In 2018, the eyes of the nation were again fixed on President Donald Trump, whose second year in office was no less remarkable than his first. It was a year that saw the president open up trade wars, meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, spar with the press and defend hush money payments to women he allegedly had affairs with, all while new revelations and indictments poured out of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling.
Policies and politics divided us. We found ourselves embroiled in a fierce immigration debate. Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh ascended to the high court despite sexual assault allegations from Christine Blasey Ford.
Nature humbled us. California burned as the Camp Fire became the most destructive in state history. Hurricane winds and floods battered the Carolinas. But other stories made us proud. Team USA brought home 23 Olympic medals from Pyeongchang, South Korea. Teachers fought for better pay.
We exercised our rights, voting in the most tumultuous midterms in years. Democrats gained control of the House, Republicans expanded their Senate majority, and voters made history, ushering into Congress many firsts for women and minorities.
After another eventful year, USA TODAY revisits one story from each state that moved us – the big news, the best investigations and the moments we can't stop talking about.
Jeff Sessions, the Russia investigation and high-profile White House departures
The former Alabama senator's beleaguered tenure as U.S. Attorney General finally ended in November, one day after the midterm elections. While Sessions was one of President Donald Trump’s earliest supporters, he was berated by the commander-in-chief for recusing himself from the investigation into Russian meddling of the 2016 presidential election. Sessions' departure was just one of the many notable firings and resignations from the Trump administration in 2018, including chief of staff John Kelly and secretary of state Rex Tillerson. As for the Russia investigation: Trump has denied wrongdoing, and repeatedly called special counsel Robert Mueller's looming investigation a "witch hunt." Earlier this month, Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison – the first sentencing for a member of the president's inner circle, and one that could hold legal perils for Trump.
Massive quake turns disaster into a learning experience
A magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck near Anchorage on Nov. 30 sliced opened roads, knocked out power and damaged buildings. Over 3,000 aftershocks have rattled the region, though no deaths or serious injuries were reported. Meanwhile, recovery efforts, made more difficult by the cold, have become the envy of the nation after work crews repaired major road damage within four days after the quake. Delivery of food supplies, fuel and other cargo has not been interrupted, according to officials, who said that crews will redo the majority of their work in the summer to ensure long-term sustainability.
'You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter': Contentious Kavanaugh hearings
Christine Blasey Ford testified with quiet, measured emotion that Brett Kavanaugh forced her onto a bed and tried to remove her clothes at a party when both were teens. Kavanaugh yelled, cried and interrupted when it was his turn in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A day later, a protester who said she was sexually assaulted approached outgoing Republican Arizona Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator. "You're telling me that my assault doesn't matter," the audibly emotional woman told Flake. The moment seemed to matter, as it was Flake, alongside Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who called for a week-long FBI investigation. Ultimately, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Viral photo shows a brother saying goodbye too soon
An Arkansas family's tragic photo captured hearts around the nation in June as it showed the moment a brother said goodbye to his dying little sister. Adalynn Sooter, 4, lost her battle with a rare brain tumor, but her siblings got one last chance to spend time together. Jackson, 6, rubbed his sister's head as she grasped his hand. Then Jackson said goodnight. Addy was Jackson's "playmate, his best friend, his little sister," father Matt Sooter wrote on Facebook. "This isn't how it's supposed to be." Though her condition worsened and the rare tumor took her life hours later, the family found hope: "She wasn't in any pain at the end," her father wrote.
Wildfires devastate the Golden State
6,228 wildfires. Over 876,000 acres charred. At least 100 deaths. California was devastated by historic blazes this year which will likely impact the state for decades. In Northern California, the Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive in state history, killed nearly three times as many people as the Griffith Park Fire – a record that stood for 85 years. And the worst may be yet to come: According to a new study, wildfires in California may be more commonplace with the brutal combination of hot and dry weather linked to climate change. Meanwhile, homeowners affected by the deadly blazes face dilemmas on whether to rebuild in high-risk areas repeatedly ravaged by fires.
California wildfires burn thousands of acres
'Most inhumane and vicious crime': No parole for dad who killed pregnant wife and 2 kids
Christopher Watts gave an emotional TV interview the day after his pregnant wife and two daughters were reported missing in August, pleading for their safe return. Shortly after, he was arrested and charged in their gruesome deaths. Watts drove the bodies to an oil field and buried his wife in a shallow grave. He shoved Bella and Celeste in two separate oil tanks, pushing their bodies through openings that were only 8 inches in diameter. In November, the suburban Denver dad was sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison and 84 additional years with no possibility of parole.
