Otto Warmbier’s death, and a year of high-stakes tension with North Korea

The death of Ohio native Otto Warmbier was a heartbreaking moment in a year of marked tensions with North Korea. Warmbier, a college student at the University of Virginia, was arrested in North Korea on charges of trying to steal a poster. The 22-year-old was returned home in June in a coma; he died shortly thereafter. Pyongyang denied it tortured or mistreated him, claiming Warmbier contracted botulism and was given a sleeping pill. Throughout 2017, President Trump and Kim Jong Un, whom Trump dubbed “Little Rocket Man,” exchanged even more heated threats over North Korea’s rapid development of nuclear weapons that could strike the U.S. mainland.



Another blow to Black Lives Matter

“Hands up, don’t shoot,” became a rallying cry after Michael Brown was killed in 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. Terence Crutcher had his hands up. Police shot. In May, a jury acquitted of first-degree manslaughter white Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby, who says she fired out of fear last year when she killed 40-year-old Crutcher. His family burst into tears at the verdict. In a video of the incident, the Tulsa Police Department can be heard saying Crutcher “looks like a bad dude.” Crutcher’s twin sister later said, “That ‘big bad dude’ was a father … a son.” The controversial verdict led to protests from Black Lives Matter.  Shelby has since resigned from the Tulsa Police Department.



The Great American Eclipse captivates a nation

For the first time in almost 100 years, a total solar eclipse spanned across the country. Americans paused and enjoyed some unity as the moon passed between the sun and the Earth. Many traveled to the path of totality to experience the eerie darkness. From coast to coast, Americans watched — hopefully while wearing eclipse glasses — as the moon’s shadow traced its 67-mile wide path across the country starting in Oregon. Those 2-3 minutes of darkness brought millions of tourist dollars to hotels, campgrounds, restaurants and museums in cities in the eclipse path.



They gave him 18 drinks. Then, left him to die

The horrifying death of a 19-year-old fraternity pledge captured on video exposed dangerous hazing rituals by members of Penn State University’s Beta Theta Pi. After frat brothers gave Timothy Piazza 18 drinks in less than one hour and 22 minutes, his blood-alcohol content was about four times the legal limit for driving. Piazza was found unconscious in the basement the next day and later died. At least two dozen face charges in the case. Three other pledges across the nation died this year in Greek-related drinking incidents.



Michael Flynn, and the role of Russia in the 2016 election

Despite being one of the most vulnerable figures in special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn remained beloved in his Rhode Island hometown in 2017. Flynn was ousted from the White House just weeks after President Trump’s inauguration over his Russian contacts, and in December, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Flynn is among four campaign aides charged so far in Mueller’s investigation. Flynn is the only one who served in Trump’s administration. The only other guilty plea is George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign associate Rick Gates have been charged and pleaded not guilty. In addition to Mueller’s investigation, three Congressional committees are looking at Russia.



Governor stands with Trump amid sanctuary city crackdown

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster made it clear in October that the Palmetto State would not tolerate any cities acting as sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants. The governor’s strong condemnation of sanctuary cities came months after President Trump’s executive order cracking down on cities that limit cooperation with immigration agencies. Following the order, leaders of some of the nation’s biggest cities, including New York City, Chicago, and Boston, flatly stated they would not cooperate with the president. In November, a federal judge permanently blocked Trump’s executive order in sanctuary cities.



Old gold mine might hold treasured info on why we exist

Researchers are in search of a different kind of treasure in a rural South Dakota gold mine: potential secrets explaining how the universe was created. The mine in Lead, S.D., that once hosted gold rushes in the 1800s will serve as home to scientists participating in the largest U.S.-based particle physics experiment. The experiment will determine whether particles called neutrinos help explain our existence. Over the next 10 years, workers will remove more than 870,000 tons of rock and install a four-story, 70,000-ton neutrino detector. The collaboration will involve 1,000 scientists from more than 30 countries.



Tuition-free community college

Tennessee students can put away their checkbooks if community colleges are in their future. In May, the southern state became the first to offer a tuition-free education to nearly every resident without a degree. Even though Tennessee was the first state to pass the measure, it isn’t without precursors. New York legislators passed a budget in April that covered tuition for families making less than $100,000 a year. In February, San Francisco voters passed a tax measure that would cover community college tuition for anyone who lived in the city for more than a year, though the state of California did not follow suit.



Hurricane Harvey hit hard

Hurricane Harvey’s historic downpour brought destruction to the Texas Gulf coast. Harvey killed dozens, dumped more than 50 inches of rain and drove thousands from their homes. Its effects will be felt for months and years into the future. Amid the destruction, people stepped up to help. There was Houston Texans star J.J. Watt raising more than $37 million in online donations, human chains pulling people to safety and an impromptu gospel singing performance at a shelter. Watt perhaps puts it best: “When times are the toughest, humanity stands at its strongest.”



Outcry over nurse’s arrest for refusing to draw unconscious patient’s blood

A Utah police officer was fired after he arrested a nurse who refused to let him draw blood from an unconscious patient without a warrant. Body cam footage of the arrest shows Detective Jeff Payne dragging Alex Wubbels from University Hospital while she sobs “this is crazy.” An investigation was opened after video of the arrest went viral, and Wubbels received a $500,000 settlement from the city and the university that runs the hospital. She said she would give a portion of the settlement to the nurses union and help lead a campaign to stop the physical and verbal abuse of nurses on the job.