2021 brought an attack on the U.S. Capitol, the second calendar year of the COVID-19 pandemic, swarms of cicadas and zebras on the loose.
The biggest stories in the D.C. area this year included coverage of a chaotic school board meeting in Loudoun County, the ambush killing of an officer at the Pentagon and the designation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Here’s a look back at NBC Washington’s top stories of 2021.
Insurrectionists Storm the US Capitol
Just days into 2021, the year that many had hoped would be less challenging than 2020 got off to a tumultuous start. The images and video were almost incomprehensible: Hundreds of angry supporters of then-President Trump breached the U.S. Capitol in a chaotic riot aimed at thwarting a peaceful transfer of power.
Four people died on or near Capitol grounds, and a U.S. Capitol Police officer collapsed hours after the riot and died Jan. 7. At least two officers who defended the Capitol took their own lives.
Nearly a year later, new cases against those who breached the Capitol keep surfacing in federal court. At least 700 people have been charged.
Trump Leaves DC; Biden Inaugurated
President Donald Trump left the D.C. area for the last time as commander in chief early on Inauguration Day, becoming the first outgoing president in a century to skip the swearing-in of his successor. Trump and first lady Melania Trump left the White House shortly before 8:20 a.m., with the president telling a small crowd gathered on the lawn, "It has been a great honor, the honor of a lifetime."
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were sworn in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in scaled-down celebrations that were clearly different to D.C. residents who have welcomed multiple administrations to the city. The event upheld many traditions, even as they were challenged by a pandemic, security threats and Trump’s unwillingness to accept election results affirmed by courts.
Biden’s inauguration was historic in more ways than one. But on a day that was curtailed by security threats and pandemic fears, there were many moments that inspired.
Teen Girls Charged With Murder After Carjacking of 66-Year-Old Uber Eats Driver
This year, authorities reported a rise in carjackings all over the D.C. area. They included a carjacking that led to the death of a 66-year-old Uber Eats driver and beloved father and grandfather Mohammad Anwar.
Two girls, just 13 and 15 at the time of the crime, were charged with murder after using a stun gun against Anwar and causing his car to flip in Southeast D.C. The girls each were sentenced to a youth detention facility until they turn 21.
“[Anwar] was a hardworking immigrant who came to the U.S. in 2014 to build a better life for himself and his family. The loss for his family is immeasurable,” loved ones said in a statement that called the crime "senseless."
News4 was first to report on the deadly carjacking, which put a disturbing trend on the public’s radar. Carjackings by young people soared in the D.C. area.
Pedestrian Bridge Collapses Onto DC-295
A pedestrian bridge crashed down onto traffic on DC-295 in Northeast D.C. in June, injuring five people who were in cars nearby and spurring concerns about the District's infrastructure.
Staggering Chopper4 footage showed the bridge on top of three lanes of the roadway. Slabs of concrete and metal fencing were piled over a truck. The debris bent the roof of a car and shattered the windshield.
Investigators said a large truck hit part of the bridge, causing it to come loose and collapse. But some D.C. leaders questioned the condition of the bridge, and whether or not that played a role in the collapse.
The bridge received a 4 or "poor" rating after it was inspected in February, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Chris Geldart said. Photos of the bridge inspection showed cracking and crumbling concrete with exposed steel rebar. Geldart said the collision caused the collapse.
Weeks later, workers who were cleaning asbestos at the site discovered dozens of military-grade medical stretchers, dated 1954, deep in the foundation of the bridge. A historian said the discovery shows how D.C. was years ahead of the rest of the country in preparing for a feared nuclear attack.
Zebras Roam Prince George's County for Months
Residents of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, weren't sure what to think when they spotted zebras roaming their neighborhoods starting in late August.
Three zebras that escaped from a private farm became an internet phenomenon, inspiring memes and baffling everyone who came across them.
"I called 311 and she thought I was crazy, she thought I was crazy. She paused for a long minute. I said, 'Ma’am, I am not drinking. I have not had any drugs. I have zebras in my backyard walking on the train tracks,'" resident Alexis Reed Curling said.
Animal control officers were stumped. They spent weeks trying to catch the fugitive zebras by setting up a feeding station and an 8-foot-tall corral.
The fun story took a sad turn in October, when someone found one of the zebras dead. It had been caught in an illegal snare trap near the enclosure where its owner's 36 other zebras are held. The other two zebras were found and returned to their herd in mid-December.
Jerry Lee Holly, the zebras' owner, faces animal cruelty charges, officials said. Holly is a breeder and trader of exotic animals.
Pentagon Police Officer George Gonzalez Killed in Line of Duty
In August, a burst of violence at a Pentagon bus platform led to the death of Officer George Gonzalez, a 37-year-old Army veteran who had served in Iraq. He was a Brooklyn native and a diehard Yankees fan.
Gonzalez was ambushed and stabbed in the neck by a man identified as Austin William Lanz, 27, who was shot and killed at the scene by responding officers. It is not known why Lanz attacked Gonzalez.
