The stories that captured our attention in 2012

The stories that captured our attention in 2012

As we close out 2012, we here at KATU.com are taking a look back at the stories that both made the most headlines and that were clicked on the most times by our readers:

Clackamas Town Center Shooting

Around 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 11, 22-year-old Jacob Tyler Roberts put on a hockey mask and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle at Clackamas Town Center.

Roberts killed two people and injured a third before turning the gun around and ending his own life. Had his rifle not jammed, the death toll in the crowded mall might have been much higher.

Steve Forsyth and Cindy Yuille were killed in the attack. Forsyth, 45, was a father of two and owned a marketing company. Yuille, 54, was a mother and a hospice nurse.

Kristina Shevchenko, 15, was shot in the chest and survived.

"It’s a miracle I am recovering as quick as I am from all my injuries," Shevchenko said less than two weeks after the shooting. "A lot of people were praying and keeping me and my family in their thoughts. That does have a big impact."

Just a few days a later another young man opened fire at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., killing more than two dozen people, many of them young students. These two incidents, along with other recent mass shootings, sparked a national conversation about both gun control and our mental health system.

Whitney Heichel Murdered

Another gruesome story captured the attention of Oregonians this fall and became one of the most-read stories of the year on KATU.com.

On a Tuesday morning in October, Whitney Heichel left her apartment in Gresham but didn’t show up for work at a nearby Starbucks.

Her bank card was used a nearby gas station and her SUV was found abandoned in a WalMart parking lot, but neither investigators nor her family and friends knew where she was.

During the week, police teams combed several remote areas. In a somber news conference on the Friday after Whitney disappeared, police made a disturbing announcement: Heichel had been murdered and her body dumped on Larch Mountain.

Police arrested Jonathan Daniel Holt, who was a neighbor and acquaintance of Whitney. Investigators said Holt sexually assaulted her then shot her in a remote area of Clackamas County before dumping her body.

Holt is still awaiting trial.

Same-sex Marriage Legal in Washington

2012 was a monumental year for supporters of same-sex marriage in Washington. The year started with the Washington Legislature voting to allow same-sex marriage after an impassioned plea from Governor Chris Gregoire.

Opponents later gathered enough signatures to refer the measure to voters. In November, just about 54 percent of voters said the state should allow same-sex couples to marry and in December Gregoire signed marriage equality into law.

The law went into place on the morning of Dec. 6. Around the state, couples lined up at county offices to be among the first same-sex couples to get a marriage license under the new law.

In Vancouver, the young couple of Jessica Lee and Ashley Cavner were in line at midnight when the office opened. A picture of them embracing and smiling became one of the enduring images of the year published on KATU.com.

Portland Mayoral Race

In May, Jefferson Smith and Charlie Hales secured the top two spots in the Portland mayoral race to move on to a November run-off election.

To observers, it seemed like it would be a tough, close race. Then the controversies started making headlines and taking their toll.

At first, it seemed like the negative headlines would revolve around Hales. In June, The Oregonian reported that an editorial signed by Hales lifted passages from a newspaper article. There were also recurring questions about his Washington residency during much of the 2000s.

But ultimately it was Smith whose past came back to haunt him the most.

Stories came to light about Smith punching a fellow player during a basketball game, as did concerns about his driving record.

Then we had the controversy that would define the last month of the campaign; Five weeks before Election Day, Smith hastily called a news conference to address a Willamette Week report that he had been cited in college for hitting a woman during a campus party.

He had settled with the woman and charges were dropped, but the fallout from the story and Smith’s reaction the controversy diverted public attention from his policy.

On Election Day, Hales cruised to victory.

Legal Marijuana in Washington 

 The morning of December 6 marked another legal milestone in Washington history: it was the first day smoking recreational marijuana was officially legal in the state.

Along with Colorado, Washington residents voted in November to legalize marijuana and the law went into effect a month later. Colorado and Washington are the first states to legalize recreational pot.

A midnight on the sixth, hundreds of people gathered under the Space Needle to toke up legally. (Technically, smoking in public is still prohibited, although it’s a low enforcement priority for many police departments.)

"This is a big day because all our lives we've been living under the iron curtain of prohibition," said Vivian McPeak, the director of Seattle’s Hempfest. "The whole world sees that prohibition just took a body blow."

Japanese Dock Washes Ashore

In June, a large Japanese dock that had been knocked loose by the earthquake and tsunami the previous year culminated its trans-Pacific journey and washed ashore on Agate Beach, just north of Newport, Ore.

The dock drew plenty of curious tourists to the beach, but also carried with it hundreds of millions of organisms, including some that could have been very harmful for the local ecosystem.

Volunteers scraped the dock clean and scorched it with torches to remove any invasive species. Almost two months after it first washed ashore, a demolition crew cut it up and removed it piece by piece.

The Agate Beach dock turned out to be just the first of much debris to wash ashore on the West Coast. Empty boats, a motorcycle, another dock and other smaller debris have all washed up, with more expected in 2013.

Elephant Born at the Oregon Zoo

A 300-pound bundle of joy was born at the Oregon Zoo this year. Mother elephant Rose-Tu endured around 20 months of pregnancy and 30 hours of labor before giving birth to Lily on the morning of November 30.

Lily entered the world to great fanfare, including packs of curious reporters and a social media contest to pick her name.

But it wasn’t all a joyous occasion for zoo officials; several days after her birth the Seattle Times published a report about how the zoo didn’t actually own Lily. Rather, she was owned by a company called “Have Trunk Will Travel.”

The controversy stirred emotions, although both the zoo and the company said they have no intentions of taking Lily away from the Oregon Zoo.

Turner Flooding

Residents in Turner, Ore. kicked off 2012 under a deluge of water. Turner, as well as several other areas around Oregon, was inundated with floodwaters.

"I haven't seen it this bad since '96," resident Dave Rosling told us at the time, referring to extensive floods that hit the state in 1996.

Officials evacuated residents from Turner during the height of the flood and NW Natural shut off gas service.

"You never want to see anyone go through pain or strife, but we did this back in '96 and we bounced back," Turner police Chief Don Taylor said during the flood.

Some of the most viral stories on KATU.com in 2012:

  • 'Just a bunch of dudes walking across the bridge wearing camo' - The article opened with a line that sums up this story nicely: "It's a scene that practically defines the phrase 'keep Portland weird.'" In August, a group of well-meaning bearded men walked across the Burnside Bridge in camo gear with a rifle. They were trying to shoot photos for a charity calendar, but instead set off a panic that caused police to swarm the bridge.
  • 'I think they knew they messed with the wrong girl' - Two teenagers probably regret they day they tried to grope Priscilla Dang. Dang was out for a run in June when one of the teens grabbed her rear. Unfortunately for them, Dang is a martial arts expert and fought back hard when the other teen threw a punch.
  • Portland man's musical proposal explodes online - The now-famous lip dub marriage proposal video that ended up on many "best viral video of the year" lists was made right here in Portland. As of this writing, the video was up to 17.1 million views on YouTube.