What a year.
I say that not knowing if that statement is a good thing or not. The year 2012, at the very least, stands out, though largely because it was filled with so much sorrow. Of course, the phrase on everyone’s lips going into 2013 is “Fiscal Cliff,” but that is just one story in a very eventful year.
I think the thing that I, and probably the majority of Americans, will remember most from this year is the horrific day of December 14th. That Friday, a twenty-year-old by the name of Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in the tiny village of Sandy Hook, in the town of Newtown, Connecticut, and violently murdered twenty children and six adults. He also killed his mother and later took his own life. We may never know why he did this, but we do know that we are all shocked and horrified, and that some things have changed in this country. Be it tougher gun laws, gun bans, armed guards or teachers in our schools, changes are coming. We will have to wait to see—over the course of 2013—which changes we as a country will chose. No matter what, changes are coming in this country, and the gun debate will now be a prominent, heated issue for the year ahead, as this was but one horrific incident this year fueled by heavily-armed killers.
Just weeks before the Newtown shootings, on December 11th, twenty-two-year-old Jacob Roberts opened fire in the Clackamas Town Center near Happy Valley, Oregon, outside of Portland. He was clad in tactical clothing and a hockey mask, and was armed with a stolen AR-15 assault rifle. He fired as many as 60 rounds, killed two people, and seriously wounding a third person before killing himself.
On August 5th, a white supremacist named Wade Michael Page opened fire on worshipers at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six people and wounding four others. The gunman was eventually shot in the stomach by a police officer, and then he fatally shot himself in the head.
Prior to any of these awful events, on July 20th, during a midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises, James Holmes walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado dressed like the Joker. He set off tear gas grenades before firing shots randomly into the crowd. He killed twelve people and injured 58 others.
And while the world did not come to an end in 2012 as some predicted it would, the year did bring us plenty of devastation by Mother Nature. Most notably in the form of so-called Superstorm Sandy. This superstorm began as Hurricane Sandy which devastated portions of the Caribbean, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeastern US in late October. After a brief weakening, Sandy’s strength intensified as she moved ashore near Atlantic City, New Jersey. A total of 24 US states were in some way affected by Sandy. Sandy caused an estimated $63 billion in damage in the United States, destroyed thousands of homes, left millions without electricity, and killed at least 131 people in eight states, making Sandy the deadliest hurricane to hit the US mainland since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Throughout the summer, Much of the country was engulfed in flames as wildfires spread rapidly, fueled by record hot temperatures and drought conditions. On a more personal note, my hometown, Colorado Springs, Colorado, was devastated by the Waldo Canyon Fire. The fire caused the evacuation of over 32,000 residents of Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, and Woodland Park, as well as several small mountain communities along Highway 24. Approximately 346 homes were destroyed. Two residence of Colorado Springs lost their lives. The Waldo Canyon Fire also left its financial mark in 2012 history as being the most expensive fire in Colorado’s history, with insurance claims totaling more than $353 million. It was also the most destructive fire in Colorado history, in terms of structures destroyed.
Like any year, 2012 had a large number of celebrity deaths as well. In 2012, we said goodby to musicians Whitney Houston, Dave Brubeck, Robin Gibb, Donna Summer, Adam Yauch, and Davy Jones. The music world also lost greats like Don Cornelius and Dick Clark. Book lovers said goodbye to Gore Vidal, Ray Bradbury, Nora Ephron, and Stephen Covey. We lost acting greats Andy Griffith, Sherman Hemsley, and Phyllis Diller. As well as painter Thomas Kinkade, journalist Mike Wallace, and politicians Arlen Specter and Daniel Inouye. And the world of science and space exploration lost Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space.
And like any year, we had our share of scandals. Though the story emerged in 2011, the Penn State child sex abuse scandal dominated the headlines for much of 2012. It eventually led to the total disgrace of Joe Paterno’s storied football coaching career and the imprisonment of Penn State assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, who was found guilty on 45 of 48 sexual abuse charges brought against him. On Oct. 8th, the sixty-eight-year-old Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. Joe Paterno died early this year, on January 22nd, at the age of eighty-five.
And speaking of disgrace, that brings us to General David Petraeus, whose great military career will likely be overshadowed by the scandal surrounding his extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
General David Petraeus shakes hands with Paula Broadwell.
Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman became household names after Trayvon Martin, an unarmed seventeen-year-old, was shot and killed by Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, on February 26th, in Sanford, Florida. The circumstances surrounding Martin’s death, including the initial decision to not charge Zimmerman, raised questions about Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Allegations of racist motivation for both the shooting and police conduct contributed to public demands for Zimmerman’s arrest. Finally, on April 11th, the special prosecutor on the case filed a charge of second degree murder against Zimmerman, who was then arrested. This case is still ongoing and will likely be a prominent news story for 2013.
More tragedy and allegations scandal came to us on September 11th when the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, was attacked and consumed by flames. Chris Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans were killed in the attack.
Politics were front and center for most of 2012, as the presidential election took the lion’s share of media attention. Mitt Romney was chosen as the Republican nominee to challenge President Barack Obama. While the campaign trail, and Romney’s mouth, provided us amusing soundbites such as “binders full of woman,” “I like Big Bird,” and “the trees are the right height,” the race seemed like a close one. However, on Election Day, November 6th, President Barack Obama won in a landslide with 332 electoral votes. He also won the popular vote. Indeed, it was a triumphant night for Democrats across the country, as many Tea Party politicians were voted out of office as well. Election Day also punctuated American’s feelings on another highly debated topic of 2012: gay marriage. Voters in Washington, Maine, and Maryland said yes to measures that allow same-sex marriages. In Minnesota, voters turned back a proposed constitutional amendment that would have prohibited same-sex marriage. It was also a victorious night for those who enjoy the recreational use of marijuana, as it was legalized in Washington and Colorado.
And since 2012 was by no means all doom, gloom, and annoying political ads, I must include that the world watched the 2012 Summer Games, which were held in London. The US took home 104 medals, including 46 gold, 29 silver, and 29 bronze. All of America seemed to catch Gymnastics Fever once again as we watched Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and McKayla Maroney lead the US to medal after medal. Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte, and Michael Phelps excited viewers of the swimming events, and for about a week, it seemed that we all stopped thinking about all the bad things of this year as we cheered for our athletes.
And finally, 2012 gave us what is perhaps one of the coolest, craziest things my generation has ever witnessed. On October 14th, Austrian skydiver (and daredevil) Felix Baumgartner flew approximately 24 miles into the stratosphere over New Mexico in a helium balloon, before free falling, then parachuting to Earth. The jump lasted approximately ten minutes. Reaching a speed of 834.4 mph—Mach 1.24—Baumgartner broke the sound barrier on his descent, becoming the first human to do so without any form of engine power. Baumgartner also broke the unofficial record for the highest manned balloon flight, and may have broken the record for the highest altitude jump. Baumgartner’s jump was 65 years to the day when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier for the first time in a piloted aircraft.
Personally, I had a pretty good year this year. I even got married, in Vegas (yes, it was planned…). But my year was not without its down moments, too. Up to and including the aforementioned Waldo Canyon Fire. Perhaps the bad news events of 2012 stand out more than the good, but this year has seemed more turbulent, overall, than most years in recent memory. We did not end on a good note either. First the shootings in Newtown, and then the “Fiscal Cliff” nonsense that proved to all of us just how useless the 112th Congress actually is. We have no great reason to believe that the 113th will be any better, but we can at least hope. So, as we launch 2013, I want to wish all of you a very Happy New Year! May this year be better for all of us.