“George was a very humble young man. He was a man of service,” a cousin in Prince William County, Virginia, told Telemundo 44. “He always wanted to serve the country, and at least we have the comfort that he passed doing what he liked to do, which was defending his country.”
Flags flew at half-staff, and an emotional procession honored the officer's sacrifice. The stabbing on a busy stretch of the D.C. area’s transportation system jangled the nerves of a region already on high alert for violence and potential intruders outside federal government buildings following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Longtime DC Radio Host Kane Dies at 43
D.C. radio mourned the loss of longtime host Peter Deibler, better known to tens of thousands of listeners as Kane, after he died at age 43 on March 5 of acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Deibler was host of “The Kane Show” on HOT 99.5 for 14 years and once contributed to NBC4, airing in the D.C. area and beyond. News4’s Tommy McFly, once a competitor in the morning, remembered Deibler as an innovator and a professional who “changed the sound of D.C. radio.”
Deibler died after several days in intensive care at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville. He is survived by two daughters, who he often spoke about on the air.
“Although co-hosts came and went, Kane remained a constant, comforting voice for thousands of people driving to work, dropping the kids off at school and running errands,” lawyers for his family said in a statement.
Pandas Frolic in the Snow at National Zoo
In January, a light snow blanketed the D.C. area, and no one was more excited about it than the pandas at the Smithsonian's National Zoo.
The zoo’s adult pandas, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, could be seen rolling around in the snow. One of them slid down a hill head-first and belly up, arms and legs outstretched like a starfish.
The pair’s cub, Xiao Qi Ji, explored the snow for the first time, and it seemed five minutes just outside his indoor habitat was enough for him.
Republican Glenn Youngkin Wins Virginia Governor's Race
In November, Virginia voters elected businessman Glenn Youngkin their next governor. Youngkin beat out Democrat Terry McAuliffe by less than 2%, barely 12 months after Biden captured the state by 10 points.
In the second year of the pandemic, Youngkin harnessed conservative parents’ frustration with public school systems. He and national GOP leaders turned school board meeting discussions on critical race theory, banning books and the treatment of transgender students into major campaign issues.
Youngkin is expected to pursue statewide changes related to COVID-19, education, taxes, criminal justice and abortion, political analysts told News4.
“Together we will change the trajectory of this commonwealth,” Youngkin said after his win. “And, friends, we are going to start that transformation on day one. There is no time to waste. Our kids can’t wait.”
Glenn Youngkin's Underage Son Tried to Vote in Virginia Election
The 17-year-old son of Virginia Governor-elect Youngkin twice tried to cast a ballot on Election Day, though he was not yet eligible to vote, election officials confirmed to News4 in November, days after Youngkin won.
Fairfax County election workers were able to determine the teen was not eligible to vote and did not allow him to cast a ballot, election officials said.
Youngkin's campaign defended the teen and criticized opponents.
"It’s unfortunate that while Glenn attempts to unite the Commonwealth around his positive message ... his political opponents—mad that they suffered historic losses this year—are pitching opposition research on a 17-year old kid who honestly misunderstood Virginia election law," the campaign said.
Washington Football Team's Ryan Vermillion Placed on Leave
In early October, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents executed a search warrant at the Washington Football Team’s training facility and the home of Head Athletic Trainer Ryan Vermillion, who was placed on leave “due to an ongoing criminal investigation that is unrelated to the team,” the franchise said.
Sources said the investigation is related to the “possible diversion of prescription drugs” to people who did not have a legitimate reason to get them. No charges have been filed, and Vermillion remains on leave.
The news prompted an emotional response from Head Coach Ron Rivera, who said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Washington that he put his trust in Vermillion.
“The only thing I can say about Ryan is, I know who Ryan is. Last year I trusted Ryan with my health, and I would do it again,” he said.
On Dec. 13, Rivera said he was “hopeful” that Vermillion would come back this season, but added that the franchise was removed from proceedings and had no idea about a timetable.
‘The Meeting Has Degenerated': Loudoun Schools Meeting on Equity Turns Chaotic
What began as discussions about equity in Loudoun County Public Schools transformed into national hot-button issues that became a major factor in the Virginia’s governor’s race. Parents in the Northern Virginia school district debated what schools should teach about race and how transgender students should be treated. School board meetings devolved into screaming matches, with parents chanting and singing the national anthem at one session in June.
School board members and local leaders received death threats.
In December, two groups that passionately disagree on most issues shared a message of civility. Fight for Schools and Loudoun 4 All called for an end to hateful speech and violent threats as community members parse out what’s best for schools.
Co-Writer of 'Take Me Home, Country Roads' Dispels Myths About Song's Origins
Anyone who’s ever belted out, "Take me home, country roads!" seems to have tapped on Mark Segraves’ story on the John Denver hit, making it one of News4’s top stories of the year.
Was the song inspired by and written for Johnny Cash? Was it originally called "Take Me Home, Clopper Road," inspired by a road in Maryland? And what happened to the original second verse about naked ladies and Jesus? Co-writer Bill Danoff answered those questions and more.
