Harambe, Pokemon GO, Creepy Clowns and more: Stories that went viral in 2016

DENVER -- The year 2016 is rated by many as possibly the worst year ever in recorded history. While that may or may not be true, it certainly generated a lot of stories that inspired us, wowed us, infuriated us and brought us together. 

Here are the most viral stories of the year:

The $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot – Jan. 12

It was the biggest jackpot in U.S. lottery history that had the whole country on edge week after week.

The first ones to come forward claiming the price were a couple from Tennessee (who announced they had won part of the jackpot on Jan. 16). The couple told the Associated Press they wouldn’t stop working after winning a payout of about $327 million.

The second winners came from Florida, but would wait until Feb. 17 to announce that they too, had won the one-time, lump sum payment of $327 million. David Kaltschmidt, one of the winners of the jackpot, told CBS News he would retire from Northrop Grumman Corp., where he worked as a manufacturing engineer for 34 years. 

It then took five more months, on July 19 to be specific, for a California couple from Chino Hills to come forward and claim their price. The couple also opted for the lump sum payment of $327 million. In a statement, they said they would put the winnings in a trust and give some of that money to charities.

The odds of winning that historic jackpot were 1 in 292.2 million, according to the Associated Press.  

Denver Broncos win Super Bowl 50 – Feb. 7

We can’t stop talking about this one – and with good reason.

The Denver Broncos faced the Carolina Panthers – and the league’s MVP – at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., winning the game 24-10 thanks to a two-point conversion from starting quarterback Peyton Manning to wide receiver Bennie Fowler.

The Broncos were able to make it to their third Super Bowl appearance thanks to their top defense and overcome the Panthers despite Manning’s many shortcomings over the season.

The Broncos also took an early lead, scoring 10 points in the first quarter and never really quite trailing behind, in what Vox called “one of the most defensive Super Bowl matchups in NFL history.”

Line backer Von Miller was named Super Bowl MVP, Manning became the oldest quarterback ever to win a Super Bowl at age 39, and Gary Kubiak became the first head coach to win a Super Bowl with the same team he went to the event with as a player.

Super Bowl 50 also stepped away from tradition -- one of those being the naming of the event. This year, the league suspended naming the game after the roman numerals (so, no “Super Bowl L” this year).†

Watched by 111.9 million viewers, Super Bowl 50 was the third-most watched program in American history, falling behind Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2, 2014 and Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1, 2015.

MORE: Thousands of mostly peaceful Denver Broncos fans celebrate SB 50 win

This game was also Manning’s last. The Sheriff announced his retirement from the sport on March 7.

The Denver Blizzard – March 23

It went by many names – the Denver Blizzard, the Sprizzard, Stormy McStormface, the Early-Spring Sucker Punch, but most remember it as the “March Blizzard of 2016.”

The storm that hit Colorado on March 23 dropped more than a foot of snow in parts of the metro area setting new recordshalting many flights out of Denver International Airport, creating major traffic headaches throughout the state and also causing major school districts to close. 

The total snowfall at Denver International Airport was 13.1 inches, a record for March 23 in Colorado.

The old site at Stapleton recorded close to a foot of snow that day and the National Weather Service office in Boulder reported 17 inches.

Even then, that blizzard would still not be in the top ten biggest storms in Denver!

But it wasn’t only the storm that was the talk of the town that day.

When Colorado got hit with a March blizzard, Boots the Cat didn't just sit around cleaning and sunning. He went to work, digging and digging in the snow until he made himself an igloo. The video, posted to the Denver7 Facebook page that night, and has been viewed more than 6.3 million times since.

Watch "Boots" the Cat as he builds his igloo, below:

The Killing of Harambe  May 28

There is, perhaps, no bigger story in 2016 (sorry, Donald) than the killing of Harambe, the 17-year-old male silverback gorilla that was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo after a 3-year-old boy fell into its enclosure earlier this year.

Video of the incident, which showed Harambe dragging the boy through shallow water, received international attention and vast commentary from just about everyone.

Many criticized the measures taken by Zoo personnel, who fatally shot the gorilla with a single gunshot over fears that using a tranquilizer would have taken too long and would have agitated the gorilla even more, putting the child at greater risk of death.

MORE: Gorilla’s enclosure not in compliance, investigators say

Reactions over the gorilla’s dead were quickly shared on social media.

