Cincinnati and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year that was 2020

Some nice things happened! (Like, two)

Cincinnati and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year that was 2020
Cheers, 2020! You were horrible. (Source: WXIX)

CINCINNATI (FOX19) - Difficult. Trying. Unprecedented.

These are the words—just a few of them—we use to describe what kind of year it’s been. (Did they run out of meaning by April or June?)

Meanwhile, the year itself, “2020,” lurks somewhere between a lament and a punchline—hard to say aloud without laughing, whether it’s funny or not.

Often it was not. Businesses closed. People went missing. Beloved community members died. Shootings turned grotesquely commonplace.

The year had its moments all the same, from Bigfoot in Ohio to Bengals fandom as a medical ailment. Seeds from China? We remember that. Strange booms and bright lights in the sky? Had those too. And don’t forget the two best feel-good stories of the year, when... well, you’ll have to read on.

What follows are the stories of 2020—what our readers read most, and some off-the-wall selections as well. They are not 2020 in a nutshell; we know each reader experienced the year in their own way. But when we experienced it together, this is some of what we saw.

Aaron Thorn spent months on the side of a road in Hamilton wearing a sign that read ‘Need Kidney 4 My Wife.’ His unabashed efforts captured the attention of thousands in the Tri-State and across the country.

We begin here for the happy ending. Thorn’s wife of 22 years, Keli Thorn, learned she got a match in October thanks to the surprise donation of a stranger from another city.

Keli and Aaron Thorn
Keli and Aaron Thorn (Source: Provided)

>> REWIND | ‘And that’s a deep drive to left field by Castellanos:’ Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman uses anti-gay slur on air, apologizes

Nothing need be added about the saga of Nicholas Sandmann. (Here’s a primer just in case.)

FOX19 NOW reported Sandmann had settled his lawsuit against CNN in January. Later in the year he announced he had settled with the Washington Post. The litigious teenager also initially sued NBC Universal, Gannett, ABC, CBS, The New York Times and Rolling Stone.

Sandmann recounted the incident from his perspective at the Republican National Convention in August.


A look back at our most popular COVID-19 stories recalls a time when things were much... different.

The reality of the pandemic is everywhere now, a far cry from the days of March when Cincinnati saw its first recorded cases and, as pandemic neophytes, we wondered whether we should wash our clothes after going to Kroger.

Was there a case in your zip code? Were there (gasp) two?

By the same token, a list of specific places where individual infected persons might have been seems too quaint for comfort, as if the virus could be pinpointed—as if battling it were like herding cattle and not, as it would become, like counting sand at a beach.

Suffice it to say, whatever has been gained or lost since then in perspective, fear or hubris... March was a long time ago.

>> REWIND | ‘If I get corona, I get corona:’ Milford grad goes viral for shrugging off virus during spring break

Protests over George Floyd’s death brought countless thousands to Downtown Cincinnati and Over-The-Rhine in the last days of May. Photos reveal the damage done after a small minority of demonstrators turned violent.

A Hamilton County Sheriff stands prepared with riot gear as demonstrators rally at the Hamilton County Courthouse to protest the murder of George Floyd, Monday, June 1, 2020, in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States.
A Hamilton County Sheriff stands prepared with riot gear as demonstrators rally at the Hamilton County Courthouse to protest the murder of George Floyd, Monday, June 1, 2020, in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States. (Source: Jason Whitman)

While tensions cooled in our urban core, the city’s focus was drawn to a bizarre subplot in the region’s outskirts.

Enter into the limelight, Bethel, Ohio, population 2,700, where the protest and counter-protest movements played themselves out on a scale so curiously small that it baffled even the town’s residents.

“If you would’ve asked me a week ago if any of this would come to Bethel, I would’ve said never,” Bethel Police Chief Steve Teague said at the time. “I’m still kind of in shock of it being here.”

>> REWIND | Sasquatch! 2 men claim to see Bigfoot in southern Ohio park

It was one of the year’s darkest moments. Springdale Police Officer Kaia Grant, 33, was killed in the line of duty when a cruiser was struck during a police chase on March 21.

