Top 25 Local Stories of the Year

From the severe weather that sacked the tri-state with an earthquake and hurricane in the same week to the political scandals, loveable animals, heroes, ground-breaking legislative victories and somber tales that captivated the region throughout 2011, here are our top 25 stories of the year for our area.

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Death of Osama bin Laden: Few stories affected the New York City metropolitan area -- and the rest of the country -- as significantly as the death of Osama bin Laden. Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets upon learning of the terrorist mastermind's demise at U.S. hands, uniting in celebration and remembrance of the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001 and in the other attacks for which al-Qaida claimed responsibility. For the first time, ground zero was turned into a place of revelry and victims' families expressed a sense of closure to a decade of being held emotionally hostage.
Occupy Wall Street: When Occupy Wall Street protesters frustrated with the state of jobs and corporate power gathered in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan on Sept. 17., few tri-state residents thought they'd remain encamped there a week, much less two months. Those protesters birthed what became a global civil-disobedience movement against social and economic inequality fueled by the exponential power of social media. In New York, police response to the protests was widely criticized after the camp was raided and emptied overnight on Nov. 14. Ultimately, protesters were not allowed to camp in the park, but the movement, albeit curbed, remains a household name and its message one that reverberates nationwide.
Gay Marriage: New York became the sixth and largest state in the country to legalize gay marriagewhen Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law just before midnight on June 24 after a 33-29 vote from the Senate. Thousands upon thousands of exuberant New Yorkers – gay, lesbian, straight and otherwise – took to the streets in celebration of the landmark legislation. The victory for Cuomo sparked speculation about whether he may be in line for even high political office down the road. Gay couples officially were able to begin getting married in the state on July 24.
Leiby Kletzky Memorial Fund
Murder of Leiby Kletzky: The gruesome murder of Leiby Kletzky, the 8-year-old boy who was abducted, suffocated and dismembered after he got lost coming home from camp, rocked the Brooklyn Hasidic community he belonged to – as well as the entire city – to the core. That Kletzky was killed by a member of his own community – a loner named Levi Aron – deepened the horror and sorrow surrounding what authorities described as one of the city’s most ghastly crimes in decades. Aron, 35, is accused of cutting up the child, tossing parts of his remains in a red suitcase and leaving the boy’s severed feet in his refrigerator, where investigators found them. He faces first-degree murder charges.
9/11 Anniversary: Ten years after two planes struck the twin towers in an attack that killed nearly 3,000 people, New York marked a decade of both pain and healing with the ritual reading of the names at a new memorial to the lost on Sept. 11. The ceremony coincided with the completion of the 9/11 memorial. It features twin reflecting pools that evoke the footprints of the fallen towers, surrounded by waterfalls. The names of the dead are inscribed in bronze around the waterfall pools. At night, they are lit from below. The 10-year anniversary was particularly emotional this year, falling just a few months after U.S. Navy Seals shot and killed Osama bin Laden.
Cathie Black Resigns: When Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed publishing executive Cathie Black as chancellor of the nation’s largest public school system in 2010, much was made about her lack of experience as an educator. The mayor defended her time and time again, despite a series of gaffes and competency questions throughout her tenure. On April 7, Black abruptly resigned after just three months on the job, citing “outside forces” that imperiled educational reform. Her resignation marked one of the mayor's most embarrassing defeats of his nine years in office. At the time, Bloomberg took the unusual move of accepting responsibility for the failed appointment.
Cheshire Home Invasion Convictions: Stephen Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky were condemned to death for raping and killing a woman and her two daughters during a night of terrorinside their suburban Connecticut home and torching the residence. The only survivor, husband and father Dr. William Petit, was beaten with a baseball bat and tied up but managed to escape. The crime in the affluent New Haven suburb of Cheshire in 2007 drew comparisons to the one described in Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," led to the defeat of a bill to abolish the death penalty in Connecticut and sparked tougher state laws for repeat offenders and home invasions. The state has executed only one man since 1960.
Long Island Serial Killer Probe: It took police 19 months to find the remains of Shannan Gilbert, a New Jersey sex worker who vanished in May 2010 in a gated Long Island community. But as authorities searched for her throughout 2011, they made grisly discoveries they determined unrelated to her disappearance: 10 sets of remains dumped along a desolate stretch of highway near where Gilbert was last seen. Four of the victims were prostitutes who advertised their services on Craigslist. Police believe the other six victims, another prostitute, an unidentified woman, a man who dressed as a woman, a toddler and two other unidentified people, also had connections to the sex trade. The still-unsolved investigation into what has become known as the Long Island Serial Killer has captivated the entire state to a level unmatched by most criminal investigations in recent memory.