Some questioned if Harambe ever intended to harm the child, as they argued that he appeared to be protecting the boy. Many wanted a law passed in his name so legal consequences would exist if an endangered animal were harmed of killed due to the negligence of visitors. Others took it a step further and wanted the parents of the 3-year-old boy to face charges for the killing of the gorilla.

Still, the director of the Cincinnati Zoo, Thane Maynard, defended the decision to end the Western lowland gorilla’s life saying, “the gorilla could crush a coconut in one hand and there was no doubt that the boy's life was in danger.”

While the silverback gorilla may be long gone, he continues to cast a Kong-like shadow over the collective mind of the internet.

Fed over genuine sorrow over this his death at first, Harambe’s death would turn into fodder for endless satire in the months following his untimely death – especially in change.org petitions.

Since his death, the internet has petitioned to rename the Cincinnati Bengals to the Cincinnati Harambes, to add his face to Mount Rushmore, to make him a Force ghost in “Return of the Jedi,” to add him as a creature in Pokémon GO, to have President Barack Obama erect a Harambe memorial outside the White House, to make May 28 “International Harambe Day,” and to have him canonized as a saint by Pope Francis.

As of the publishing of this article, a search turned up a total of 545 Harambe-related petitions on change.org.

But the Cincinnati Zoo was not in on the joke.

"We are not amused by the memes, petitions and signs about Harambe," Maynard said on Aug. 22. “Our zoo family is still healing, and the constant mention of Harambe makes moving forward more difficult for us. We are honoring Harambe by redoubling our gorilla conservation efforts and encouraging others to join us."

Harambe (or rather, his death) permeated even the political sphere.

The late gorilla was tied at 2 percent with Green Party candidate Jill Stein in a mid-August Public Policy Polling survey, who included the animal in their polling for the U.S. presidential election.

And no, Harambe did not get 11,000 votes to become president of the United States during the Nov. 8 General Election. 

Violent attacks at the 16th St. Mall – June 29

It was a disturbing video that raised concerns about security in downtown Denver, tarnishing its image during the summer of 2016.

In the video, a homeless man can be seen attacking others in broad daylight at the 16th St. Mall. The video was posted to raise awareness of the violence in the area, which residents had complained about for some time.

"The 16th Street Mall is unpatrolled and people are getting hurt. This is why I am posting this. Nothing is being done. The leaders in our city keep saying they are going to do something. When?” the viewer who posted to the video asked.

Clarence Seeley, the suspect in the attack, told Denver7 that part of the reason he came to the Mile High City was to have legal protection to use marijuana for medicinal use.

This attack wouldn’t be the only one this summer.

A man was knocked to the ground and then beaten by a mob of attackers on Aug. 4. Then, on Aug. 8, a homeless man’s ear was sliced off after he said he was ambushed, robbed and hit with a skateboard.            

The Downtown Denver Partnership worked tirelessly to clean up the image of the embattled mall with events such as the third annual Meet in the Street, the Downtown Denver Prototyping Festival and a temporary Beer Garden at Skyline Park.

It wasn’t until Aug. 17 that private security guards began patrolling the area.

But even though the 16 St. Mall has guards patrolling the grounds 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, officials with the Denver Police Department and the Downtown Denver partnership cautioned that this added security does not translate into moving all transients and 'urban travelers' off the mall.

Gaming goes mobile with Pokémon GO – July 6

Pokémon GO changed the landscape of gaming when it debuted in July – making both young and old get off their couch and head outside.

One of the main reasons the game quickly took off was due to its nostalgic element – people who grew up in the 90s with the cartoons, then the trading cars and the video games, now had an excuse to relive those memories in mobile form.

While many criticized the game for creating “herd-mentality” behavior in society, others praised it because it did just that – it brought people together who otherwise would have not stumbled upon one another.

The game is simple – using GPS and maps technology, players are tasked with walking around their city to scavenger hunt for those virtual creatures.

The craze went viral so quickly that just days after the cell phone game was released, more than 10 million people were playing it every day.

But the game also received its fair share of negative headlines.

Reports emerged of players finding dead bodies, falling off cliffs and crashing cars while searching for Pokémon.

Pokémon GO users have steadily declined since August. Now, just over 279,000 users play the game each day.

"Creepy Clowns" terrorize social media – Aug. 19

There may have been real sightings at first, but as the paranoia grew and spread over social media, reports of creepy clowns across the U.S. became less and less credible.

It all started around the middle of August in the Carolinas, where children reported clowns were trying to lure them into the woods with money.

