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2018 in Florida: mass shootings, hurricanes, election sagas
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2018 in Florida: mass shootings, hurricanes, election sagas

2018 in Florida: mass shootings, hurricanes, election sagas
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File
FILE- In this Feb. 15, 2018, file photo, students gather during a vigil at Pine Trails Park for the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Nikolas Cruz, a former student, was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. The shooting in Parkland was one of the top stories in Florida in 2018. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)

2018 in Florida: mass shootings, hurricanes, election sagas

Florida in 2018 saw a horrific school shooting, a devastating hurricane that ravaged parts of the state's Panhandle region, and a contentious election that dragged on for weeks.

The shooting sent reverberations through the nation, in schools across the country and in the halls of power.

In February, 17 students and staff were gunned down at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The entire world watched as the students who survived organized marches, gave rousing speeches and appeared in countless media interviews, all on the topic of gun control.

"If us students have learned anything, it's that if you don't study, you will fail," said Parkland student Emma Gonzalez during a rally in Fort Lauderdale just days after the shooting. "And in this case if you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it's time to start doing something."

In November, Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave their student organization, March For Our Lives, the International Children's Peace Prize .

The shooting also changed state policy in ways that had been previously unthinkable in Florida's gun lobby-friendly Legislature. Three weeks after the attack, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that raised the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21, extended a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns and bans bump stocks, and created a so-called guardian program enabling some teachers and other school employees to carry guns.

Survivors had wanted a ban on assault-style weapons, like the ones the gunman used during the massacre. But the bill didn't go that far. Still, the National Rifle Association fought back with a lawsuit, saying the measure "punishes law-abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of a deranged individual."

The other devastating event in the state came in October, when Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle , killing at least 43 people. It all but wiped the small community of Mexico Beach off the map , and caused massive damage in Panama City and at Tyndall Air Force Base.

Michael was the strongest storm on record ever to hit the Panhandle, and it upended every aspect of life in the Panama City area, from schools to businesses to traffic and electricity. Many people still haven't recovered. Earlier this month, it was announced that one of Panama City's two hospitals would lay off 800 people because it was unable to reopen parts of the building due to storm damage, and the city's largest mall has closed, also due to damage sustained in the storm.

Another disaster also hit Florida's Gulf communities in 2018, but it was slow moving and spread up the coast over the summer. A massive, naturally occurring red tide bloom began in Naples and eventually drifted north. It killed hundreds of tons of fish, and communities along the coast scrambled to clear the normally pristine beaches from the stinking mess. The red tide also reached the state's Atlantic coast, which is unusual.

In addition to the red tide, some communities saw a spread of blue-green algae in freshwater. Heavy rains in the Spring caused Lake Okeechobee to discharge water containing the goo-like algae into rivers and canals. The bright green sludge oozed onto docks and into rivers and canals.

Both types of algae threatened to affect the state's tourism industry, which scrambled to reassure visitors that many parts of Florida were algae-free.

One of Florida's major stories centered around politics. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum became the state's first black gubernatorial nominee when he won the Democratic primary in August. He faced former Congressman Ron DeSantis, a Republican. The U.S. Senate race was a bruiser, too, with Republican Gov. Rick Scott up against sitting Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson.

Contentious races for U.S. Senate and governor were too close to call on election night . That led to a recount, which dredged up memories of the much maligned 2000 presidential election. In the end, Scott was declared the winner in the Senate race and DeSantis the winner in the governor's race. Voters also approved two amendments of note: one allowing most felons who have served their sentences to vote (excluding sex offenders). Voters also banned greyhound racing.

Other top stories:

— In February, a Florida International University pedestrian bridge collapsed and killed six people . Two days before the collapse, an engineer with the bridge's design firm left a voicemail for state transportation officials to report cracking had been found at one end of the concrete span, but the company didn't think it was a safety issue. State officials didn't hear the voicemail until after the collapse . Federal authorities are still investigating.

— In October, prominent Democratic officials, CNN's Manhattan offices and others who have been critical of President Donald Trump were targeted with package bombs. The suspect, 56-year-old Cesar Sayoc, was from Miami-Dade County . He's in jail while awaiting trial and faces nearly 50 years in prison if convicted on five federal charges, which were filed in New York.

— In June, a popular young rapper was killed in Fort Lauderdale . Four men are accused of killing XXXTentacion (ex-ex-ex-ten-ta-see-YAWN). The 20-year-old rap star, whose real name was Jahseh Onfroy, was fatally shot multiple times as he left a motorcycle dealership.

