CINCINNATI — It's been a decade of a year, Cincinnati.
After trudging through a long 2020, we emerged last January with hopes of a different year, maybe even a better year. Some of the most read stories on our website this year were uplifting, while others were tougher to experience.
We put together a list of the topics most widely read about in 2021 — brace yourself for "oh man, did that happen this year?" feelings:
1. The Great Cicada Outbreak
Yep. That was earlier this year, when those large insects climbed up out of our yards and descended upon our trees with their deafening screams. Tri-State readers were interested in all things cicada, starting with wondering whether a cold snap in April would hinder their arrival later in the season. Spoiler alert: It didn't.
By May, warmer temperatures had rolled in and we were beginning to see a few beady-eyed bugs emerge and molt, but one thing was clear: They were coming.
When they finally arrived, the Tri-State area was swarmed — more in some neighborhoods than others — and the bumbling, winged insects were divebombing Cincinnatians nearly every second spent outdoors. This sparked a new fashion movement, as folks got creative to avoid feeling like they needed a tennis racket to step outside their homes.
Schools like Mt. St. Joseph embraced the arrival of the buzzing beasts, using it as an opportunity to create a mobile app intended to track data on Brood X.
But data couldn't save the Tri-State from being terrorized by Brood X, which was blamed more than once for car crashes and other mishaps.
And then there were the zombie cicadas, but that was probably just a 2021-exclusive error in the Matrix or something, right? Right?
2. COVID-19 and the arrival of vaccines
All things COVID-19 still dominated the news in 2021 and reporting on vaccines was sought out by Tri-Staters.
As the shots were released, questions about everything from their efficacy and safety to where folks could get their hands on them when eligible needed answering. A state-based rollout caused plenty of confusion, particularly in Tri-State areas like Cincinnati where residents weren't certain whether they could cross state lines for the jab.
Misinformation and skepticism about the safety of the vaccine emerged quickly. Tri-Staters wanted to know if anyone had died from receiving a COVID-19 vaccine (they haven't), how big the needles were (not bad) and whether the first and second shots required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines differed from one another (they don't).
Whether or not to get a vaccine before surgeries (when they were available during times hospitals weren't struggling with staffing shortages and overcrowding) was also a concern for Tri-Staters.
Treatments for COVID-19 were also highly discussed. In August, a Butler County judge made national news when he ordered doctors at West Chester Hospital to treat a COVID-19 patient with Ivermectin, a drug commonly used as a livestock dewormer and unproven to affect symptoms or infections of COVID-19.
3. Johnny Bench memorabilia saved from auction
All-Star catcher and member of the Big Red Machine Johnny Bench is a legend in Cincinnati, of that there is no doubt.
With two World Series titles and a Hall of Fame career under his belt, Bench made the decision to sell most of his awards, rings and memorabilia in an auction.
The money was to go toward putting his sons through college.
Bench watched as his World Series rings, gold gloves, MVP awards and more all went to the highest bidder — some for significantly more than he'd anticipated. What he didn't know was that the highest bidder was always Alan Horwitz, successful Philly businessman and lifelong friend of Bench.
"I saw, he worked so hard for these things. What the hell is it going to a collector for? No way!" Horwitz said.
Horwitz spent over $1 million on the items, securing Bench's kids college tuition and returning the memorabilia to its rightful home, all in one heartwarming swoop.
4. TikTok challenge encouraged school threats
At the start of December, a rash of local threats against schools in the region followed a fatal shooting in Michigan.
The shooting claimed four lives and wounded seven.
In the weeks following the shooting, local schools began receiving threats throughout the Tri-State region, including one that closed Lakota schools and resulted in the arrest of a 13-year-old girl who has been charged with making terroristic threats.
A Tik-Tok challenge also emerged encouraging students to make a shooting, bomb or violence threats against schools on Friday, Dec. 17, raising concerns about school safety region-wide.
In response, police increased their presence at multiple school districts as a precaution and possible deterrent for any students considering participating in the challenge. No threats were officially made and the school day ended without a hitch for districts in the Tri-State, despite the scare.
