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2021 saved its worst for the end: A look back at the year that was

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The most jarring headline of the year came late, as a national plague hit home: not COVID-19, but a shooting rampage amid children. A student at Oxford High School stands accused of murdering four schoolmates and wounding six others and a teacher.

It’s a devastating story. Overwhelming. Inescapable, with repercussions sure to echo throughout 2022.

Yet as the calendar turns, the shooting is not the only event that will continue to shape our city, our state or our world.

There was good news, as always, across 12 months. Bad news, too. News that hovered in the wide gray area between them, or touched on both.

Stellantis, the world’s sixth-largest automaker, was formed in January by the merger of the Italian-American conglomerate Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the French PSA Group. It was born in a problematic time, as car companies dealt with a pandemic-related shortage of microchips, but also a time of promise, as new electric vehicles came off drawing boards and production lines.

Kwame Kilpatrick, Detroit’s deposed and disgraced former mayor, finds himself on The Detroit News’ list of the 21 most impactful stories of 2021 after a lovely parting gift from President Donald Trump: a January commutation that trimmed two decades from his 28-year sentence for two dozen assorted felonies.

In March, the city Kilpatrick fleeced received a $500 million pledge from billionaire Dan Gilbert, with the money targeted for the improvement of Detroit neighborhoods. That came two weeks after four members of an Oakland County lottery club cashed a $1.05 billion Mega Millions ticket, the third-largest jackpot in U.S. history.

Tornadoes and floods made The News’ list, and pity the homeowners in Metro Detroit who had to clean out swamped basements three times within a few summer months.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cashiered her Department of Health and Human Services director, Robert Gordon, apparently because of his more cautious approach to reopening restaurants. Another lovely parting gift: his separation agreement after what was officially a resignation included a payout of $155,606, and a records request by The News revealed other payouts to departed state employees.

Whitmer drew criticism for flying to Florida to visit her father aboard a Gulfstream chartered by a nonprofit tied to her administration.

Eleven boys from Taylor, meanwhile, drew ovations and a victory parade for winning the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

The University of Michigan beat Ohio State in football for the first time since 2011, and is scheduled to play Georgia on Friday in the Orange Bowl, with the winner advancing to the NCAA championship game. But Peach Bowlers Michigan State beat the Wolverines and finished a surprising 10-2 in the regular season, so it was an uplifting season in Ann Arbor and East Lansing alike — and in Big Rapids as well, as Ferris State won its first Division II national title with a 58-17 pounding of Valdosta State.

HGTV star Nicole Curtis won her lawsuit against the Detroit Land Bank Authority and officially took possession of a home on East Grand Boulevard. Rap star Eminem opened a spaghetti restaurant downtown.

The clock ticked, the months flew by. The headlines came. The impact lingers.

The new year, and new stories, await. Until then, here’s a look at the 21 most impactful non-COVID stories of 2021.

Oxford shooting

On Nov. 30, 2021, students at Oxford High School finished lunch and headed to their fifth-hour classes. Then the unthinkable happened: a fellow classmate is accused of killing four classmates and wounding seven people in a five-minute shooting spree.

On the last day of November, just days after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Oxford High School became the scene of the most deadly school shooting in the United States since 2018.

The horrific tragedy took the lives of Madisyn Baldwin, 17, a senior who was an artist who loved to draw, read and write; Tate Myre, 16, a football player and honor roll student; Justin Shilling, 17, a senior and co-captain of the school’s bowling team; and Hana St. Juliana, 14, a freshman, a striker on the Oxford volleyball team and a basketball player.

Ethan Crumbley, 15, has been charged as an adult with first-degree murder and terrorism charges. Investigators have yet to reveal a motive for the unspeakable crime. He remains jailed.

Prosecutors allege Crumbley’s father purchased the gun for his son, and James and Jennifer Crumbley are charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the deaths of the students. They also remain jailed.

The shooting shattered the tight-knit community in northern Oakland County, where candlelight vigils and funerals were held in the days and weeks after the attack as families gathered closely together to mourn the overwhelming loss.

The shooting raised questions about the school’s decision to allow Crumbley to remain in school after teachers and counselors saw red flags in his behavior the day before and the day of the shooting. Two survivors have sued the district for $100 million.