In Greenville, S.C., a resident told BuzzFeed News that his children described clowns in the woods that had chains, knives and who were trying to lure the children by offering them candy.

In Alabama, a 16-year-old was arrested and charged with making terrorist threats after allegedly posting on Facebook a clown was going to show up and start shooting people at a middle school in Calhoun County in east Georgia.

The hysteria would soon spread to the states of Georgia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee and manifest itself here in Colorado.

Here in our state, authorities took the threats from social media of clowns coming to "shoot up schools" very seriously.

While school officials and police authorities across Colorado reassured parents that the threats were not credible, several counties reported dealing with these cases.

Adams County, for example, joked about a report of a clown sighting near a historical building in District 2 saying deputies, “were not at all spooked by responding to a school that looks like a castle, surrounded by corn fields, in the dark, during the Halloween season.”

The Poudre School District in Larimer County said extra law enforcement was at one of their schools following reports of threats made on social media.

In Weld County, a student at Northridge High School in Greeley admitted to making a threat on social media that caused a scare and additional security at two Greeley schools.

The 15-year-old student confessed and is now facing criminal charges. 

Exploding Samsung phones recalled – Sept. 15

Samsung Electronics recalled all of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphones after finding batteries of some of the flagship gadgets exploded or caught fire.

The Note 7s were pulled off from shelves in 10 countries, including South Korea and the United States, just two weeks after the product's launch. 

Samsung said it had confirmed 35 instances of Note 7s catching fire or exploding.

The company said at the time it had not found a way to tell exactly which phones may endanger users out of the 2.5 million Note 7s already sold globally. It estimated that about 24 out of 1 million units might have a faulty battery.

A Colorado Springs student told our ABC affiliate, KRDO-TV, that while taking a test on Aug. 25, he felt his pocket become exceedingly warm and eventually saw smoke streaming from his pocket.

Soon thereafter, nothing much was left of his Samsung Galaxy S6. Fortunately, the company offered to pay for the family's medical bills and the phone.

That wasn’t the only case in Colorado, though.

A mother in Broomfield told Denver7 her Samsung S5 phone exploded in the middle of the night.

The phone was charging in a 7-year-old's bedroom because he uses the phone to play games on. Fortunately, the child wasn't hurt, because he was sleeping in a different room with his brother.

After five people said their replacement devices exploded, the company recalled all Samsung Galaxy Note7s — including replacement devices — for a refund. Nearly 2 million phones in the United States were affected by the recall.

Mystery plane circles over Denver – Nov. 16

Thousands saw a plane circling the Denver metro area and questioned where it may have come from and what it may be doing. 

Denver7 began tracking a flight named IRON99 as it traversed from California over the pacific on Nov. 16. It traveled over the Rocky Mountains and eventually, over the Denver metro area. 

Visually, the plane circled in a racetrack-style oval shape over the City of Denver at roughly 32,000 feet several times. 

After spending time making its loops, the aircraft then took off in a direct path to Oklahoma, without any record of stopping. 

At first, more than a dozen public and government organizations had few answers as to whom the plane belong to and what it was doing over Denver air space.

Then, the answers started pouring in.

Navy officials confirmed with Denver7 the plane, IRON99, was a Navy E-6B Mercury aircraft, created by Boeing at a cost of $141.7 million per unit.

Lt. Leslie Hubbell, a spokesperson for Commander Naval Air Forces, said the mission of the plane’s class was “command, control and communications abilities to direct and employ strategic resources.”

In laymen's terms, the planes are able to launch nuclear missiles and communicate with diverse assets, including nuclear submarines. 

Although the Navy said the plane simply was flying from its forwarding base back to home base, a high-ranking federal official who wasn't authorized to speak on the matter said the plane was involved in a classified training mission organized by the Department of Defense. 

The training mission reportedly centered around electronic surveillance and involved several agencies which aren't likely to comment on the mission, the source said. 

The source also said the mission wasn't out of the ordinary despite its size, noting the public isn't usually aware of such training missions. 

Stuffed animal eggs?  Dec. 5 

Every holiday season has its must-have toy, and 2016’s is without a doubt “Hatchimals.” The toy begins as an egg, which needs to be nurtured and cared for before it hatches into a stuffed animal — and every Hatchimal offers its own surprise.

Stores have been unable to keep the toys in stock, causing parents to either stand in line for hours when shipments arrive or head to eBay to spend up to three times their retail value.

Here’s to hoping that Hatchimals won’t spontaneously combust like 2015’s hot toy, hoverboards.

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