5. The story of a boy, a sloth and making the best of sad circumstances
In February, the Cincinnati Zoo announced 8-year-old Lightning the sloth was pregnant with the zoo's first sloth baby. Zoo workers had hoped for a baby sloth since 2016 with no luck, until Lightning and long-time zoo resident Moe warmed up to one another in 2020.
Lightning was due to give birth in September or October.
In July, a Tri-State family who'd recently lost a sloth-loving son stepped forward to ask the zoo to consider their son's name for the expected baby sloth.
The Nicholson family's twin sons, Oliver and Atticus, were born seven weeks early; Oliver was born with just one kidney, heart issues, limb disabilities and his esophagus wasn't connected to his stomach.
"I gave him a sloth and, I mean, he wrapped his arm around it and just snuggled it," Alex Nicholson, the twins' father, said. "He slept with it, he hung out with it.”
Oliver made some progress with his sloth by his side, and people started sending him sloth-related gifts. As he progressed, the nurses knew Oliver as the sloth kid.
"It just became a thing," Nicholson said. "He started getting ‘Get Well Soon’ cards with sloths on the front. I got him a big, I mean, a huge 4-foot by 2-foot sloth balloon and it was in his room.”
Oliver died on Feb. 17, just one week before the zoo announced Lightning's pregnancy.
Unfortunately, the zoo never got the opportunity to honor the family's request: The Cincinnati Zoo announced in October that Lightning unexpectedly delivered a stillborn baby after an hours-long labor.
The zoo instead decided to honor Oliver in a different way on Oct. 11, which would have been Oliver's second birthday. The zoo announced Oliver's name would instead stand proudly as the name of the entire sloth habitat, emblazoned onto a plaque for all sloth-lovers to enjoy for years to come.
6. How a 6-year-old's tears prompted Joey Votto to apologize
Joey Votto learned an important lesson in not getting ejected from games this year.
An argument sparked between Votto and two umpires during a June showdown between the Reds and the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. The argument got Votto and Reds manager David Bell ejected from the game in the first inning, disappointing one young fan so badly she immediately began to cry.
@Reds When it’s your first MLB game and your favorite player of all time gets thrown out of the game in the first inning…. 😥😥😥 #weloveyoujoey pic.twitter.com/h7lganVo3s— Kristin (@SuperBarry11) June 19, 2021
Six-year-old Abigail had traveled with her family from Los Angeles to San Diego to watch the game, the young girl proudly sporting a Joey Votto T-shirt.
Votto is Abigail's favorite baseball player. Her mother, a Greenville, Ohio native, said the family has a dog named after the first baseman and Abigail's favorite position to play in tee-ball is first base.
After her teary-eyed photo went viral online, Abigail received a special apology from her favorite player: Votto sent her a personal message on a signed baseball.
A VERY happy little Joey Votto fan at bedtime tonight!!! ❤️⚾️ A big thank you again to Joey Votto and the @Reds for making Abigail’s first MLB game so special and memorable! pic.twitter.com/iKrQWHrx4E— Kristin (@SuperBarry11) June 20, 2021
The saga didn't end there: One day later, Abigail got to meet Votto face-to-face.
The Cincinnati Reds tweeted a video of the young fan talking to Votto and getting an autograph for her Reds book and a picture.
Joey got to meet his biggest fan, Abigail. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/S6GySOo6BK— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) June 20, 2021
7. The allegation that workplace bullying led to a Kroger employee's suicide
In July, the Tri-State tuned in to the story of a man who, after allegedly experiencing "disturbing, dangerous and deranged conditions" while working at the Milford Kroger, died by suicide.
A lawsuit filed with the Hamilton County clerk of courts claimed that 40-year-old Kroger dairy manager Evan Seyfried was "(a) dutiful Kroger employee (who) reported to work each and every day during a pandemic ready to provide a quality, safe product, yet was tormented by his own superiors inside of the building that promised to keep all customers and associates safe," Austin LiPuma, attorney for Seyfried's father, Kenneth Seyfried, said in a news release.
