year in review

Here Were the DC Area's 20 Most Memorable Stories of 2020

Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images & Win McNamee/Getty Images & Graeme Sloan/Bloomberg via Getty Images (L-R)

Between the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic, a renewed racial justice movement and an election that will unseat President Donald Trump, it’s been a monumental news year in Washington, D.C., and our region. 

Here are the top 20 local stories that captivated readers and viewers in 2020. 

First COVID-19 Cases Diagnosed in DC, Maryland and Virginia in March

At first, there were just three people in the D.C. area who were known to have COVID-19. A woman in her 50s and a married couple in their 70s, all from Montgomery County, Maryland, fell ill after taking a cruise in Egypt, officials announced on March 5. Two days later, a U.S. Marine at Fort Belvoir in Virginia was announced to be positive, along with with the first two cases in D.C., those of a church rector and an international visitor to the city

In the span of 10 days, the number of confirmed cases jumped from two to nearly 150. 

First COVID-19 Restrictions and Stay-at-Home Orders Enacted

D.C., Maryland and Virginia each issued stay-at-home orders on March 30, directing residents to only leave home for essential reasons such as buying food or medical care. The orders radically changed how restaurants, stores, gyms and day cares operated, and whether residents could get haircuts, go to movie theaters or take in-person college classes, to name just a few elements of daily life. 

Federal workers were allowed to telework, grocery stores set certain hours for seniors and vulnerable shoppers, and zoos, libraries, museums and courtrooms all closed. 

When the stay-at-home orders went into effect, 2,834 people in D.C., Maryland and Virginia had the virus and 51 had died. By the time Christmas was approaching, more than 545,000 people had been diagnosed with the virus and more than 10,000 had died in the region.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has issued a stay-at-home order. News4's Mark Segraves reports city leaders are concerned that some who have died from coronavirus were scared to seek medical treatment due to their immigration status.

DC Creates Black Lives Matter Plaza, Paints Huge Letters on Street 

The city of D.C. echoed many residents’ calls for justice by naming a portion of 16th Street. just north of the White House, Black Lives Matter Plaza

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration had the words painted in yellow letters from curb to curb early on the morning of June 5. The lettering is so large that the message stretches onto two city blocks and can only fit into a single photo frame from high above.

"We want to call attention today to making sure our nation is more fair and more just, and that Black lives and that Black humanity matter in our nation," Bowser said.

Washington, D.C. has re-named part of a street that leads to the White House, "Black Lives Matter Plaza," and painted those words in big, yellow letters on the pavement.

A green street sign reading Black Lives Matter Plaza was affixed to a lamp post outside St. John's Church, where days earlier federal forces used munitions and pepper spray to clear peaceful protesters and make way for President Donald Trump to pose for photos.

Cyclist Arrested for Assaults on People Posting Racial Justice Flyers Along Maryland Trail

A cyclist was caught on video and then sought by police for gripping a young woman’s arm as he ripped a racial justice flyer out of her hand along the Capital Crescent Trail in Bethesda in June. One of two other young people with her told News4 the man rammed him with his bike and pinned him to the ground. 

One victim, who asked to remain anonymous, said he and others were posting flyers in support of the George Floyd protests when they came across the cyclist. Once the video spread online, internet sleuths tried to identify the cyclist and falsely accused multiple men, tarring their reputations online. 

Anthony Brennan III, 60, of Kensington, Maryland, was arrested within days. Brennan pleaded guilty in mid-December to three counts of second-degree assault and is set to be sentenced in February. 

Maryland Man Arrested for Having 60 People Over for Bonfire, Violating Social Distancing Orders

A Charles County, Maryland, man who threw a party at his house in late March was arrested after authorities said he refused to comply with Gov. Larry Hogan’s order banning large gatherings.

Shawn Marshall Myers, 41, was arrested after officers found about 60 people hanging out around a bonfire at his home in Hughesville, the county sheriff's office said.

The sheriff's office said it was the second time Myers had hosted a large gathering since the governor’s emergency order banning gatherings of more than 10 people went into effect. Deputies responded to his house on March 22 after receiving another complaint about a party.

Mystery Seeds Possibly From China Are Mailed to Virginia Residents

Several Virginia residents said they received unsolicited packages of seeds that officials believed could be from China, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said in July. The recipients said they didn’t know what the seeds were or who sent them.

The seeds were sent in the mail, appeared to have "Chinese writing" on them and could be an invasive species, the department said. Officials asked that people not plant the seeds or dispose of them on their own. 

Photos: Mystery Seeds Mailed From China

Recipients were later instructed to send the seeds to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. An investigation with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection was underway. 

D.C.-Area Schools Close Down as Pandemic Worsens

Officials announced closures in March that were expected to be temporary before the lasting impact of the pandemic began to be seen. Initially, the governors of Maryland and Virginia said public schools would be closed through March 27.

When later announcing that all K-12 schools would remain closed through "at least" the academic year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam reflected on the deepening crisis, noting, "We are in this for months, not weeks."