Hurricane Irene: Hurricane Irene bore down on the tri-state in late August, crippling the transit system, knocking out power, flooding communities, delaying school openings and causing more than a billion dollars in damage. Irene made landfall as a hurricane in New Jersey and again on Coney Island before weakening to a tropical storm. The MTA shut down the transit system for the first time in New York City history. Hundreds of thousands of tri-state residents lost power, some for weeks. All 21 counties in New Jersey were declared a federal disaster area, and a utility executive in the state called damage from the storm “unprecedented.” It was blamed for more than 50 deaths as it barreled up the East Coast and was the first storm to make landfall as a hurricane on New York since the deadly Hurricane Gloria hit Long Island in 1985.
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Weiner Sexting Scandal: Anthony Weiner, then a Democratic congressman and likely candidate for mayor, admitted on June 6 to having numerous sexual relationships online while married, but vowed to stay in office. He made the admission after days of lying to the media about a misfired Twitter photo of his groin, claiming his account was hacked. Weiner resigned on June 16, saying he could not continue in office amid the intense controversy. His then pregnant wife Huma Abedin did not attend the announcement. The couple finally had something to celebrate before year’s end, announcing the birth of their baby boy, Jordan Zain Weiner, on Dec. 21.
NBC 5 News
Patrick the Dog: The story of Patrick the Dog is among the most gut-wrenching yet heartwarming and inspiring tales of the year. The pitbull was discovered emaciated in a trash chute, having been tossed out with the trash by his owner, in Newark on St. Patrick’s Day. He was taken in by an animal hospital and, despite all odds, embarked on a months-long journey to recovery that made him a global phenomenon. Today, Patrick plays fetch, runs eagerly on the lawn of his animal hospital home and brings joy to the hearts of all staffers who work with him. The pup is expected to go up for adoption following the resolution of his former owner’s criminal animal-abuse case.
Suffolk County Police
Medford Pharmacy Murders: Four people, including a 17-year-old girl, a grandfather and a mother of two, were gunned down in cold blood in a Long Island pharmacyon Father’s Day. The chilling incident, prompted by a drug addict’s compulsion for painkillers, was caught on surveillance. David Laffer pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for the killings.
Deadly East River Chopper Crash: A tourist visiting New York City with her family to celebrate her 40th birthday died in a helicopter crash in the East River Oct. 5. Her partner and mother later died from injuries related to near drowning. Only the pilot and the woman's father survived the horrific incident. It marked the fourth helicopter crash into a city river in six years and refocused attention on industry safety standards.
Miss Universe Organization
DSK Sex Scandal: Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then-head of the International Monetary Fund and the top contender for the French presidency, was arrested May 14 after a Manhattan hotel maid alleged he sexually attacked her. He claimed the encounter was consensual. Ultimately, prosecutors had to drop charges against DSK because they discovered the maid lied about parts of her past, compromising her integrity and credibility as a witness. Though the charges were dropped, the case sparked serious questions about the safety of maids as they clean hotel rooms. Many New York hotels, some of which had had similar assault allegations involving maids and high-powered diplomats, revamped policies to better protect personnel.
Donald Trump's Foray Into Politics: Will he or won’t he? Donald Trump’s flirtations with a presidential candidacy garnered public attention for months as he wavered about whether to jump into the GOP race. At the height of his political relevance, Trump demanded over and over again to see President Barack Obama’s long form birth certificate as proof of his citizenship. When the White House eventually complied on April 27, Trump took credit. Two weeks later, Trump held a press conference to announce he would not seek the GOP nomination for president.
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Christie NOT Running for President: Speculation about whether New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would run for president in 2012 dominated early coverage of the GOP race. Christie fueled much of the chatter himself, with consistent denials followed by reconsiderations and then more denials. On Oct. 4, he announced – for real this time -- that he would not seek the nomination. Though the governor opted to sit this one out, he was courted by a slew of high-level GOP operatives and received a massive boost in party influence. His name will most certainly be on the list of top contenders for 2016, though many analysts believed this year might have been his best shot.