Teacher fired for running student 'fight club'
A former substitute teacher at a Connecticut high school was fired and faced charges after police discovered he was running a "fight club" inside of his math class. Ryan Fish, 23, encouraged high school students in Montville to physically battle as students recorded the fights and cheered. Police became involved when a social worker reported a 15-year-old student was traumatized after being robbed and beaten by his classmates. Fish was fired from his position at the school and faced felony and misdemeanor charges associated with child endangerment. Those charges will be dropped if Fish completes the state's accelerated rehabilitation program, a judge ruled in October.
Virtual reality lets chemo patients ditch sterile hospitals for tranquil woods
As poison dripped into her veins, Kathleen Krakowski heard birds chirping and watched leaves sway in the wind. Krakowski, a breast cancer patient, sat in chemotherapy at the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute in Newark, but she gazed into a serene forest within a virtual reality headset. "It doesn't look fake at all," she said. Patients could also sit on the beach or admire a mountainside, forgetting – if only for minutes – the sterile hospital room and deadly illnesses, nurses said. More health-focused VR programs are coming to ease challenges for women in labor and those in chronic pain, too, VR companies VRHealth and Oculus announced in September.
They witnessed a mass shooting at school. Then they marched for their lives
Parkland became the site of a mass school shooting when a former student killed 17 people, including students, a football coach and an athletic director, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day. Police arrested Nikolas Cruz, who now faces the death penalty among other charges. Cruz was known to police, who had received 18 calls between 2008 and 2017 warning about him – some directly concerned about him opening fire at school. Amid criticism, an armed school resource officer who never went into the school during the shooting retired. But Parkland students emerged from the tragedy fueling a movement and marches against gun violence across the nation that also targeted NRA-backed candidates in midterm elections. The students were recently awarded a global peace award and praised as "true change-makers."
Brian Kemp wins, Stacey Abrams sues
When many Americans were asking who to vote for on election day, claims of voter suppression left some Georgians asking whether their votes would be counted fairly. In a close race, Democrat Stacey Abrams vied to become the nation's first black woman governor, while Republican Brian Kemp sought to maintain his party's control of the office. Kemp won, but both sides claimed foul play by the other. Abrams accused Kemp of trying to suppress Democratic votes as secretary of state by removing voters from the rolls. Kemp's office said it was investigating Democrats for what it called a "failed attempt to hack" the registration system. And the fight isn't over: An Abrams-backed group recently filed a federal lawsuit asking a judge to order fixes to what it says are deep-seated problems in the state's election system.
False alarm: Ballistic missile alert rattles Hawaii
Hawaiians were sent scrambling one January morning after an emergency alert notification warned of an incoming ballistic missile threat. Residents and vacationers ran for cover and called loved ones thinking death was imminent. The only problem? The alert was an error. Officials knew within three minutes that the error had happened, but it took 38 minutes to send out the false alarm message. The unsettling notification came after months of aggressive rhetoric from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who had threatened to strike the United States. President Donald Trump later met Kim to discuss denuclearization at a much-hyped summit in Singapore. A historic handshake between the two represented the first time a sitting U.S. president met with a North Korean leader and a major breakthrough in decades of tensions.
Inspiring photo shows an Idaho boy's simple, patriotic gesture
An Idaho boy who protected the American flag with his body stirred the patriotism of a nation in September. Fifth-grader Jack LeBreck lay on the ground under the flag as two other boys struggled to fold it on a windy day. The moment of respect was captured by a passerby who shared the image to Facebook, where it soon made national headlines. The image was so iconic that some questioned its authenticity. "Was it staged?" some asked photographer and Facebook user Amanda Reallan. Most certainly was not: "These boys had no idea I was taking the photo," she said. "They took it upon themselves to protect the flag."
He was stopping a gunman at a bar. He was shot by police anyway
Jemel Roberson was doing his job when a suburban Chicago police officer fatally shot him. The 26-year-old armed guard, who was black, had detained a suspected gunman at the bar where he worked and was waiting for police help when an officer, who is white, opened fire on him. Police say the officer ordered Roberson to drop his gun. Witnesses say they shouted that Roberson was a security guard. Roberson's death prompted cries for justice from civil rights advocates and a federal lawsuit filed by his mother against the still unnamed police officer and Midlothian, where the officer is from. And his death was just one at the hands of police 2018.
