We teeter on the edge of the fiscal cliff as this year ends, looking uncertainly and warily into the future. But isn’t that always the way? We couldn’t — and wouldn’t — have dreamed up some of the biggest stories of 2012, those that lingered on our front pages and during dinner conversations, in heated Facebook exchanges and testy, overemotional Tweets.
The top stories of 2012 tapped into our collective conscious with horror and anguish, anger and uncertainty, pride and fear — any of the universal emotions that bind us as a nation.
Here’s our take on the top five national/international and top five local stories of 2012.
National and international
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1: Mass shootings: At a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20, a gunman opened fire on a theater full of moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 people and injuring almost 60 others. Arrested and charged with the crime is James Eagan Holmes, who is awaiting trial. But Eagan’s act of terror was not to be the only one of 2012. On Dec. 14, Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 children and six adults. Lanza, who died after shooting himself, killed his mother, a Sandy Hook teacher, before his rampage. The horrific attacks propelled the arguments for and against gun control to the forefront of American debate.
2: Hurricane Sandy: The superstorm bypassed Florida and slammed into the shore near Atlantic City, N.J. on Oct. 29. The storm killed more than 100 people and pulverized communities on the Jersey shore, leaving tens of thousands homeless, millions without electricity and billions of dollars worth of infrastructure damage. Preliminary reports indicate that Sandy was the second costliest hurricane to hit the U.S. (after Hurricane Katrina in 2005), and the depth of the devastation underscored the dangerous vulnerability of our coastline.
3: 2012 presidential election: The campaign lasted years and tested patience and friendships (if you didn’t have a fight with a friend or family member on social media over it, you were in the minority). But on Nov. 6, President Barack Obama won re-election over challenger Mitt Romney despite some polls predicting a Romney victory. Projected to be a pivotal state, Florida instead played the joker’s role as undermanned and overstuffed precincts and limited early voting left thousands standing in line to cast ballots long after the polls closed. The debacle left many voters furious and clamoring for change — and possibly made the road to re-election a little rockier for Gov. Rick Scott, who took the blame for the cutbacks in early voting.
4: Unrest in the Middle East: The conflict between Israel and Hamas reignited in November, when Israel launched airstrikes at what it said were terrorist targets in Gaza in retaliation for rocket attacks from the area. War loomed, but a cease-fire was called. Meanwhile, the effects of the Arab Spring surged throughout the Middle East, with a civil war erupting in Syria and a presidential election that ended up setting off more protests and demonstrations in Egypt. The upheaval continues to have a profound effect on the political structure — and the future — of the region.
5: Gen. David H. Petraeus scandal: What essentially started as an affair between the CIA director and his biographer quickly descended into a tawdry soap opera. The secrets unwound when Petraeus’ mistress, Paula Broadwell, sent emails to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, warning her to stay away from Petraeus, a retired four-star general, and Gen. John Allen, the top NATO Commander in Afghanistan. Kelley reported the emails to the FBI, triggering an investigation that led to the exposure of the affair and Kelley’s own questionable emails to the married Allen. In the end, the disgraced Petraeus resigned; Allen is under investigation and his appointment to become NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe is in jeopardy. Broadwell went into temporary hiding and Kelley lost her diplomatic and military privileges — and the nation was inundated with too much information about the private lives of its military leaders.
1: Causeway attack: In a random Memorial Day weekend encounter, Rudy Eugene exacted a growling, vicious, unimaginable attack on Ronald Poppo on the MacArthur Causeway, chewing off chunks of the homeless man’s face in an 18-minute assault partially caught on video. As horrific details emerged — including speculation that Eugene, 31, was high on bath salts or under a Vodou curse — he came to be known as a face-eating zombie, serving as grisly pop cultural fodder worldwide. Eugene, who became one of the subjects of a documentary, was shot and killed by police during the attack. Poppo, 65, who had spent more than half of his life on Miami’s streets, lost most of his facial features, is blind and must endure a lifetime of healing.
2: Trayvon Martin: The shooting of the black, unarmed Miami teen on a rainy February night by a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer escalated into a hairy national conversation about race, racial profiling, gun control and Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law. The following months saw a social media-powered movement with coast-to-coast protests (some led by national civil rights leaders), a media frenzy and ultimately Zimmerman’s arrest. The story that has been simmering is now headed back to the front pages and airwaves as authorities prepare for Zimmerman’s murder trial, which will take place in the coming year.
3: Christian Aguilar: The Miami student headed to the campus of University of Florida in July with dreams of becoming a biomedical engineer. His body was returned in October, after a three-week search conducted by police and hundreds of volunteers from across the state. Police allege Aguilar, 18 — who went missing Sept. 20 — was poisoned by his close friend Pedro Bravo; they were both graduates of Doral Academy Preparatory. Aguilar’s story, powered by the universal fear of losing a child, drew national interest and a Facebook page with more than 13,000 followers. Bravo’s murder case is expected to go to trial next year.
4: Miami Heat wins a second NBA championship: They — and by “they” we mean all of the sports media based north of West Palm Beach — said it couldn’t be done. Micky Arison and Pat Riley thought otherwise, and so LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade and the rest of the team, and the Three Kings were born. After a heartbreaking loss in last year’s Finals, the Miami Heat won its second NBA championship in June, punishing the young Oklahoma City Thunder 4 games to 1 in the series. James won the MVP award, his first championship and a formidable spot in that “greatest ever” conversation while serving up a heaping helping of pride to beleaguered South Florida sports fans.
5: Marlins Park opens: Miami built it and they came — at least for opening day. After almost 20 years of playing in somebody else’s ballpark, the Marlins rolled out a swanky new stadium on April 4 to great fanfare. But the rest of the season was a freefall into blame and bitter disappointment as the bats went quiet and the seats went empty. Management infuriated fans by trading players despite earlier assurances they wouldn’t, and taxpayers suddenly remembered who was footing the bill for a big chunk of this disaster.