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Jeter's 3,000th Hit: With a home run drive to left field in the third inning of a July 9 game against the Rays, Yankees Captain Derek Jeter became the 28th player in baseball history to reach 3,000 hits and the 10th player to get all of those hits with one team. He also became the first player to reach the plateau in pinstripes and did so in dramatic fashion – with a dramatic home run in his own stadium. Christian Lopez, the super fan who caught the big 3,000th hit, gave the ball back, adding to the drama of the day and earning himself 15 minutes of fame in the Twitter universe.
Eric LeGrand: Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand's return to the football field a year after becoming paralyzed in a game was voted by fans as Sports Illustrated's 2011 Moment of the Year. LeGrand, a former defensive tackle who was paralyzed in a 2010 game against Army, led the Scarlet Knights out of the tunnel in the rain before their October 2011 game against West Virginia University. Since he suffered his severe spinal injury, paralyzing him from the neck down, LeGrand has made major progress in his quest to walk again and his story has become a source of inspiration for football and nonfootball fans alike across the nation.
East Coast Earthquake: The rumble and shaking along the East Coast on Aug. 23 sent some New Yorkers running into the streets and sparked thousands of confused e-mails and social media messages from NBC New York viewers. The rare event also sparked a new phenomenon called “earthquake envy”, coined by residents who did not feel the tremor and wished they had been able to participate in what is a once-in-a-lifetime event for most New Yorkers. The 5.8-magnitude quake was centered in Virginia and felt up and down the Eastern seaboard for more than 1,000 miles. There hasn't been a quake that large on the East Coast since 1944 in New York.
The Today Show
Chimp Victim's New Face: The chilling 911 call placed by a Connecticut woman telling authorities her normally personable pet chimpanzee mauled and was killing her friend terrified listeners through the tri-state area. Charla Nash lost her hands, nose, eyes, lips, mid-face bone structure, and received significant brain tissue injuries in the horrific attack. Her prognosis for survival, not to mention quality of life, was grim. Nash underwent a face and double hand transplant in May. This November, more than two and a half years after her ordeal, Nash revealed her new face, telling NBC’s “Today” show that, for the first time in a long time, people have told her she’s beautiful.
Officer Down: Peter Figoski, a 22-year NYPD veteran and beloved father of four daughters, died after being shot in the face during a botched drug-related robbery in Brooklyn on Dec. 12. His death served as a tragic reminder of the senselessness of gun violence and the rampant problem of illegal weapons on the streets. Figoski was the first NYPD officer to die in a line-of-duty shooting since 2007.
Lauren Spierer: Lauren Spierer, a 20-year-old Westchester County native vanished on June 3 after a night out with friends at her Indiana University campus at Bloomington. The case baffled investigators and sparked an unprecedented social media campaign to help find her. Spierer’s purse and keys were found near where she was last seen, but no further significant evidence has turned up in the six-month investigation into her disappearance. Police have questioned many of Spierer’s friends who were with her that night, and some remain persons of interest. Spierer was on heart medication when she disappeared. She had been scheduled to begin a fashion internship in Manhattan over the summer. Her parents have pledged to never give up looking for her.
Hudson River Death Plunge: On April 12, 25-year-old LaShanda Armstrong packed her four children, ages 10, 5, 2 and 11 months, into her minivan and drove off a ramp into the Hudson River. Only the 10-year-old boy survived, managing to escape out of a window as his family sank into the water and drowned. As pained and confused relatives struggled to make sense of what happened, the public conversation focused on issues of postpartum depression.
Brooklyn Sex Assaults: Reports of a serial groper or gropers on the loose in Brooklyn who allegedly sexually assaulted more than a dozen women since March sparked an ongoing era of hyper-vigilance in the usually safe areas of Park Slope and nearby Windsor Terrace. The last assault connected to the pattern is believed to have happened in mid-October. Police stepped up patrols in the vicinity of the attacks and urged women to travel in groups late at night. Though several arrests have been made on groping charges, police believe they have yet to nab the person or persons responsible for the multitude of assaults in the pattern.
NYPD Rape Trial: The rape trial of NYPD officers Kenneth Moreno and Franklin Mata was among the most high-profile New York cases of the year. On May 27, the officers were cleared of rape and burglary charges but found guilty of official misconduct in the case of a woman who said she was assaulted when the officers brought her home after a night of drinking in December 2008. The officers were immediately fired from the police force because of the misconduct charge. Moreno was sentenced in June to a year in jail and Mata was later sentenced to two months.
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