Parent Shane Gibson told the Oxford Board of Education on Dec. 14 that his family is devastated by the loss of life from the shooting, and the loss of innocence for all children in Oxford.

“This tragedy has shown me the loss of trust, the loss of safety and security in this small town, this town I thought nothing like this could ever happen in,” Gibson said. “The loss of innocence for these children is, I think, the most heartbreaking. These kids will live with this for the rest of their lives.”

U.S. Capitol insurrection

Thousands of protest supporters of President Donald Trump breached the U.S. Capitol and briefly took over the House and Senate chambers on Jan. 6 over unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud. It turned a traditionally unremarkable procedural day to certify the presidential election results into a chaotically historic one that led to a second impeachment and acquittal of Trump.

Members of Congress, including Michigan’s lawmakers, were locked down and then evacuated to safe locations. A Trump supporter was shot and killed trying to gain access to the locked lobby of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — which led to the House chamber — while a Capitol Police officer died after being pepper-sprayed by demonstrators. Other security officers were injured.

Order was restored at the Capitol by early evening, and lawmakers resumed debating the certification of results and approved them in the early morning hours of Jan. 7. Republican U.S. Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet and Tim Walberg of Tipton were the only Michigan delegation members who voted against certifying the results. 

At least 14 Michigan residents have been charged to date in the insurrection, while more than 700 have faced charges nationwide. Among the more serious charges, Wixom resident Michael Foy is accused of striking law enforcement at least 10 times with a hockey stick near an entrance to the Capitol, and Tim Levon Boughner of Romeo is charged with using chemical spray to attack law enforcement officers. 

UM, MSU have incredible seasons

When the first Associated Press Top 25 football rankings of 21 came out in August, Michigan and Michigan State were nowhere to be found, and that wasn’t much of a surprise.

Mel Tucker was in his second year as coach of Michigan State, and facing a steep rebuild after things turned stale in the twilight of Mark Dantonio’s career.

Jim Harbaugh was in his seventh year as coach of Michigan, but he had so failed to meet expectations that he took a roughly 50% pay cut to remain on the job. That’s almost unheard of.

Actually unheard of? Michigan in the College Football Playoffs — until now. Behind a bruising defensive line led by Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson and a dynamic running-back duo, the Wolverines finished the regular season 11-1 — with the lone loss to rival Michigan State, which rallied from 16 down to win that game. Michigan regrouped and beat Ohio State for the first time in nearly a decade, then steamrolled Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. It was Michigan’s first trip to Indy, and could get back there next month should it beat Georgia in a national semifinal.

The highlight of Michigan State’s 10-2 season was the win over Michigan, headlined by Kenneth Walker III, amazingly not a Heisman finalist, who had five rushing touchdowns. Health and depth issues hurt the Spartans down the stretch, with losses at Purdue and Ohio State, but the Spartans still are No. 10 nationally entering the Peach Bowl against Pitt. And Tucker has a new, 10-year, $95 million contract.

Stellantis is formed

The January closing of the merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and French rival Groupe PSA created the world’s fourth-largest automaker, and put the former Chrysler Corp. under foreign control for the third time. 

Stellantis NV, which followed Fiat and Daimler Benz as overseas owners of the Detroit Three’s smallest carmaker, came into being with 14 brands — ranging from Jeep to Alfa Romeo to Peugeot — and an urgent need to catch rivals in the industry’s pivot to electrification.

The CEO of the new transatlantic company, PSA’s Carlos Tavares, said he would give the leaders of the 14 Stellantis brands 10 years to prove their value, and announced the automaker would spend $35.5 billion by 2025 to electrify its lineup. As part of that transition, Stellantis began selling the plug-in hybrid Jeep Wrangler 4xe and unveiled plans during the summer to offer a hybrid Dodge in 2022, an all-electric Jeep in 2023, and a battery-electric muscle car and Ram pickup in 2024, with a fully electric version of all U.S. models by 2029.

While it rolled out investments for an EV future, the newly merged automaker also introduced new gas-powered SUVs of the kind American drivers have come to love: the redesigned two-row Jeep Grand Cherokee (which will come with a plug-in hybrid option after the new year) and a trio of all-new…

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