RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Before we ring in the New Year, 8News is taking a look back at the storylines that garnered the most attention in Central Virginia in 2019.
Below you’ll find a rundown of the top headlines and most clicked-on stories from the past 365 days.
Which headline do you think was the biggest of the year? Let us know in our poll at the bottom of the article.
Scandals engulf top Virginia Democrats
Within the first week of February, three of Virginia’s top elected officials were engulfed in scandals that threatened to push them out of office.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring — Democrats who won the commonwealth’s three statewide elections in 2017 — dealt with heavy scrutiny and even calls to step down from supporters in 2019.
Governor Ralph Northam
A photograph of two people, one in blackface and the other in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe, was found on Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page and shared online on Feb. 1. The governor apologized for the photo, describing it as “clearly racist and offensive” after it was released.
“I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now,” Northam said in his initial statement.
At a press conference the next day, Northam denied he was in the yearbook photo but then admitted to darkening his face with “a little bit” of shoe polish while trying to portray Michael Jackson during a 1984 talent show in San Antonio, Texas.
Northam resisted mounting pressure to step down in the wake of the photo’s release, despite calls for him to resign from past supporters and Democrats across the country. Northam pushed for initiatives to address racial inequality and was eventually able to regain enough support to avoid leaving office early.
Months later, an investigation “could not conclusively” determine if the governor was in the image.
Attorney General Mark Herring
Five days after calling for Gov. Northam’s resignation, Attorney General Herring apologized on Twitter for putting on blackface in 1980 during a party while at the University of Virginia as an undergrad.
“In the days ahead, honest conversations and discussions will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve as attorney general,” Herring wrote, “but no matter where we go from here, I will say that from the bottom of my heart, I am deeply, deeply sorry for the pain that I cause with this revelation.”
In March, Herring went on the radio to share his desire to repair his image after the blackface scandal.
Despite his admission, Herring was able to evade calls to resign for the most part and is still expected to run for governor in 2021 after maintaining support from Virginia Democrats.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax
On the same day that Herring apologized for wearing blackface, a sexual assault accusation against Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax was made public.
Fairfax denied the allegation when it was reported by the same conservative website that posted the racist photo from Northam’s medical school yearbook days earlier. Fairfax called the allegation “a smear.”
“Does anybody think it’s a coincidence that on the eve of my potentially being elevated that this uncorroborated smear comes out?” Fairfax asked reporters during a press conference on Feb. 4.
By the end of the week, two different women, Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, had claimed Fairfax sexually assaulted them. In the aftermath, several Virginia politicians called on Fairfax to resign.
While several Virginia lawmakers have called for a public hearing into the allegations, the lieutenant governor told 8News in July that he would not take part in one, dismissing the idea as a “political circus.”
Fairfax’s lawyers sent letters to prosecutors in North Carolina and Massachusetts asking for criminal investigations to be opened into the alleged sexual assaults. Lawyers for Tyson and Watson called the move “another political stunt.”
Tyson and Watson were eventually interviewed on CBS about their accusations of sexual assault against Fairfax, which prompted a $400 million defamation suit from the lieutenant governor.
Even with the cloud of the allegations over him, Fairfax also announced his intentions to run for governor in 2021.
Community rallies around ‘Tommie’ tragedy
Tommie: a name that was cemented into the minds of Richmonders in 2019. The death of Tommie the pit bull was a story that spanned most of the year — his gruesome killing in February, Governor Ralph Northam making animal cruelty a felony offense in April, and Richmond Animal Care and Control (RACC) reaching pre-sale goals for license plates in his honor at the end of the year.
On the night of February 10, the male brindle pit bull was tied to a pole in Abner Clay Park in Richmond and intentionally set on fire. RACC cared for the dog until he died several days later.
His death sparked outrage across the community and turned heads across the country. RACC created a “Tommie Fund” that supports the cost of emergency medical care for animals in other municipal shelters across the Commonwealth. It wasn’t long before the fund in his honor garnered thousands of dollars from numerous fundraisers, including RACC’s #TeamTommie T-shirt campaign that raised nearly $85,000.
Five-day open house memorial
Many wanted to say to their final goodbyes to Tommie. Due to an overwhelming response from the public, RACC held a five-day open house memorial for the pit bull.
Animal cruelty law
Tommie’s death even sparked a new law that upped animal cruelty from a misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony, which carries a punishment of one to five years in prison.
Three months after the pitbull’s death, authorities made an arrest in the animal cruelty case. Jyahshua A. Hill, 20, of Richmond, was sentenced in August to serve five years in prison after he pleaded guilty.
