South Florida

South Florida’s biggest stories of 2017

Myeshia Johnson kisses the casket of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, during his burial service at Fred Hunter's Hollywood Memorial Gardens in Hollywood, Florida on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017.
Myeshia Johnson kisses the casket of her husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, during his burial service at Fred Hunter's Hollywood Memorial Gardens in Hollywood, Florida on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017.

It was a year of non-stop headlines and sweeping political change at the national level, and one that also brought an onslaught of news to South Florida. Here are the stories we covered this year that we thought were most significant. But you might have other ideas. Tell us on Facebook or on Twitter what you think is missing.

We survived Hurricane Irma and started to rebuild, then welcomed thousands of Puerto Ricans fleeing Hurricane Maria. We fiercely debated immigration, discussed President Donald Trump’s leadership style and found ourselves at the center of national controversy after the president’s response to the death of a Miami Gardens soldier sparked a war of words. We investigated how young offenders were mistreated in the state’s prison system. We also mourned the victims of the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting and other acts of violence in our community.

Here’s a look back at some of the Miami Herald’s most-read stories of 2017 — the ones that captivated us, sparked our curiosity or, all too often, broke our hearts:

Watch some of the video highlights of major news events in South Florida from 2017.

1. Hurricane Irma

As Hurricane Irma churned toward Florida in early September, it became the strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded outside the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Some Floridians fled north in cars, others sought refuge in shelters, and some hunkered down to wait out the storm. The Florida Keys took the brunt of the hurricane.

A violent swirl of wind and rain travels through Biscayne Boulevard from Hurricane Irma.

2. Fort Lauderdale airport shooting

In early January, a gunman opened fire in the baggage claim area at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, killing five people and seriously injuring six others. Many of the victims were retirees who had flown to South Florida to take cruises.

Video shows chaotic scene at baggage claim at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, including one shooting victim.

Another tragedy was averted in October when a Miami man inspired by ISIS was arrested after he allegedly hatched a plan to blow up a bomb at the Dolphin Mall.

3. A shooting at the Shops at Merrick Park

In April, a personal trainer killed one former co-worker and wounded another at the Shops at Merrick Park in Coral Gables before killing himself. The trainer had recently been fired from his job at the Equinox fitness center. The person who was wounded that day later died of those injuries.

4. Teen commits suicide on Facebook

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An image of 14-year-old Naika Venant on her Facebook page. Facebook

A 14-year-old Miami teen in foster care hanged herself while streaming it live on Facebook. Her death came three weeks after another teen in Georgia killed herself in a live video. The suicides sparked a national conversation about the dangers of social media for vulnerable teens.

5. Fight Club

A Miami Herald investigation uncovered a disturbing pattern of beatings carried out or ordered by officers in Florida’s Juvenile Justice System and examined 12 questionable deaths of detained youths. The series prompted a grand jury investigation and calls for reform from lawmakers.

A look at the "fight club" culture inside Florida's juvenile justice system, where staffers sometimes employ harsh takedowns, ignore abuse and offer snacks as bribes for beatdowns — known as "honey-bunning."

6. ‘He knew what he signed up for’

In October, President Donald Trump’s response to the death of a Miami Gardens soldier sparked national controversy. After Sgt. La David T. Johnson was killed during a mission in Niger, Trump reportedly told his widow “he knew what he signed up for … but when it happens it hurts anyway.” That led to a war of words between the White House and Miami-Dade Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

That was the second local controversy involving the family of a slain service member. In February, the father of a Navy SEAL killed during an anti-terrorism mission in Yemen refused to meet Trump. In an interview with the Miami Herald, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea resident William Owens demanded answers for his son’s death.

7. Crackdown on immigration

Fearing a loss of millions of federal dollars, in January Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered county jails to comply with federal immigration detention requests. That ended Miami-Dade’s position as a “sanctuary” for immigrants in the country illegally amid a nationwide crackdown on “sanctuary” counties. The move sparked protests outside County Hall.

8. Mr. President: ‘Just who the hell do you think you are?’

Shortly after Trump took office, Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. wrote about the new commander-in-chief in a column entitled Mr. President: ‘Just who the hell do you think you are?’. The column was one of the Herald’s most-read articles in 2017.

9. Big shake-ups in sports

In August, Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria agreed to sell the franchise for $1.2 billion to a group led by New York businessman Bruce Sherman and former New York Yankees star Derek Jeter. The new owners made a splash in December when they reached an agreement with the Yankees to trade Giancarlo Stanton, part of a major roster shake-up.

Stanton dons the pinstripes for the first time on Monday during a press conference at the Winter Meetings.

The Marlins weren’t the only Miami sports team to grab national headlines. Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigned in October after a video surfaced showing him snorting a white powdery substance off what appeared to be his desk at the team’s training facility.

In the world of college sports, the University of Miami had a shot at a perfect football season. That dream was derailed in November when the Pittsburgh Panthers beat the Hurricanes 24-14. The Canes then lost to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game and, finally, lost in the Orange Bowl to Wisconsin on Saturday night.

Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt addresses the media after UM lost to the Wisconsin Badgers 34-24 in the Capital One Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Saturday, December 30, 2017.

10. It wasn’t all bad

In a year of local tragedies, one of the Herald’s most-read stories was decidedly more positive: the opening of Miami’s long-awaited Frost Museum of Science. Readers gobbled up news that the $305 million museum, complete with an aquarium and planetarium, would finally be open for business.

The Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum had its grand opening Monday morning, May 8, 2017. After several events leading up to the opening, the doors officially opened to the public after five years of construction and $305 million in costs.

Miami Herald staff writer Amy Lipman contributed to this report