Aftershocks from Larry Nassar upend USA Gymnastics
The fallout from the sexual abuse committed by Larry Nassar further engulfed Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics in 2018, threatening to swallow up top executives and the sport governing body itself. Criminal cases ended in February against Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor convicted of sexually assaulting young gymnasts. USA Gymnastics' CEO resigned in September, forced out under heavy criticism. The organization filed for bankruptcy protection in December, sagging under the weight of lawsuits from survivors of Nassar's abuse. The next week, a chief for the U.S. Olympic Committee was fired after a report found both the committee and USA Gymnastics failed "to adopt appropriate child-protective policies" to prevent abuse.
Mollie Tibbetts went missing. Her story gripped a nation
Mollie Tibbetts was last seen running along Boundary and Middle Streets in her hometown Brooklyn on July 18, surveillance footage shows. The 20-year-old University of Iowa student was reported missing the next day, sparking a monthlong search that gripped Americans from Iowa to the White House. "I just want Mollie's family to know: You're on the hearts of every American," Vice President Mike Pence said Aug. 15. Authorities found her body in a cornfield southeast of Brooklyn six days later, and charged Cristhian Rivera, a 24-year-old Mexican national, with first-degree murder. Rivera, who led police to the body, said he "blocked" his memory after pursuing Tibbetts during her run. He pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Photos: Mollie Tibbetts growing up
Army officer’s adopted Korean daughter forced to leave US
A South Korean-born teenager who was adopted by her aunt and uncle in Kansas will soon be forced out of the country. Now-retired Army Lt. Col. Patrick Schreiber and his wife Soo Jin delayed a formal adoption of daughter Hyebin, in large part because Schreiber, a 27-year Army veteran, was deployed in Afghanistan where he served as an intelligence officer. Following poor legal advice, the parents formally adopted their daughter a year too late, when she was 17 – one year after the cutoff for a foreign-born child to derive citizenship from an American, according to immigration law. In September, a federal judge said the girl must leave the country immediately after she graduates Kansas University. The family said if their daughter is deported, they will move to South Korea.
'It is such a shock': Two die in shooting in Kroger grocery store
Minutes after trying to break into a predominately black church, a shooter gunned down two black shoppers at a Kroger grocery store in Jeffersontown in October. The suspect, Gregory Bush, was charged with federal hate crimes, and reportedly told another man who shot at him in the store's parking lot, "Don’t shoot me. I won’t shoot you. Whites don’t shoot whites." The community mourned the deaths of Vickie Lee Jones, 67, and Maurice E. Stallard, 69, who was shopping with his grandson at the time of the shooting.
Mothers keep dying in childbirth. The simple solution is ignored
More than 50,000 American women are severely injured during childbirth each year. About 700 die. Why? Medical workers skip safety practices known to head off disaster. And the deadliest state for pregnant women and new mothers is Louisiana, according to a USA TODAY investigation, "Deadly Deliveries." There were 58.1 deaths for every 100,000 births in the Pelican State from 2012 to 2016. Half of these deaths could be prevented, best estimates say, and half the injuries reduced or prevented with better care. Through our investigation, USA TODAY contacted 75 hospitals in 13 states to ask if they followed certain nationally recognized safety practices. Half wouldn’t answer.
Smoked lobsters? Restaurant tries marijuana to ease crustacean pain
At Charlotte's Legendary Lobster Pound, your lobster might get smoked before it gets steamed. The restaurant in Southwest Harbor experimented with using marijuana to ease lobsters' pain before the steaming process. Owner Charlotte Gill said she tried it with a lobster named Roscoe, placing him in a covered box with two inches of water as marijuana smoke was pumped inside. Gill said Roscoe was more calm following his smokeout. PETA is not convinced, though. "There is a well-established, foolproof way to prevent crustaceans from suffering, though, and that's by not eating them."
It was 'like a war zone,' but they still put out 'a damn paper'
The shooting was "like a war zone." Five newspaper employees were killed when a gunman with a grudge opened fire on the Capital Gazette in the Annapolis. The victims: assistant editor and columnist Rob Hiaasen, special publications editor Wendi Winters, writer John McNamara, editorial page editor Gerald Fischman and sales assistant Rebecca Smith. Jarrod Ramos, now charged with five murder counts, had sued the paper over a 2011 article about his guilty plea for harassment, and he had unleashed vitriol on social media against the paper and its staff for years. But the tragedy didn't stop Capital Gazette journalists from doing their jobs after their colleagues had been killed and "putting out a damn paper" the next day. In December, they, along with murdered Saudi Arabian writer Jamal Khashoggi and other journalists, were named as TIME magazine's 2018 Person of the Year.