#TeamTommie license plates
Tommie continues to make headlines in Virginia ten months after his death. On December 19, RACC said they reached their pre-sale goal of #TeamTommie license plates. The next step is approval from the General Assembly and then the plates would be available through the DMV.
Virginia Beach Mass Shooting
It was the worst tragedy the city of Virginia Beach had ever endured. Months after a mass shooting claimed the lives of 12 people, many questions remain unanswered.
Gunman opens fire in city building
On May 31, 2019, a disgruntled employee fatally shot 12 people — 11 city employees and one contractor – and injured four others, including a police officer with a .45 caliber handgun with a suppressor and an extended magazine inside the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
The gunman, police later identified as 40-year-old DeWayne Craddock, was shot and killed by responding officers. A police investigation revealed the 40-year-old was a worker in the public utilities department had resigned from the position hours before the shooting. The shooter opened fire in Building 2 of the municipal center, which is adjacent to City Hall.
“This is the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach,” said Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer in the aftermath of the shooting.
Governor Ralph Northam called the tragedy “a horrific day for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Both President Donald Trump and Gov. Northam ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff in honor of the victims. The deadly shooting led to an outpour of support from officials locally and nationwide, as well as neighboring localities in Hampton Roads.
A months-long probe by multiple agencies offered no clear answer as to what caused the shooting.
As for a motive, the Virginia Beach Police Department couldn’t pinpoint what led Craddock to murder 12 people, despite many hours of investigative work. Virginia Beach Police conducted more than 750 interviews and compiled more than 50,000 computer files. Officers found the gunman had no prior criminal history.
The shooting also intensified the debate over gun legislation in the Commonwealth — Governor Ralph Northam called a special legislative session on gun control after saying the mass shooting called for ‘votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.’ Meanwhile, the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement gained momentum with gun owners descending on local offices to demand that their government leaders establish sanctuaries for gun rights.
CLICK HERE for a look back at the May tragedy.
9-year-old girl killed during Memorial Day shootout
Tragedy hit the Richmond community in May after a young girl was killed in a Memorial Day shooting at a park on the city’s southside.
Markiya Simone Dickson, 9, died after she hit by a stray bullet during a shootout at Carter Jones Park on May 26. An 11-year-old boy — who was also at the park — was shot but survived.
Markiya’s parents, Mark Whitfield and Ciara Dickson, told 8News that their family stopped by a community cookout at the park. They said men on the basketball court started shooting into the crowd and Markiya was running to safety when she was shot.
“She was my bundle of joy. I can’t get her back … my life is shattered,” C. Dickson said.
Whitfield and Dickson said their daughter — a third-grader at Crestwood Elementary School in Chesterfield County — loved everyone.
“She was my everything, a part of my heart is missing,” C. Dickson said. “I leave out the house with three kids and I come back with two. This is not right.”
Markiya’s father applauds Northam’s call for gun control
Governor Ralph Northam called for a special legislative session to address gun violence in the Commonwealth on June 7 — four days after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach and nearly two weeks after Markiya was shot to death.
Whitfield spoke to 8News about Northam’s call for gun control, saying that when he saw what the special session called for, it made him feel like somebody was finally paying attention to the problem of gun violence and that in some way, his daughter’s memory will live on.
“I don’t want nobody else to feel this pain,” Whitfield said. “This pain is unreal.”
FBI offers reward
On July 2, the FBI announced a $20,000 reward to anyone who had information that would lead to an arrest and conviction in the case.
“Put yourself in our shoes,” C. Dickson said. “How would you feel if you were in this situation? You would want somebody to speak.”
Arrests made in the case
On November 1, Richmond Police said two men, 18-year-old Quinshawn Betts and 21-year-old Jermaine Davis, had been arrested and were charged with murder in Markiya’s case. A third man, 20-year-old Jesus Turner, was also wanted in the 9-year-old girl’s death.
Turner was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Regional Fugitive Task Force on December 15 and charged with murder.
All three suspects were also charged with two counts of malicious wounding and three counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
“Shout out to all the law enforcement that was involved in apprehending them,” Whitfield said. “They did their job and I thank them for that.”
Street renaming, Wiley statue help spell city’s complex history
Two historic moments helped define 2019 in Richmond — the unveiling of Arthur Ashe Boulevard and Kehinde Wiley’s ‘Rumors of War‘ moving into the city.
Virginia has a complex history — being that it was the former Confederate capital and epicenter of slavery. Local and state officials said the two significant events show the nation how Richmond is working to be a more progressive and inclusive city.