Grant was an eight-year veteran of the department. She was the first officer killed in the line of duty in the city’s history, according to Springdale Mayor Doyle Webster.

The funeral and procession offered a socially distanced opportunity to mourn Grant’s incomparable loss.

>> REWIND | Rest In Peace: Todd Portune, long-serving public official, dies after cancer battle

Missing Teenagers

Three teenage girls reported missing in separate episodes each briefly captured the city’s attention in the first half of 2020.

A 16-year-old went missing from Oxford in January. Another 16-year-old went missing from Fairfield in February. Then there was the case of Madison “Maddie” Bell, whose sudden, unexplained disappearance puzzled, well, everyone.

All three girls were eventually found safe, including Bell, whose resource-intensive search fizzled to an end when Highland County Sheriff Donald Barrera declared she had simply “left to start a new life.”

>> REWIND | Gulp. ‘Free kittens’ in Covington ending up as snake food

Johnson was a 17-year-old last seen on Sept. 23, 2010 when her friend, Jacob Bumpass, said he dropped her off in Covington. In September 2020, her remains were found near Williamsburg Township in Clermont County.

A woman reportedly called 911 and said her husband was deer hunting in the woods and found a burned human skull at a location near Ohio 276.

“We are all shocked. We are incredibly sad,” said Johnson’s cousin, Alicen Franks of Covington. “Unfortunately, we always feared this would be the outcome.”

Bumpass, whom the family always suspected in the case, was indicted in July.

Paige Johnson
Paige Johnson (Source: Provided)

The search continues for Jamie Fitzgerald, the last missing worker at the Adams County power station that collapsed Dec. 9.

“We are just barely making it,” Lora Conley, Fitzgerald’s fiancé, said. “We are hoping for a Christmas miracle for them to go ahead and get him.”

Recovery efforts resumed Dec. 23. They are expected to last into late January due to the amount of debris that need to be removed, prolonging Conley’s unimaginable grief into 2021.

Robert Carter became a father of five—and a hero in the eyes of many—when he adopted two sisters and three brothers in Hamilton County on Oct. 30.

The boys had been separated from the girls six months prior, with little hope of reuniting as a family.

“We met up for visits, and all the kids were crying,” said Carter, who grew up in foster care himself. “They didn’t want to leave each other, and at that moment, I knew, ok, I have to adopt all five.”

A GoFundMe fundraiser to buy the family a forever home has raised an astonishing $264,150. In many ways, Carter provided us the feel-good story of the year.

10 children adopted during Hamilton County Adoption Day
10 children adopted during Hamilton County Adoption Day

>> REWIND | ‘I thought it was an explosion’: Red-orange flash reported in skies above Clermont County

It’s been a bad year for gun violence, both nationally and here at home. According to CincyInsights data, there have been 85 fatal shootings in the city in 2020. None of the previous four years had more than 59.

Community leaders are searching for answers. A CPD task force is working to remove guns from the streets. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is getting more aggressive bringing federal charges against offenders.

Still, each candlelight vigil is as harrowing as the next, while the toll of gun violence rings loud with heartbreak for those families who have lost loved ones to it.

>> REWIND | VIDEO: Flames erupt after gas line hit on Montgomery Road

The Brent Spence Bridge—a major commuter route, a pivotal freight thoroughfare and a bottleneck drivers routinely white-knuckle their way across—closed after a semi with hazardous materials caught fire early on Nov. 11.

Covington police released bodycam footage of the Brent Spence Bridge crash and fire last week.
Covington police released bodycam footage of the Brent Spence Bridge crash and fire last week. (Source: FOX19 NOW/file)

The images and videos coming out of the collision were jaw-dropping. Then a collective groan issued from both sides of the river as we all realized what a headache this was going to be.

>> Police bodycam video of Brent Spence crash | Before and after: Fire and Brent Spence Bridge Damage (video) | Timelapse of Brent Spence Bridge repairs

It was a headache. But it was also welcome news when the bridge opened one day early on Dec. 22 — and under budget! (Can we get a hallelujah?!)

Welp, that’s it folks. In the words of Joe Burrow: “See ya next year.”

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