Schools are closed in Virginia through the rest of the academic year and all non-essential businesses must also shutter. News4's Julie Carey reports.

While some D.C.-area school districts began phasing into hybrid models this fall, some have already had to scale back from their plans.

José Andrés Closes DC-Area Restaurants, Set Up Community Kitchens

Renowned Spanish-American chef José Andrés announced in mid-March that he would shut down all of his restaurants in the D.C. area and open “community kitchens” to help people in need

The restaurants, including Oyamel and Zaytinya, were closed to make way for areas to serve lunch. Scores of people lined up outside. 

"We feel these community kitchens can help during this challenging time, and those who cannot afford to pay we will welcome as well," Andrés said.

Washington Football Team Drops Longtime Name After Decades of Pressure

Washington’s NFL team announced in July that it will change its name, following decades of pressure to stop using a dictionary-defined racial slur. 

Arguably the most polarizing name in North American professional sports, it was cut at a time of reckoning over racial injustice, iconography and racism in the United States.

"Dan Snyder and Coach Rivera are working closely to develop a new name and design approach that will enhance the standing of our proud, tradition-rich franchise and inspire our sponsors, fans and community for the next 100 years," the team said in a statement. 

The team was still called simply the Washington Football Team as the end of 2020 approached. 

Biden, Harris Win Historic 2020 Election

After more than three tense days of vote counting, Joe Biden was projected to win Pennsylvania and therefore the presidency, defeating President Donald Trump. Within seconds of the race being called, a group at Black Lives Matter plaza outside the White House erupted in cheers.

With the victory, Kamala Harris made history as the first Black woman and the first person of South Asian descent elected as vice president of the United States, shattering barriers that have kept men — almost all of them white — entrenched at the highest levels of American politics.

Supporters of Joe Biden celebrated his presidential win late into Saturday night in Black Lives Matter Plaza. They drummed, danced and banged a gong. “It’s important for me to be here tonight because I’m witnessing the American democratic people exercising their right to party,” a man told News4’s Shomari Stone.

That night, the pair addressed the people of the United States. A theme Biden repeated throughout his victory speech was that the vitriol and hatred between Americans must end if the country is to endure.

"I’m a proud Democrat, but I will govern as an American president. I’ll work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did. Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now," Biden said.

Police Killing of George Floyd Sparks Outrage, Renews Calls for Racial Justice

Protests were sparked in cities nationwide over the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck. In Washington, D.C., many protests were peaceful, but some demonstrators became antagonistic.

Angry protesters took over the streets of downtown D.C. several nights, with some people setting fires, looting, and vandalizing buildings and cars. Protesters reported tear gas or pepper spray being thrown into crowds. Mayor Muriel Bowser instituted a curfew, and hundreds of members of the D.C. National Guard was deployed to support U.S. Park Police, federal police and the Metro Police Department.

Some moments made national headlines:

On the evening of June 1, U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Park Police officers advanced on a crowd of protesters to clear the street in front of Lafayette Square. Federal officers used batons, shields and chemical agents to forcibly push back peaceful protesters before President Donald Trump walked to St. John's Episcopal Church to have his photo taken with a Bible.

Later that week, the District ceremonially renamed a section of 16th Street in front of the White House, painting an unmissable message on the pavement: Black Lives Matter. The street was painted with huge yellow letters spelling out the name of the movement, and Black Lives Matter Plaza has remained a gathering place for those calling for racial justice.

A protester says he and other Black Lives Matter demonstrators were angry when they found out police used tear gas on them to push them out of the way before President Trump's photo op in front of St. John's Church.

Storm Team4’s Doug Kammerer Predicts 4-10 Inches of Snow This Season

Storm Team4 Chief Meteorologist Doug Kammerer is on the lookout for snow. In his official Winter Weather Forecast, he said he expected temperatures to be above average for much of the winter. He predicted a few cold shots, a few really warm shots and 4-10 inches of snow in “just a few small storms.” If you’re a snow lover, it’s perhaps not great news. 

Storm Team4 Chief Meteorologist Doug Kammerer explains the factors driving the weather this winter.

The D.C. area did get a mix of snow, sleet and rain on Dec. 16, in the first winter storm of the season. Reagan National Airport got just a coating, while other areas got more. Columbia, Maryland, had 3.5”; Gaithersburg, Maryland had 2” and Sabillasville, Maryland, had more than 12 inches. 

Storm Team4 Chief Meteorologist Doug Kammerer shares his prediction for how much snow to expect this winter.

Photos: Winter Storm Brings DC Area's First Snowfall of the Season

1 Killed in St. Mary’s as Tropical Storm Isaias Downs Trees, Creates Floods 

One person was killed in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, in early August as Tropical Storm Isaias thrust damaging wind gusts, several inches of rainfall and life-threatening flash flooding into the D.C. area. A large tree toppled onto a moving car in Mechanicsville, killing the driver. 

Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County and Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County were hit by tornadoes, the National Weather Service confirmed. 

Heavy rain and a tornado devastated parts of St. Mary’s County leaving it in a state of emergency until Tuesday. News4's Tracee Wilkins reports from Chaptico.

