Ten news stories that defined Colorado in 2012

DENVER - Several of the stores that captured headlines in Colorado during 2012 also put our state on the national stage. Although the list includes many tragedies, it also includes people who inspired us with their triumphs over adversity.

 

Aurora movie theater shooting

The midnight premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises" began with fanfare but ended in horror at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora.

James Holmes allegedly opened fire about 20 minutes into the film, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others.

Nineteen-year-old Jordan Crofter was sitting on the left side of the theater and toward the front when the door swung open and a silhouette appeared in front of the street lights.

He says the shooter was calm and almost strutted in, then pulled up his rifle and started shooting, stopping only to reload -- like "shooting fish in a barrel."

AJ Boik, John Blunk, Jesse Childress, Gordon Cowden, John Larimer, Micayla Medek, Matt McQuinn, Jessica Redfield, Veronica Moser Sullivan, Alex Sullivan, Alex Teves and Rebecca Wingo were killed.

The shooting led to several subsequent stories, including investigations into Holmes' mental state before the shooting, the prosecution of the case, strife over funds donated to the victims and some victims' outspoken stance on gun control and mental health.

Stephen Barton, 22, was on a cross-country bicycle trip that was interrupted when he was shot in the theater. He survived, and used the experience as motivation for advocating change.

"Our country is long overdue for a serious discussion about guns, about mental health," he said after a shooting near his own home town in Newtown, Connecticut. "There's a way to balance our second amendment right to bear arms against public safety."

As the year ends, the questions of gun rights and mental health have become one of the top political issues in the nation.

 

Drought

Outside of one big snowfall in February, the state suffered much less than normal snowfall and that dry trend continued throughout 2012. Through mid-summer the state’s drought soared through severe, extreme and into exceptional levels.  Since July, the state has continued to stay dangerously dry, ending the year with over 10% of Colorado in exceptional drought conditions (the highest level of drought). 

The conditions contributed to fire bans in several counties and a statewide ban issued by the Governor during the summer.

Drought was also named as a contributing factor in many of the wildfires that ravaged Colorado, some of which also made this list.

The outlook for January, February and March of 2013 continues to show near-normal moisture, but it will take months of wetter-than-normal conditions to break the drought and return us to where we were at the start of 2012.

 

High Park Fire

A lightning strike smoldered for three days before erupting into a record-setting wildfire on June 9.

By the time it was fully contained, the High Park Fire burned 87,284 acres in the foothills west of Fort Collins. It destroyed 257 homes, a state record that stood for less than a month before the Waldo Canyon Fire overtook it in Colorado Springs.

Although the fire was 100 percent contained on July 1, the story didn't end there. A vacation home was lost on July 7 because of rock and mud slides and falling trees.

Donna and Ira Baker lost their home to the fire and were the second to be issued a permit for rebuilding. Their house was the first to be finished and received the first certificate of occupancy for a rebuilt home from Larimer County.

On Dec. 21, Larimer County’s Recovery Manager Suzanne Bassinger said she was "very heartened" to see the devastation and shock giving way to the hopeful recovery taking place.

 

Lower North Fork Fire

The Colorado State Forest Service apologized after a prescribed burn rekindled and triggered the Lower North Fork Fire. High wind gusts blew embers across a containment line and out of control on March 26, the forest service said.

At its peak, the fire forced mandatory evacuations of 900 homes and left even more families on standby for evacuation. More than two dozen homes were damaged or destroyed by the fire.

Three people were killed. The bodies of Sam Lamar Lucas, 77, and Linda M. Lucas, 76, were found amid the debris of their destroyed home. Ann Appel, who had been reported missing, was found in what remained of her burned home.

As a result of the fire, the state suspended controlled burns. Normally, those planned fires are used to reduce wildfire risk.

 

Waldo Canyon Fire

On June 26, the Waldo Canyon Fire stormed over a ridge and down into Colorado Springs. Approximately 32,000 people were evacuated on the western side of the city, leading to panicked traffic jams under an orange sky.

When the smoke cleared, 345 homes and two lives had been lost. Barbara Everett, 73, and her husband William Everett, 74, both died in their home.

Colorado Springs city officials were undertrained for the Waldo Canyon wildfire, according to an after action report released by the city. In the examination of the 19 days of work against the fire, the report found room for improvement in improving communication among police and fire agencies and disaster training of city employees.

The report praised the overall public safety response.

Although investigators said they found the origin point of the devastating fire, they still haven't identified the cause.

Many of those who lost homes in the fire have decided to rebuild.

 

Peyton Manning

After spending 2011 on the bench for Indianapolis Colts because of a neck injury, that team decided to let Peyton Manning go. When the quarterback decided to join the Denver Broncos, it was the biggest free agent signing in NFL history.

