The team at WHAS11 covered a lot of news this year - tragic stories of heartbreak, inspiring stories of hope and everything in between. If you need a refresher on what happened this year, read on for a review of some of our top stories of 2021.
We want to hear from you! Share your 2021 memories - or your favorite stories we covered this year - by sending us a text at 502-582-7290.
Pandemic Pains: COVID-19:
While many of us were hopeful that we could leave COVID-19, masks and quarantines in 2020, the coronavirus pandemic persisted through the year. The introduction of vaccines helped bring some hope that the end of the pandemic soon, but the new variants of the virus brought added concern.
By the numbers
Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, more than 2 million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Kentucky and Indiana combined. More than 30,000 people from both states have died from COVID-19.
Worldwide, a total of 281.5 million people have tested positive for COVID-19, according to data from John Hopkins University.
Both the delta and omicron variants have been detected in Kentucky and Indiana. The delta variant, which is the dominant variant in the United States, was first detected in June, with omicron following in December.
Shot at a Million
In June, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced a new incentive program to encourage Kentuckians to get their COVID-19 vaccines - the "Shot At A Million" vaccine lottery. Three lucky Kentuckians received $1 million each for getting vaccinated and more than a dozen students between 12 and 17 won full-ride scholarships.
Tips for regaining taste and smell
One of the most notable - and long-term - symptoms of COVID-19 is the loss of taste and smell. In January, Rob Harris spoke to Dr. Al Knable from New Albany, who suffered from the unfortunate side effect. He provided some advice on how he managed to regain these senses - without going to extremes.
More COVID-19 Headlines
The Record No One Wanted to Break: Crime:
The city of Louisville was no stranger to crime in 2021. Nearly 200 lives were lost as the city surpassed the homicide record set in 2020. Dozens of these victims were teenagers and children.
City leaders, organizations and outreach programs have all called for an end to the violence, but the numbers continued to rise this year.
Kasmira Nash was shot and killed at Vibes Restaurant and Ultra Lounge in May, over Derby weekend. Nash was a bartender at the Louisville nightclub and, according to Louisville Metro Police (LMPD), she was killed during an altercation with Ronnie O'Bannon, a former DJ for rapper Jack Harlow.
O'Bannon turned himself in and is facing charges of murder and tampering with physical evidence. In December, Nash's family filed a lawsuit against the owner of the club, alleging that he failed to implement proper security procedures on the night of the shooting.
On the morning of Sept. 21, three students were hit by gunfire while waiting for their school bus at W.J. Hodge and Chestnut Street in the Russell neighborhood. Tyree Smith, a 16-year-old student at Eastern High School, died from his injuries at the hospital. The other two students suffered non-life-threatening injuries.
Two teenagers have been arrested in connection with Smith's death, but Louisville police said the shooting is still under investigation.
Metro Councilman Jecorey Arthur created a paid internship in honor of Smith. "The Real Young Prodigy's," a youth music group, filmed a music video at the site of the shooting to demand an end to the violence.
TikTok saves teen
A 16-year-old girl from North Carolina was rescued in November after she used a "signal for help" made popular on TikTok. The Laurel County Sheriff's Office said they were able to arrest the man she was with after a tip was received of a girl giving hand gestures to represent domestic violence while in a car on I-75.
Through the investigation, the sheriff's department learned that the teenager had traveled with a 61-year-old man through multiple states before she was found in Kentucky. The man has been charged with kidnapping and possession of matter sex performance by a minor.
Click here to see Tom Lally's conversation with a Laurel County deputy who helped bring the girl to safety.
More Crime Headlines
Going Deeper: FOCUS Investigations:
Our FOCUS investigative team has been hard at work this year, digging deep into many of our top stories. Here are just a few highlights:
In February, Heather Fountaine looked into a series of arrests related to the Gangster Disciples gang, including an alleged high-ranking member originally from Kentucky.
The notorious gang was founded by Larry Hoover in Chicago in the 1960s but has since spread to at least 31 states and 110 cities, according to the Department of Justice.
Jeffersontown Police Chief Rick Sanders spoke about his history with the gang - and how he is using his experience to combat crime in Louisville.