Victims of the Capital Gazette newspaper shooting
Hidden dangers lurk underneath from aging gas pipes
The natural gas industry and government regulators have known the dangers of leaking gas pipelines for decades. Repairing those pipes is not only difficult and expensive, but also sometimes perilous. In September, utility crews upgrading cast iron pipes inadvertently caused fires and explosions in three northern Massachusetts towns, killing one person, injuring 21 others and leaving hundreds homeless. Investigators say Columbia Gas issued faulty work orders that contributed to the blasts. The Merrimack Valley, the area north of Boston shaken by explosions, is served by some of the nation's oldest and most leak-prone pipes, according to a USA TODAY analysis.The explosions could become the most expensive natural gas disaster ever for a utility that was already spending $80 million this year to upgrade an aging infrastructure.
Aretha Franklin: America says goodbye to a queen
Aretha Franklin, the "Queen of Soul" whose music shaped the American songbook for over 50 years, died of pancreatic cancer in August. Franklin was a transcendent cultural figure of the 20th century. She sang for presidents and royalty, and befriended high-profile leaders such as the Revs. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson. Amid the global glitter and acclaim, she remained loyal to her adopted home, living in the Detroit area for decades. Her marathon, 8-hour funeral featured speakers like Former President Bill Clinton and legendary record producer Clive Davis and included musical tributes from Stevie Wonder, Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson. Rev. Al Sharpton called Franklin’s career the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement, saying "We don’t all agree on everything, but we agree on Aretha."
Washington welcomes a younger, more diverse Congress
In a historic midterm season, Minnesota elected Ilhan Omar to the House of Representatives in November, where she will serve as one of the first ever Muslim women in Congress. Omar, a Somali-American former refugee, was elected alongside Rashida Tlaib in Michigan, Congress's only other Muslim woman. And they weren't alone as the 2018 elections were marked by groundbreaking firsts around the country. Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids will serve as the first Native American women in Congress. New York elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who will be the youngest woman in Congress. In Colorado, Jared Polis was the first openly gay man to win a governor’s race in American history. Here are all the firsts from the 2018 midterms.
Ready, set, history: All the firsts who won Nov. 6
Searching for answers: The FBI reopens the Emmett Till case after six decades
Sixty-three years have passed since Emmett Till’s gruesome murder, but the FBI announced in July it was reopening investigations into the black teen’s historic death "after receiving new information." Till was visiting relatives in Money in 1955 when a white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, accused him of sexual harassment. Till’s body, beaten and shot, was found three days later, igniting a national debate about race and violence. Today, his family is still searching for the truth. "We want the process to work, and we want justice to prevail for Emmett," Deborah Watts, Till's cousin, told USA TODAY. "This cannot just be forgotten."
Duck boat tragedy: 17 people die, including nine from same family
In July, an amphibious duck boat capsized during a severe storm on Table Rock Lake in Branson, leaving 17 dead, including nine members of the same family. "My heart is very heavy," said Tia Coleman, who lost her husband and three kids and was one of the surviving members of the Coleman family aboard the boat. Duck boats have a long history of serious accidents, leaving more than 40 people dead since 1999. As part of an investigation into the incident, the duck boat’s captain was indicted on criminal charges last month. In September, Tia Coleman filed a lawsuit against the boat operators and manufacturer.
Border Patrol agent questions women for speaking Spanish
Two U.S. citizens at a northern Montana gas station were questioned by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer for speaking Spanish earlier this year. Ana Suda captured video of the now viral encounter, where she and her friend were asked for identification because of the language they were speaking inside a convenience store gas station about 35 miles south of the U.S.-Canada border. Suda accused the agent of racial profiling. Responding to questions about the incident and whether or not to speak Spanish publicly, acting CBP commissioner Ronald Vitiello later said "It’s not something people should be concerned about if they’re here legally."
