(WTAJ) — Should auld acquaintance be forgot — or should we take a look back and remember the year that was 2021?
A second year of the COVID-19 pandemic seemed like it would be a breeze after dealing with 2020, but we soon found out it was anything but. From a country dividing riot at the Capitol to a neighborhood shaking home explosion in Blair County, the year was filled with awe in every sense of the word — good and bad.
Take a look back at these top stories locally and nationally from the past 365 days as we say a toast — and a ‘good-bye’ — to another trip around the sun.
A new year and a new president didn’t exactly start the year off in the best of ways when a large number of Trump supporters showed up at the Capitol in what started as a protest of validating the electoral college votes to prevent Biden from becoming the 46th president.
From there, it all went awry as they broke past barriers and gained access to the Capitol building. Almost a year later, the FBI is still scouring through hours upon hours of footage to try and identify people while a handful have already been handed down a prison sentence, including the so-called ‘QAnon Shaman’
Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, but he didn’t see any fans at Gobbler’s Knob thanks to COVID-19. The event was closed to the public, but WTAJ was allowed to be there live to broadcast Phil’s prediction. Fun Fact: This became WTAJ’s most viewed video of 2021!
Great news though, folks! Gobbler’s Knob will be open to the public again for 2022 and tickets are already on sale.
Nationally, well, internationally, globally, and galactically, NASA landed its most high-tech robot/rover on Mars. A robot that can drill into the top layer of the red planet to analyze and eventually even send back samples.
Before there were issues with container ships not being able to port, one ship made worldwide headlines after it got wedged into the Suez Canal. The cargo ship was stuck for several weeks in Egypt before finally being pulled free.
State College-based contractor, Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc, was charged after a three-year investigation that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro deemed “the largest prevailing wage criminal case on record under state and federal law.” Shapiro’s office said as a result of Hawbaker’s conduct, individual workers lost tens of thousands of dollars from their retirement. They said Hawbaker used its workers’ fringe benefit funds to lower their costs and thereby increase its own profits.
By the end of summer, the company, which has done billions of dollars worth of work with the state, had agreed to pay over $20 million in restitution.
Former officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty by a jury in the death of George Floyd in 2020. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was declared dead after Chauvin pressed his knee against his neck for about nine minutes on May 25, 2020. Floyd was being arrested on suspicion of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a convenience store. His death sparked protests and civil unrest in Minneapolis and across the U.S. over police brutality, at points turning violent.
Chauvin, 45, was found guilty on all charges: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was later sentenced to at least 22 years in prison.
The one with the reunion.
The gang from NYC reunited on HBO Max as Joey, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Ross, and Pheobe walked back on set after nearly 20 years. For fans of the show, it felt like you were seeing a warm, loving family reunion. You even got an appearance from Janice (OH. MY. GAWD) and Gunther. Sadly, months later, James Michael Tyler, who played Gunther, passed away from cancer at 59.
June saw the crowning of Miss Central PA to become Miss Pennsylvania. Meghan Sinisi took the grand stage and beat out the competition to hold the crown of Miss Pennsylvania, a title that would soon see her vie for Miss America 6 months later.
Our local area was rocked in July when a home explosion happened in Tyrone, Blair County. The scene was surreal as multiple crews worked hour after hour to get the fire under control. Multiple houses were damaged and five people were injured. Unfortunately, one person lost their life. The tragedy truly showed the unity of our communities as residents and businesses alike banded together to help the families.
As the #MeToo movement was in full swing, Bill Cosby saw accusations hit and wound up in prison. Sentenced to more than 10 years, Cosby served three of them before a Pennsylvania Court overturned the conviction after an argument that the District Attorney who decided to charge and arrest Cosby was under obligation from his predecessor that Cosby would not be charged.
While the world watched NASA land the most advanced robot/rover ever made on Mars earlier in 2021, the “Billionaire Blastoff” race was getting underway. Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson took off out of our atmosphere in July, besting then Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos but mere days. Since then, Bezos has sent names such as William Shatner and Michael Strahan to space in a Blue Origin rocket. All the while, Elon Musk has successfully landed a reusable rocket back down to Earth, launched a Tesla into space, and looks towards Mars.
The world watched as President Biden proceeded to adhere to Former President Trump’s plans to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan in 2021. While the Taliban proceeded to take over the capital city, things went south quickly when an explosion at an Afghan airport went off while thousands of residents tried to flee the country.
Japan 2020 sounds like we’re a little late on this one, but with COVID-19, the 2020 Summer Olympics were held off until Summer 2021. World-renowned American Olympic gymnast Simone Biles made headlines after she decided to withdraw from competition in an attempt to deal with her mental health among other things going on in her life and with her family. She later returned to come home with a bronze on the balance beam for Team USA.
New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, made headlines after being accused of sexual harassment over the summer. After trying to take a stand after the allegations, Cuomo resigned from his position as Governor as another woman came forward with her story. He was later officially charged in Oct. 2021.
We will never forget… and the country proved that 20 years later as we honored the lives lost in the worst terroristic attack in our nation’s history. WTAJ was live during the ceremony at the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Somerset County as we all stay vigilant to make sure those lives lost are NEVER forgotten.
Somerset County District Attorney Jeffery Thomas was arrested on rape charges in September. Police were investigating the accusation of a sexual assault of a woman one evening while Thomas was supposedly drinking before showing up at her house. Thomas has since taken a leave from his position to focus on his own case and has had his pay and benefits frozen.
Pennsylvania finally hit its goal to have 70% of the population ages 18 and over to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The date, however, was in question when the CDC rectified a lot of data across the country and dropped Pennsylvania under 70% again, but even that was only for a few weeks.
Residents around University Park were advised to stay indoors after a reported armed robbery took place at the bus station on South Atherton Street. The employee told police he was pushed to the ground as the man with a gun took bags/cash from behind the counter before fleeing out of the building and across the street.
Two months later, police reported that through the investigation, they found that the employee had actually made the whole thing up and is now facing charges for false information to law enforcement.
A tragic story hit our region in November as a Blair County Corrections Officer was killed during a struggle with an inmate and Blair Central Court. Rhonda Russell struggled with the inmate who had reached for her gun only to be hit by friendly fire when an Altoona Police officer attempted to shoot his firearm at the inmate. The bullet hit Russell instead and despite life-saving measures before being rushed to UPMC, she was soon pronounced deceased.
The community was quick to step in and join together to help the family of Rhonda Russell after her sudden death.
Nationally, Britney Spears has had a whirlwind of a career, and life at this point. In November, a court officially ended the conservatorship that her father had over her, finally setting her “free”
Altoona native Meghan Sinisi, who was crowned Miss Pennsylvania in June, competed for the title of Miss America. While unable to keep the crown from Miss Alaska, Sinisi sure did bring pride to our 814 area! There’s always next year!
Kentucky saw one of the most devastating tornadoes in our history since keeping a record. Homes were destroyed, warehouses full of workers collapsed, and an entire region of the state was left ravaged by mother nature.