Reports said Manning and Denver Broncos Executive Vice President John Elway talked about the multiyear, multimillion dollar contract when Manning visited the team in Denver on March 9 and 10. The 5-year, $96-million dollar deal was finalized on March 20. 

Soon after, the Broncos traded Tim Tebow to the New York Jets.

Manning has led his new teammates to a second consecutive AFC West title and has serious Super Bowl aspirations as he bids for a fifth MVP trophy. Last Sunday's victory over the Chiefs was the team's eleventh consecutive win.

 

DU Debate

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney squared off in Denver for the first of three presidential debates.

Hosted by Jim Lehrer, who was widely criticized for not reining the candidates in, the debate was the first experiment with a new format. It was still 90 minutes long, but was supposed to be broken up into six segments that Lehrer would guide along his selected topics.

Because of the meandering conversation, however, Lehrer ran out of time before he was able to steer the debate into his sixth planned question.

The economy dominated the evening, just as it had focused the whole race.

At one point, Romney told Lehrer, a veteran of the Public Broadcasting Service, that he would stop the federal subsidy to PBS even though "I love Big Bird."

That statement quickly spawned viral social media memes, including the Twitter hashtag "#SaveBigBird."

Romney was widely considered to be the winner of the first debate. The challenger was a more forceful debater while Obama appeared less than engaged.

Although Romney received a surge in the polls after the debate, Barack Obama came out ahead in November and secured himself a second term in the White House.

The University of Denver said the debate generated $55 million in publicity. DU paid $1.6 million to the Commission on Presidential Debates to host the event.

 

Jessica Ridgeway

Jessica Ridgeway disappeared on Oct. 5 as she was walking to meet with friends at Chelsea Park so they could all walk to school together. Her friends said she never showed up at the park.

As the search for Jessica mounted, a makeshift memorial developed at Chelsea Park and the related stories quickly became the most read items on TheDenverChannel.com by visitors from across the country.

Jessica's dismembered remains were found in an Arvada open space park five days after she vanished. On Oct. 24, Westminster police announced the arrest of Austin Sigg, 17.

Charges against Sigg in this case include kidnapping, murder and sexual assault on a child.

The Westminster City Council voted in November to change the name of Chelsea Park to Jessica Ridgeway Memorial Park.

 

Economy, budget and unemployment

The economy was a dominant topic of political discourse in the presidential debate and throughout the year. Times were tough for many in Colorado, but statistics show we were better off than some.

From November 2011 through November of 2012, Colorado's unemployment rate only exceeded the national unemployment rate in September and August.

As of November, the latest month for which data was available, the state unemployment rate had dipped to 7.7 percent. The peak was July at 8.3 percent.

In another sign of ongoing economic improvement, Gov. John Hickenlooper's 2013 budget proposal included more funding for education, more Medicaid spending, and pay increases for state employees for the first time in four years.

Richard Wobbekind of CU's Leeds School of Business said Monday that the state is forecast to add an estimated 42,100 jobs next year, after adding about 47,900 jobs in 2012.

All sectors of the Colorado economy are predicted to grow in 2013 except for the information sector, which includes publishing and telecommunications. The educational and health services sector is forecast to be strongest, adding an estimated 7,600 jobs.

 

Amendment 64

In November, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, setting in motion the legalization of recreational marijuana in this state. On Dec. 10, Governor John Hickenlooper signed an "official declaration of the vote," a procedural step that made the amendment part of the state constitution.

Upon Hickenlooper's signature, recreational use of marijuana was decriminalized under state law. Adults are allowed to possess up to one ounce of the drug or six plants.

Although marijuana technically remains illegal under federal law, President Barack Obama has said recreational users of marijuana should not be a "top priority" in the war on drugs.

"We've got bigger fish to fry," Obama said in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters.

To investigate ways to implement other parts of Amendment 64, Hickenlooper has created a task force. The 24-member group is assigned to considering and coordinating work to implement other aspects of the amendment.

Specifically, the task force will consider what other state laws need to be changed, the need for security requirements at marijuana stores, labeling requirements for the drug, marijuana education and the impact on businesses in the state. The results of their work are due to the governor by Feb. 28, 2013.

Colorado was the second state to legalize marijuana, following Washington where voters approved a similar initiative that was ratified one week before Colorado's amendment.

Although the state is moving forward, political dissonance over the issue has continued. Douglas County voted to ban commercial pot operations and Weld County Commissioners have voted to move forward toward passing a similar ban.

At this point, it looks like Amendment 64 is also a likely candidate for the list of stories that will define Colorado in 2013.

 

Did we miss something?

If you think we overlooked a story that defined Colorado during 2012, post a comment below or email KMGHWebStaff@kmgh.com.