“A spectacular moment”
On a hot June day, thousands of people gathered to watch how a city came together to honor tennis legend Arthur Ashe — Boulevard was officially changed to Arthur Ashe Boulevard.
The ceremony coincided with the 400th anniversary of the first documented arrival of enslaved Africans to Virginia.
In the 1950s, Arthur Ashe grew up in a segregated Richmond and was denied entry to an all-white recreational facility. Yet, he thrived. Ashe became a champion of tennis and civil rights.
Ashe was the only black man to win the singles titles at Wimbledon, U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
On February 11, Richmond City Council voted 8-1 in favor of the name change. The proposal had been previously defeated twice since his death in 1993.
The new Arthur Ashe Boulevard was unveiled on June 23.
“This stretch of State Route 161 will never be the same after today. Today, Route 161 is getting an upgrade,” Mayor Levar Stoney said at the ceremony.
Ashe’s nephew told 8News that the street renaming is much bigger than his uncle’s legacy. He said it’s a moment he’s been waiting on for a long time to help carry on his family’s name, and the trails his uncle blazed for a new generation.
“Even though it’s just a street renaming, it’s bigger than that,” David Harris said. “It shows the youth we have the opportunity to change and re-engineer our society.”
“It’s a story about America 2.0”
Sitting along the newly named Arthur Ashe Boulevard is Kehinde Wiley’s monument ‘Rumors of War.’
Wiley’s 27-foot high equestrian-style statue is a direct response to his encounter with the Confederate statues in Richmond – specifically the one of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.
Unlike the statues on Monument Avenue, Wiley depicts a black man with dreadlocks and a modern look of ripped jeans and Nike’s atop a horse.
“It’s a story about America 2.0,” Wiley said at the unveiling on December 10.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney — who also attended at the unveiling — told the crowd of at least 1,000 people the statue shows the city that is moving on from its past.
“See, Richmond, we have a complex history. We have the good, the bad, and the ugly,” Stoney said. “But this monument firmly establishes that our city is not living in the past, but embracing the future and the good. Today, Richmond is embracing a future that is happening right before our eyes.”
Wiley said “Rumors of War” wasn’t a tribute to any one specific person. It’s instead “about black men and their place in this society. And in a much broader way, a society that can say yes to black men and their place in this society,” he said.
Manhunt for abducted teen
In October, several law enforcement agencies spent nine days searching for 14-year-old Isabel Hicks. The teen went missing on October 21 and was thought to have been abducted by her mother’s ex-boyfriend, 33-year-old Bruce Lynch. Virginia State Police later issued an AMBER Alert for Hicks.
Search efforts increased on October 28, after the pair were spotted in the Montpelier area of Hanover County.
More than 200 authorities joined in the effort to bring Hicks home. The two were found during a traffic stop on October 30 in Caroline County and Hicks was returned home safely.
The case garnered national attention; CLICK HERE to revisit full coverage.
Virginia Democrats take control of the General Assembly
Virginia voters were given an opportunity in November to help shift power in the state legislature for the first time in a generation as all 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly were on the ballot.
Republicans held a slight majority in the state Senate and House of Delegates before voters went to the polls but high voter turnout during the off-off year election helped Virginia Democrats seize control of both chambers before the night was over.
“Tonight, the ground has shifted in Virginia government. The voters have spoken, and they have elected landmark Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House of Delegates,” Gov. Northam said after the election results were announced. “I am proud of my fellow Democrats and inspired by our shared victory.”
Democrats campaigned on several issues in the months before the election, including stricter gun laws, raising the minimum wage, passing the Equal Rights Amendment and changing rules for absentee voting.
A look at the bills and resolutions already filed for the 2020 legislative session shows Democratic lawmakers plan to push those measures and their agenda in the new year.
CLICK HERE for full coverage of the November elections in Virginia.
Navy Hill Proposal
In November 2018, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney put forward an ambitious proposal to redevelop the Coliseum and area around it.
All throughout 2019, the proposal has been met with opposition from those who say it would hurt Richmond Public Schools.
City Council has spent the year reviewing the proposal and hearing from Richmonders about whether or not they wanted to redevelop downtown Richmond around a new arena.
Most recently, the Navy Hill Development Advisory Commission says the plan to redevelop the Richmond Coliseum and area around it is not a “sound and reasonable public investment,” but did say that the plan could work with more planning and analysis.
City Council is expected to vote on the proposal in 2020.
CLICK HERE for complete coverage.