'Please forgive me': First-ever fentanyl execution in Nebraska
The first person ever executed in the U.S. using fentanyl had three last words for his witnesses: "I love you." Carey Dean Moore died Aug. 14 from a fatal mixture including the drug, the first such execution in the United States and Nebraska's first lethal injection of any kind. Moore, 60, had faced death after killing two cab drivers in the summer of 1979. Death penalty opponents feared that the mixture with fentanyl – an opioid more potent than heroin – could have inflicted extreme pain had the substances not worked as planned. In a last statement, Moore apologized to his brother, a witness to the first murder: "Please forgive me, Don, somehow."
Dennis Hof – dead, bombastic, legal brothel owner – elected to Nevada’s state assembly
Nevada voters elected a legal pimp who had died several weeks prior in a November state assembly race. Dennis Hof was known as a flamboyant and notorious brothel owner, reality TV star and later Republican politician. A rally for Hof’s campaign took place just hours before his Oct. 16 death at the age of 72 – that rally attracted high-profile conservative speakers including Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. Following his death, Hof remained on the ballot and cruised to an easy victory in his Assembly District race. His win kicked off a lengthy and competitive process to appoint a living Republican to the seat.
Mystery lotto winner can stay anonymous
A mystery New Hampshire lottery winner who won a $560 million Powerball prize can remain anonymous, a judge ruled in March. The woman won the Powerball drawing Jan. 6, and the state Attorney General's Office had argued that her identity must be revealed because she signed her name on the back of the ticket. The woman, who filed a suit under the pseudonym Jane Doe, said she made a "huge mistake" when she signed her real name before contacting a lawyer. The woman could remain anonymous had she established a trust, then had a trustee sign the ticket, her lawyers argued. In October, the ticket for an even bigger prize – a whopping $1.537 billion Mega Millions jackpot – was sold in South Carolina, but the prize was still unclaimed in November.
Jersey Shore is back in a year of reboots
Snooki, The Situation and the rest of Jersey Shore's cast returned for a two-season reboot filled with plenty of "duck face" and nostalgia for the reality show that premiered in 2009. The cast partied in Miami Beach, Florida and Las Vegas before heading to – where else – Atlantic City. This time around, the cast dealt with more than just the cabs being here, as the show touched on issues like sobriety and parenthood. And Jersey Shore wasn’t the only reboot this year. The Ocean’s franchise, A Star is Born and a spooky new take on Sabrina the Teenage Witch all made their way back to our screens in 2018.
Search for missing child leads to grisly New Mexico compound
"We are starving and need food and water." The message from inside a "third-world"-like compound in New Mexico led authorities to a gruesome discovery in August. Eleven children were rescued amid a search for three-year-old Georgia boy Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, whose father allegedly abducted him. Police found the children with a group of heavily armed Muslims living on property they didn't own in a compound built from wooden pallets, clear plastic tarps and dirt-filled tires. The toddler's body was later found buried on the site. One of the rescued children told authorities the group's leader believed the dead child would be reincarnated to launch an attack on banks, schools and other "corrupt" institutions. Now, five adults from the compound face firearms-related charges and accusations that a group member had been training children and others in military tactics.
Trump Foundation to fold under pressure from state
Did President Donald Trump turn his Trump Foundation into a political tool? Allegations "sufficiently support a claim that Mr. Trump intentionally used Foundation assets for his private interests knowing that it may not be in the Foundation's best interest," New York Supreme Court Judge Saliann Scarpulla said in a ruling last month that cleared the way for a civil lawsuit against the Trump Foundation. An investigation led New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood to allege Trump used the foundation as "little more than a checkbook" to promote his businesses and presidential campaign. The lawsuit spurred an investigation of the organization's tax practices by the state Tax Department, and the Trump Foundation agreed to dissolve in December. Add to that the alleged tax evasion and "outright fraud" by the Trump family as reported by the New York Times in October. The Times' investigation sparked a separate state inquiry into Trump.
Flooding from Hurricane Florence ravages North Carolina
Hurricane Florence brought catastrophic flooding to North Carolina and surrounding states in September, causing billions of dollars in property damage and shattering all-time rainfall and flood records in the Carolinas. More than 50 people died in the storm, despite warnings from local authorities to evacuate. One North Carolina mayor warned residents to notify their next of kin if they planned to weather the storm. In the storm's wake, flooding cut off access to towns both large and small. After the rain stopped, residents began to grapple with the devastation, including heavy losses to agriculture and animals. More than a million chickens died, fish carcasses needed to be hosed off of roads and overflowing pig waste created a disgusting, hazardous mess.