Brood X Cicadas Swarm Over DC, Maryland, Virginia
Billions — maybe even trillions — of cicadas crawled to the surface in 15 states and D.C. this summer after hibernating underground for 17 years. Many News4 readers wanting to prepare for the cicadas' impending takeover read this FAQ about what to expect.
The Brood X cicadas claimed the skies and trees of D.C., Maryland and Virginia for all of June, loudly singing their mating calls day and night.
At their peak, cicadas were spotted on weather radar, forming a cloud over the D.C. area.
A swarm of cicadas grounded a White House charter jetliner in early June, delaying dozens of reporters set to travel to Europe ahead of Biden's first overseas trip.
The cicadas also provided plenty of stomach-churning content. Storm Team4 Chief Meteorologist Doug Kammerer tried cicada dishes on-air. “When you swallow it, you can feel the cicada going down. I mean, you really can, because the texture of it is so different,” he said.
Thankfully for Doug, the Brood X cicadas won't show up again for another 17 years.
Captain White's Leaves the Wharf
On a November afternoon, it seemed like the entire D.C. area paused to absorb a disappointing shock: One of the District's iconic fish vendors pulled away from the Southwest waterfront.
Captain White’s Seafood was seen pulling its barge out into the Washington Channel and slowly moving away. The longtime open-air vendor left the fish market after a lengthy court battle with the District over rent. Captain White’s argued that the Wharf redevelopment project crowded out customers and made it hard to stay in business.
The centerpiece barge with the famed Captain White's sign was moved to a spot near the South Capitol Street Bridge and disassembled. There's no word on what the owner will do next.
Developers for the Wharf are looking for another vendor to take the spot along the waterfront.
Federal Workers Observe Juneteenth
Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, became a federal holiday this year. Biden signed the June 19 holiday into law at a ceremony two days earlier.
“Juneteenth marks both the long, hard night of slavery and subjugation, and a promise of a brighter morning to come,” Biden said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan called the acknowledgement of the holiday long celebrated by many Black Americans “an important step forward for our country.”
Virginia Man Shot by Sheriff’s Deputy After Calling 911 for Help
In April, a Virginia man was shot multiple times by a sheriff’s deputy after the deputy gave him a ride home, left and then was called back to the man’s home for help.
The incident began when the deputy, who is white, gave Isiah Brown, who is Black, a ride home after Brown’s car broke down at a gas station.
The deputy dropped him off at his home and drove away. Moments later, Brown called 911, reporting a dispute with his brother.
The deputy who gave Brown a ride home responded to the 911 call and shot Brown as he stood in the road while talking with a 911 dispatcher.
Deputy David Turbyfill was indicted on a charge of felony reckless handling of a firearm. At his arraignment Dec. 22, a five-day jury trial was set for July 2022. He entered a not-guilty plea. Turbyfill was placed on administrative leave.
Prince George's County Couple, Sperm Donor Battle for Custody of Baby
A Prince George’s County couple found themselves in a custody battle with their son’s biological father after one of the women became pregnant via artificial insemination.
Maiya and Shauntice Skye said they’d agreed to co-parent with the father, but things went south.
Maiya, a barber from Landover Hills, said she told one of her clients that she and her wife wanted a baby. The client, Jonathan Patton, said he wanted a child too, according to Maiya. The three of them decided to start a family together.
Maiya and Shauntice said the three of them drew up their own written contract agreeing to be co-parents, and they performed the insemination process themselves.
The women allege that after Shauntice got pregnant, Patton became distant and refused to pay some medical bills.
Homeowners Association Bans Boys From Pool for Years After Role in Vandalism
A homeowners association in Virginia punished two boys by banning them from the community’s swimming pool. The Kingsbrooke HOA in Bristow issued a no-trespass order for the boys’ role in damaging a "little library" box.
The boys — who were 11 and 13 at the time — were with a third child who punched in a library door and broke it. Books were tossed into the woods.
Police were called, but no charges were filed.
Uptick in COVID-19 Cases, New Precautions Taken as Year Comes to an End
The year comes to an end with a new variant of the coronavirus spreading and an uptick in cases of COVID-19.
The delta variant had been the predominant variant for months. Omicron was identified in South Africa in November and quickly found across the globe.
While the variant appears to spread more rapidly, it has often caused milder COVID-19 symptoms. Maryland and D.C. set new single-day records in reported positive cases, and Virginia's single-day numbers rivaled its highest of the entire pandemic. D.C. reported that while there has been a surge in cases, there hasn't been a surge in hospitalizations or deaths.
The school year began as a return to almost normal, with students returning to classrooms, but increases in cases in December prompted some schools and school districts to return to remote learning ahead of the holidays.
Many restaurants opted to pause in-person dining.
Longer lines formed again at testing sites, as more people sought COVID tests.
The prospect of a winter chilled by a wave of coronavirus infections is a major reversal from the optimism projected by Biden months ago, when he suggested the country would be back to normal by this Christmas.