"The violence that we're seeing now concerns me," Sanders said. "This is a different Louisville and if we don't pay attention and do something about it then it's going to be out of control."
As the coronavirus pandemic soldiers on, a common issue faced by many Kentuckians, was the struggle with unemployment benefits. To help combat fraud, a new ID requirement for unemployment filings was enforced in November.
During this time, FOCUS investigator John Charlton has heard the stories of dozens of people who are still struggling to get their benefits, including one man who was at risk of losing everything - until his community stepped in to help.
The disappearance of Crystal Rogers, a Bardstown mother who went missing six years ago, still remains a mystery in 2021.
In August, FBI agents conducted a major search in the Woodlawn Springs subdivision, which has connections to Rogers' former boyfriend Brooks Houck. During their investigation, agents uncovered "items of interest," which were taken to Quantico, Virginia for analysis, but details on what those items were have not been released.
Three months later, the FBI announced that it was working with the Nelson County Prosecutor's Office to "get this to a place where we can have a conclusion."
More FOCUS Investigations
At least 77 people were killed in the storm and thousands lost their homes, prompting massive responses on the state and federal levels. President Joe Biden visited some of the hardest-hit communities and promised that the United States government would help them recover.
February Snow Storms
Gov. Andy Beshear declared a State of Emergency in February as multiple winter storms brought several inches of snow and ice to Kentucky. At least three storms hit the area within seven days, creating hazardous driving conditions and knocking out power for thousands in the state.
Organizations including Dare to Care and the Love Transformation Project helped make sure the Louisville community stayed fed while the city was shut down.
More Weather Headlines
Stories to Warm Your Heart:
Amid all of the terrible things that happened this year, there was a lot of good. Here are a few stories that made us smile - and gave us a little more faith in humanity.
Abandoned dog makes miraculous recovery
In January, a sick, emaciated dog was left for dead at the Kentucky Humane Society. His odds didn't look good, but thanks to the constant care and dedication of the staff at KHS, the dog - named Ethan - slowly but surely regained his strength. Today, he is a happy and healthy dog, living a (somewhat) normal life.
The entire community rallied around Ethan, especially on social media. His recovery inspired others and he has since been honored with a special proclamation in Louisville and was named Busch Beer's "Chief Tasting Officer" in May.
Baby boxes help save lives of surrendered newborns
At least four Safe Haven Baby Boxes were installed in Kentucky and southern Indiana this year. These boxes allow mothers to anonymously surrender their newborn if they are unable to care for the child.
In May, a newborn was anonymously surrendered to the Safe Haven Baby Box at the Clarksville Fire Station. Chief Brandon Skaggs told Brooke Hasch it was "probably the best 23 minutes I've had as a firefighter."
In April, Sherlene Shanklin introduced the world to D'Corey Johnson. The third-grader at Bates Elementary School became an instant sensation after videos of him singing the National Anthem went viral.
His mother, Nakia, said D'Corey got his start singing in church and at the Louisville Central Community Center - which gave him the space he needed to showcase his talent.
He has since shared his talents around the country, singing at multiple sporting events including a Cincinnati Reds game. Before the start of the 2021-22 school year, he released a new single and music video called, appropriately, "Back to School."
More Heartwarming Stories
In Other News:
Some news is good, some news is bad and some news is just...unexpected. These are some of our more interesting headlines that came out of 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused supply shortages and production issues around the world, and those effects were felt quite strongly in Kentucky earlier this spring.
Tom Lally visited Kentucky Speedway in May, where thousands of brand new Ford trucks were stuck in limbo as manufacturers waited for semiconductor chips. Sites like this one also appeared in other Kentucky and southern Indiana locations.
The buzz about cicadas
While the bugs don't sting or bite, farmers in the Louisville area had to take special precautions to protect their trees from them.
Thankfully, these insects won't be back around in full force for another 17 years.
Stink bug invasion
As summer turned to fall and temperatures cooled in Kentuckiana, another bug made an appearance - stink bugs.
These bugs commonly appear in the cooler months, but Kentuckiana saw them in bulk this year, particularly in October and November.
The bugs aren't harmful, but if you see any this winter, you may not want to squash them.
Click here for more information on how to get rid of them.
More Unexpected Headlines