Isaias dumped nearly 8 inches of rain on Mechanicsville and more than 2 inches on D.C., and then moved past the Chesapeake Bay and skittered up the East Coast.

Trump Supporters, Counterprotesters Clash in Downtown DC

Violent clashes between supporters of President Donald Trump and counterprotesters erupted in the streets of downtown Washington, D.C., on two Saturday nights just four weeks apart.

Both chaotic evenings began following daytime rallies of Trump supporters who were protesting election results they said were fraudulent. There's no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election, experts and officials including Attorney General William Barr have said.

After a day of demonstrations in support of President Trump, unrest in downtown D.C. has left several injured, including officers. Darcy Spencer reports for News4 on Saturday Dec. 12, 2020.

The daytime rallies were largely peaceful, but things turned tense after dark, with sporadic clashes breaking out between Trump supporters and counterprotesters.

One person was stabbed when a fight broke out between two large groups on the night of Nov. 14. On the night of Dec. 12, four people more were stabbed, and Trump supporters and self-identified Proud Boys vandalized at least 4 D.C. churches Saturday night, including burning Black Lives Matter signage, according to officials.

Young Virginia Couple Found Slain on Rural Highway

A young couple was found shot to death in February on a rural Virginia highway, breaking their families' hearts and shocking friends who knew the confessed killer.

According to prosecutors, the couple, Ayanna Maertens-Griffin, 18, and Joel Bianda, 21, had been driving an 18-year-old high school student, Mohamed A. Aly, from Alexandria to Danville to pick up a friend. Aly would later tell police he'd been having thoughts — bad and good — and said he was having doubts about college and his home life. He had taken a 9 mm gun along on the ride.

“I pointed the gun at his head,” Aly would later tell police. “Without thinking, without saying anything, I pulled the trigger.” Then he shot the second victim, according to prosecutors.

In December, Aly pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences.

Maryland Residents Could Be Forced to Leave at Moment's Notice as Retaining Wall Fails

Some homeowners in one Maryland neighborhood have been told to prepare to leave their homes as the retaining wall supporting some of their houses has failed, threatening collapse at any moment. The retaining wall built to support houses in the Tantallon community in Fort Washington is shifting every time it rains.

Although Prince George's County officials said the county was not responsible for the wall, it installed new monitoring devices. Days later, the county contacted residents, telling them the wall had failed, and if the monitors detect major movement, they have may have to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.

“All of us are veterans, some of us have serious health issues and there's a pandemic going on,” homeowner Sandra McClelland said. “We just don't know where to go.”

Hackers Break Into FCPS Network, Hold Info for Ransom

Hackers broke into Fairfax County Public Schools' computer network and said they were holding personal information for ransom before apparently releasing the names and Social Security numbers of several hundred FCPS employees on the dark web. One of the leaked documents is a spreadsheet from 2014, listing several hundreds of employees' names, Social Security numbers and a few details about their health insurance.

Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia have confirmed the hack, but an association that represents FCPS teachers and staff says employees haven't been informed that their personal information could have been stolen.o

FCPS confirmed it hired cybersecurity experts and said the FBI was investigating the attack.

New Owner of Md. Home Sold at Auction Finds Body of Previous Resident

The new owner of a Maryland home sold at a foreclosure auction found the body of the woman who used to live there inside the house.

Records did not show when the District Heights house was sold, and it was unclear how long ago the 39-year-old woman had died. Her body was found in January.

The new owner of a District Heights, Maryland, home found the body of the previous resident inside. Prince George's County Bureau Chief Tracee Wilkins reports.

A neighbor of the woman who grew up across the street said she had special needs. “As we grew up into adults, she never grew up,” he said. “So she needed help with things and didn't process things as well as an adult would, even though she was an adult.”

He said the woman's grandmother took care of her until she died more than a year before.

Police said there was no sign of foul play.

Virginia Woman Dies After Getting Plastic Surgery in Colombia

A 21-year-old Northern Virginia woman died after going to Colombia for plastic surgery.

The family of Adriana Leon said she had lost more than 100 pounds through diet and exercise. As a result, she had excess skin that she wanted removed. She had the procedure in January but then had complications.

“So Adriana had been talking about this for a while and she did her research,” said her mother, Paola Wilkins. “You know, although I was against it, eventually I came to terms that I didn’t want to be fighting with my daughter.”

Leon went to Colombia on her own to have the surgery. She died the next day.

Crowds Flock to National Mall for Prayer March: ‘Our Country Is in Trouble'

The National Prayer March, led by Evangelical Rev. Franklin Graham, drew crowds to downtown Washington, D.C., in September.

"These people have come from all over America at their own expense. They’re coming to pray for the country,” former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said while hosting the event livestream. “They’re here to solve the trouble our land is in.”

The prayer event was focused on healing the country amid a pandemic, civil strife and division, not to support any specific party or political issue, according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which put together the march. However, politics were a prominent feature.

Organizers say up to 50,000 people attended, making it one of the largest gatherings D.C. had seen since the coronavirus pandemic shut down normal activities in March.

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