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  • The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is welcoming back K9 Officer Jeremy Mason, nearly 18 months after he was shot in the face while chasing a robbery and carjacking suspect. The shooting happened in July 2017, when police were called to 103rd Street and Old Middleburg Road, after community tips led them to believe a bank robbery suspect was in that area. Police say that suspect- since identified as 28-year-old Michael Harris- carjacked and kidnapped a woman there by getting in her car and forcing her to drive off. JSO says Mason was shot in the ensuing chase, but continued to pursue the suspect. The suspect vehicle got in a crash with a civilian car, and Mason and a detective ultimately fatally shot Harris when he refused to disarm, according to police. Mason has undergone 12 surgeries through his recovery, according to JSO. Today marks the first day back on the job for Mason and K9 Echo.
  • With a partial government shutdown showing no signs of being resolved, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday basically ‘disinvited’ President Donald Trump from a scheduled January 29 State of the Union Address, saying that the Secret Service and Homeland Security Department should not be tasked with such a major event while they are in a shutdown status. “Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened,” Pelosi wrote in a letter sent to the President on Wednesday morning. There was no immediate reaction from the White House or the President. The President gives the State of the Union at the invitation of the Congress, as the House and Senate must agree to use the House chamber for such an event. The reaction in Congress split down party lines. “It is very ironic that Democrats reference security concerns in their latest grandstanding tactic, delaying the State of the Union, but will not address the security concerns that are creating a humanitarian crisis at the border,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN). “We know the state of our union,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), as Democrats said there should be no speech from the President while the partial shutdown continues. In an interview with NBC News, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the President had been “disinvited” by Pelosi.
  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asked President Donald Trump on Wednesday to postpone his State of the Union address as the partial government shutdown that started Dec. 22 continues. >> Read more trending news Earlier this month, Pelosi invited Trump to deliver the annual State of the Union address on Jan. 29. However, the California Democrat said Wednesday that the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Secret Service -- the agency tasked with coordinating and implementing security for certain special events, including the State of the Union address -- have not been paid for 26 days. >> State of the Union 2019: What day, what time, who will be there? “Given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest that we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29th,” Pelosi said. Pelosi noted that State of the Union addresses were routinely brought to Congress in writing up until the presidency of Woodrow Wilson in 1913. >> Who is Nancy Pelosi? California Democrat elected as House speaker 'Since the start of modern budgeting in Fiscal Year 1977, a State of the Union address has never been delivered during a government shutdown,' Pelosi said. Several federal agencies have been closed and thousands of government employees have been compelled to wok without pay since last month, when lawmakers failed to approve of a budget to keep the federal government running. >> From Cox Media Group’s Jamie Dupree: Coast Guard misses paychecks as partial shutdown reaches Day 25 At issue is funding for a proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border that Democrats have opposed. Trump has signaled that he’ll refuse to sign any budget passed by lawmakers that fails to include $5.7 billion to build the wall.
  • Police in California are hoping the public can help them identify a toddler found dead nearly 15 years ago. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's 'Help ID Me' page, hikers discovered the remains of the boy, known as 'Baby Doe,' in May 2004 near the Rancho Bernardo Community Park in San Diego. >> Read more trending news  'The remains were found by two hikers who noticed a green padded winter-type coat lying over a green and white duffel bag,' read the Facebook post shared Tuesday. 'When they removed the coat and looked in the bag, they saw a human skull and bones.' The 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-year-old boy likely died at least a year before he was discovered, authorities said. He had been 'wearing red warm-up pants, gray-tan socks, a blue vest and two sweatshirts,' the Facebook post said. Investigators also released sketches of what the child may have looked like. >> See the images here Forensic tests showed that the boy's mother 'likely spent time in the Southeast while pregnant and may have lived in Texas shortly after the child was born before ultimately moving to the southern California area,' the post said. >> Watch the video here If you have information about the case, please call 1-800-THE-LOST.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is interviewing witnesses and trying to speak to victims after six people were shot in the Spring Park area.  Officers believe the scene happened around the Spring Park and Emerson area.  According to JSO, a Chevy Tahoe with multiple bullet holes pulled up to Memorial Hospital around 2:00 am with the victims inside. One person died, the others have injuries ranging from minor to critical. None of the victims are children. Police say the victims are between their 20’s and 40’s. Details are very limited about the person who died, all police were able to say is that the person is 25-years-old.  During the briefing, police were unable to say what exactly led up to the shooting and they’re not even sure if someone called 911.  The Sheriff’s Office does not have any type of suspect information. They are asking anyone with information to call them or Crime Stoppers. This is a developing story and will be updated throughout the morning. 

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