Seyfried died on March 9 "with no prior history of severe mental health concerns," the lawsuit stated.
The suit goes on to accuse a manager at the grocery chain's Milford location of instigating "a campaign (in October 2020) dedicated to ousting Evan while proclaiming her intention to make Evan's life a 'living hell.'"
The suit claims the manager's feud with Evan Seyfried stemmed, in part, from concerns he had raised concerning COVID-19, which led to "hazing, taunting and bullying" and attempts to sabotage his work.
As part of the alleged bullying, Seyfried's boss "mocked and humiliated" him for wearing a mask — in line with the company's pandemic policies — as well as for his political beliefs, the suit states.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial on multiple claims against the company and two named managers including wrongful death; conspiracy; intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligent infliction of emotional distress; invasion of privacy; sexual harassment, and reckless, willful and wanton conduct, among others.
The suit still has not been resolved; on Dec. 9, the case was reassigned from Judge Alan Triggs to Judge Christian Jenkins and remains ongoing.
8. The tragedy of two missing boys and the Ohio River
The Dec. 12, 2020 discovery of Nyteisha Lattimore's murder didn't happen this year, but the impact of that case could still be felt several months later, especially after officials realized her 3-year-old son hadn't been seen since her death.
Nyteisha was discovered dead near the Purple People Bridge on E. Pete Rose Way. Hamilton County court documents said she'd been stabbed to death with "an unknown edged weapon." Lattimore's boyfriend, 20-year-old Desean Brown, was charged with her murder.
An abandoned stroller near the river in the area where Nytiesha was found sparked alarm among her family, who hadn't seen her son, Nylo.
Prosecutors announced they intended to seek the death penalty against Brown in February and said they now believe Brown put Nylo into the Ohio River, still alive, not long after murdering his mother. Nylo's body remains missing.
Later in February, a new case emerged that was eerily similar in one aspect.
Middletown Police sounded the alarm that 6-year-old James Hutchinson had gone missing and the community rallied, turning out in droves to help search for the boy.
Meanwhile, the boy's mother, Brittany Gosney, and her boyfriend, James Hamilton, couldn't agree on when they had last seen the boy they'd reported missing.
What unfolded after was another tragic narrative that rocked the Tri-State region and sparked dozens of large-scale search efforts along the banks of the Ohio River — for both missing boys.
Gosney would eventually plead guilty to her son's murder in September. The mother of three confessed to trying to abandon her children in Rush Run Park in Preble County, claiming Hamilton ordered her to get rid of them. After the kids were out of the car, Gosney began to drive away but Hutchinson tried to hold onto the vehicle.
She dragged him until he let go.
Hutchinson was dead by the time Gosney turned around and returned to the lot several minutes later. She loaded his body into her car alongside his living siblings and drove back home to Middletown, where she and Hamilton concealed the first-grader’s body in their house for nearly 48 hours.
Prosecutors later alleged Gosney also "hog-tied" and gagged her children for several hours in the days before Hutchinson died.
According to court documents, she and Hamilton took the body an hour away to Lawrenceburg, Indiana and dumped it in the Ohio River on Feb. 28.
Hamilton accepted a plea deal in August, pleading guilty to one count of kidnapping, two counts of child endangering and one count of gross abuse of a corpse. Gosney was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 21 years.
Like Nylo, Hutchinson's body was also never found.
9. Saving money
We could have put together an entire list of just John Matarese's money saving tips, but 2021 is ending quickly and there were just so many.
We still felt we would be remiss to acknowledge that, throughout 2021, Cincinnatians turned to tips and hints from Matarese on anything from stimulus package information to tax filing to why your dinner might have been late if you ordered from food delivery apps this past spring.
It's no surprise that, after the job losses, unemployment frustrations and business woes of 2021, this information was some of the most sought-after throughout the year.
After all, when Kroger charges you $12,000 for oranges and bounces your bank account, where would you turn to warn others?