumped out and began spraying the crowd with bullets.
The shooting lasted 10 seconds; police would later recover 76 shell casings. Several people were injured. And little Makiyah Wilson was dead — one of the bullets pierced her heart.
The senseless killing shocked and outraged community leaders. Police quickly pinned the shooting on a dispute between neighborhood gangs, the victims collateral damage.
The search for Wilson’s killers has taken months. So far, five men and a teen boy have been charged in connection with her shooting death. A woman who reportedly knew some of the suspects has been charged with lying to police about their involvement. Details of the crime revealed in court documents provide chilling details, such as how the suspects seemed to celebrate the night of shooting, posting videos on Instagram of themselves singing along to a song whose lyrics included: “Homicide — we the reason why the murder rate high.”
Wilson’s death has also drawn attention to the scourge of illegal guns and the role they have played in fueling a surge in the city’s homicide rate. Though other types of violent crime are down, D.C. is set to end the year with a more than 40 percent increase in killings.
(Courtesy NBC Washington)
(Courtesy NBC Washington)
Journalists under attack
It was shortly after 2:30 p.m. on June 28 when the gunman blasted through the glass front door of the Capital Gazette’s Annapolis newsroom and began shooting. Armed with a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, smoke grenades and yearslong grudge against the newspaper, 38-year-old Jarrod Ramos stalked the newsroom, aiming to “ kill as many people as he could,” police said.
In the end, five Capital Gazette employees were killed: Wendi Winters, the paper’s special publications editor; columnist and assistant editor Robert Hiaasen; Rebecca Smith, a sales assistant; features editor Gerald Fischman; and sports reporter John McNamara.
Ramos, who was indicted on 23 counts in the deadly shooting, has pleaded not guilty.
Police said Ramos was angry over the paper’s coverage of a criminal harassment case in which he had been implicated. For years before the shooting, he had made increasingly hostile threats on social media against the newspaper and its staffers.
The shooting sparked concerns about heated rhetoric directed against journalists. Meanwhile, reporters at the paper insisted they would carry on. Just hours after the shooting that felled his colleagues, Chase Cook, a Capital Gazette staffer, vowed, “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.”
And, they did.
The newspaper staff was later named TIME magazine’s “ Person of the Year.”
(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
(AP/Jose Luis Magana)
Mansion murders: Jury delivers its verdict three years after heinous crime
Three years after three members of a wealthy family and their housekeeper were brutally slain inside the family’s Northwest D.C. mansion, the trial of the accused killer finally began.
Daron Wint, an unemployed welder, was charged in the killings of Savvas Savopoulos; his wife, Amy; their 10-year-old son, Philip; and the family’s housekeeper, Vera Figueroa, in May 2015. The four victims were held hostage for nearly 24 hours as part of a plot to extort $40,000 from Savvas Savopoulos, the CEO of an ironworks company at which Wint had worked several years before. The family’s posh home was later found in flames.
The September trial began with a bombshell claim by Wint’s lawyers: That it was actually his two younger brothers who planned and carried out the horrific slayings. In another surprise turn, Wint himself took the stand, telling jurors his brothers duped him into unwittingly leaving DNA evidence inside the Savopoulos mansion.
But, over the course of the six-week trial in D.C. Superior Court, federal prosecutors painstakingly presented DNA and digital evidence linking Wint to the killings, eventually calling his two brothers to the stand to rebut their brother’s charges.
On Oct. 25, the jury returned its verdict: guilty on all 20 felony counts, including first-degree premeditated murder, burglary, kidnapping, extortion and arson.
Wint, who faces life in prison, will be sentenced in February.
(Courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C.)
(Courtesy U.S. Attorney's Office)
Caps clinch the Cup
The Washington Capitals went all the way in 2018, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights 4-games-to-1 in a series of thrilling national championship matchups.
Over the summer, it seemed like everyone had caught scarlet fever, with fans rocking the red and packing both Capital One Arena and downtown D.C. streets for watch parties. Even Metrobuses were showing their spirit, flashing “GO CAPS” across their digital signboards.
The Caps’ victory — the team’s first Stanley Cup and the first national championship for a D.C. team in more than a quarter-century — led to a series of epic celebrations throughout D.C., including a parade down Constitution Avenue and a gathering on the National Mall that drew thousands.
Equally epic was the post-championship partying by team captain Alex Ovechkin and other teams members in the days after their win. The revelry included a booze-soaked bar tour through D.C., complete with keg stands out of the famed cup.
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
From the national stage to the state and local level, 2018’s midterm elections reshaped the region’s political leadership. Here’s a sampling of the year’s most substantial political developments:
Shocking loss in Democratic contest for governor
Amid a crowded field of seven Democratic candidates vying to challenge Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, tragedy struck May 10. Just hours after appearing at a candidate’s forum, Kevin Kamenetz, who also served as Baltimore County executive, died of cardiac arrest at 60 years old. The death of Kamenetz, who had been one of the front-runners in the crowded field, threw the race into uncertainty. His running mate, Valerie Ervin, later announced plans to run in his stead, but was thwarted when new ballots weren’t printed in time.
By the time November rolled around, Hogan retained sky-high popularity, even with the state’s Democratic-leaning electorate, and trounced progressive challenger Ben Jealous, the former national president of the NAACP. Just a few months earlier, Jealous had defeated a bevy of Democratic rivals. But, he struggled to gain traction.
In the end, Hogan’s record and reputation as a moderate problem-solver ultimately won over Maryland voters, and he became the first Republican governor in the state since 1954 to win two terms.
Virginia Dems flip Northern Virginia seat
While the pundits still can’t agree whether House Democrats’ strong showing in the midterms truly amounted to a blue wave, Democrats in Virginia can say they did their part.
Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer, unseated U.S. Rep. David Brat in Virginia’s 7th Congressional District. Spanberger will be the first Democrat to represent the district since 1971. Jennifer Wexton, a Democratic state senator, toppled Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock — becoming the first Democrat to represent Virginia’s 10th Congressional District since 1981.
New leadership in slew of Maryland counties
At the local level, Maryland voters elected a slew of new county executives. In a rare three-way race in Montgomery County, voters selected longtime Democratic county Council member Marc Elrich to replace Isiah “Ike” Leggett after 12 years at the helm. In Prince George’s County, former state’s attorney Angela Alsobrooks made history when she was elected the county’s first female executive.
(AP file/Courtesy Marc Elrich)
Amazon comes to town
After a yearlong, nationwide search, digital giant Amazon made its pick for half of its second headquarters: National Landing.
Amazon announced in November its multibillion-dollar plan for HQ2 included spots in Crystal City and Pentagon City in Arlington and the northern part of Potomac Yard in Alexandria — all rebranded under the National Landing moniker.
No matter if the new name truly catches on, Amazon’s arrival promises big changes to the region.
Amazon’s appearance in Northern Virginia is expected to bring 25,000 high-skilled and high-paid workers to the region. As part of its package to lure the tech giant to the area, officials pledged transportation and infrastructure improvements in the area, but there are still concerns about traffic gridlock and fears the influx of new employees will exacerbate an existing affordable housing crisis.
Meanwhile, officials across the region, who have largely praised the deal, plugged Amazon’s arrival as a way to rebrand the larger D.C. area as not only a staid, button-down government town, but as a technology and innovation hub.
(Courtesy Virginia Economic Development Partnership)
(Courtesy JBG Smith)
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