Looking back: Do you remember 2014’s biggest stories?
The world once again proved to be a very scary place with the deadly Ebola outbreak that swept across West Africa in early 2014, sickening at least 14,500 people and killing at least 5,177, according to the World Health Organization. The current epidemic has killed more people than all other Ebola outbreaks combined since its discovery in 1976.
With no proven treatment, Ebola begins with flu-like symptoms that are often followed by severe vomiting and diarrhea. Ebola sufferers experience a high risk of death, with the Centers for Disease and Control reporting a fatality rate of 71 percent.
The deadly and contagious disease touched American soil via U.S. missionaries who were flown here for treatment during the summer and also unwittingly by Liberian tourist Eric Duncan, who flew from Liberia to Texas and later died in Dallas on Oct. 8.
Another American citizen, Dr. Martin Salia, contracted the disease while treating patients in his native Sierra Leone and was flown to America for treatment. He died of the virus at the Nebraska Medical Center on Nov. 17, showing that although many health-care workers have survived the virus, even treatment at the best U.S. facilities doesn’t guaranteed being cured.
Russia invades Crimea
With Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March, many analysts wonder if the United States and Russia are headed for a new Cold War. The first Cold War lasted from the end of World War II until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and regardless of the label, tensions are again strained between Moscow and Washington, D.C.
The crisis evolved in the aftermath of the Ukrainian Revolution in February, when Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital and was removed from power.
The new Ukrainian government was recognized by the United States and the European Union but not Russia, which flooded the area with pro-Russian forces and Eastern separatists who occupied strategic positions and government buildings oftentimes with Russian weapons.
Russia seized control of Crimea in March and, later in a disputed referendum, 96 percent of voters declared their intention of joining Russia as the Republic of Crimea.
“In our hearts, we know Crimea has always been an inalienable part of Russia,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called it “a robbery on an international scale” that Kiev will never accept.
Flight shot down over Ukraine
What’s clear is that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine on July 17, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. What’s questionable is who is to blame.
In an ongoing diplomatic dispute, the Ukrainian and Western governments say that Russian-backed separatists shot down the plane with a Russia-supplied missile, while Russia claims Ukrainian government forces are to blame.
The Boeing 777 airplane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when the Dutch Safety Board lost contact when it was about 30 miles from the Russia-Ukraine border. After it was shot down, debris and charred remains were scattered over an area of about 1.2 miles. The vast crash site was unsecured, and rebels were widely accused of looting the site, tampering with evidence and hindering investigators, according to CNN.com.
Some questioned why the plane was flying over rebel-held Ukrainian territory, but Malaysia Airlines Senior Vice President Europe Huib Gorter said the flight route had been declared safe and was being used by many other airlines. A preliminary report issued in September said Flight 17 broke apart in the air after it was hit by a burst of “high-energy objects” from outside.
Flight 370 still missing
It’s a mystery that may never be solved: What happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? After months of multinational efforts searching for the missing airliner — the largest and most expensive search effort in history — not a trace of evidence has turned up about the plane that disappeared March 8 over the South China Sea.
Less than an hour after takeoff, the last message was received from the Boeing 777 that was flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia, to China’s Beijing Capital International Airport. On board were 227 passengers from 15 nations and 12 Malaysian crew members. Three Americans were on the flight.
The complex search for debris turned up nothing but garbage as ships using state-of-the-art equipment surveyed tens of thousands of square miles at the bottom of the ocean where the plane is believed to have gone down. The primary search area is roughly the size of Virginia.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that, based on satellite data, Flight 370 “ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” but various conspiracy theories have been proposed to explain the cause of the crash.
Schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria
In a brazen and heart-shattering attack that outraged the world, the extremist Muslim group Boko Haram abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls from a rural elementary school in Chibok, Nigeria, on April 14.
Using bloody tactics and suicide bombings, Boko Haram is trying to establish an Islamic state in religiously mixed northern Nigeria, and had used abductions, forced conversions to Islam and forced marriages in the past. Human Rights Watch estimated Boko Haram has killed more than 4,000 civilians in the last 18 months.
It was the sheer size of the kidnapping that ignited a worldwide response. Celebrities like Sean Penn, Pope Francis, First Lady Michelle Obama and teen Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai spread the word of the atrocity through social media and the #BringOurGirlsBack campaign. The Nigerian government was derided for a what critics called a slow and inadequate response.
Officials have said that some of the girls were able to escape their captors, and hopes were raised in October when the Nigerian government said it had reached a truce with the militants, but a majority of the girls are still held by their captors, and kidnappings continue.
Terror group grows in Middle East
It may be a ragtag army, but the Islamic extremists waging a bloody campaign to establish a caliphate — an Islamic state — in Iraq and Syria are occupying huge swaths of land from the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, eastward beyond Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s war-torn hometown in Iraq, according to Al Jazeera.
Now, top U.S. military officials are contemplating a boots-on-the-ground offensive in early 2015 to take back key portions of the country, and President Barack Obama said he would order U.S. troops in if the terrorist group got a nuclear weapon.
The United States has a “modest footprint” of about 1,400 forces now in Iraq, said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. An expected total of 3,100 troops will ultimately be deployed to help advise and train Iraqi forces, which struggle with poor leadership and corruption since the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.
Known as ISIL by the British and United States governments and also called ISIS or the Islamic State, the terrorist organization has been accused by human rights groups of ethnic cleansing and committing war crimes such as using child soldiers and public executions.
The group has beheaded hundreds of local captives, but the grisly executions of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid worker David Haines and American aid worker Peter Kassig attracted global condemnation.
Sports ups and downs
The year in sports saw the San Francisco Giants win their third World Series championship in five seasons. Rookie QB Russell Wilson led the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl win, the San Antonio Spurs took the NBA Finals, and the Los Angeles Kings brought the Stanley Cup home.
In horse racing, California Chrome came this close to winning the Triple Crown, falling short at the Belmont Stakes after winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
LeBron James found out he can go home again and be welcomed back by thousands of euphoric fans. “King James” returned to his Ohio roots donning a wine-and-gold uniform for the first time in four years for the 2014 NBA season opener in October against the New York Knicks. The Knicks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, but for the fans, the loss mattered little.
The Akron, Ohio, native spent seven years in Cleveland, but an NBA title was elusive. In 2010, he ignited the anger of his fans when he abandoned the city to join the Miami Heat and new teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in a highly publicized move. He won two NBA championships with the Heat.
Sadly, there was plenty of unpleasant sporting news in 2014:
• Former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers Donald Sterling was enveloped in scandal when his former mistress released tapes of Sterling’s racist rants. The ugly comments resonated with players and fans, with many turning to social media looking for his ouster.
LeBron James told reporters, “There is no room for Donald Sterling in our league.” NBA commissioner Adam Silver followed suit and banned Sterling for life, but Sterling refused to go quietly. In a taped interview with CNN, Sterling switched between apologizing for his comments and insulting Magic Johnson and the black community.
Doctors later said Sterling showed signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Sterling’s wife, Shelly, sold the team to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion in July, and the NBA called off its hearing to terminate Sterling.
• The violence of football poured off the field in May when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested for assaulting his then-fiancee (and now-wife) Janay Rice. He was charged with simple assault and released from jail.
Causing more of a commotion was the NFL’s initial response. Rice received a very mild two-game suspension for the altercation until a shocking video surfaced showing Rice knocking Janay unconscious and dragging her body from an Atlantic City casino elevator. In response, the NFL beefed up its domestic abuse policy, which led to the Ravens releasing Rice and the NFL suspending him indefinitely.
• In other family sporting news, Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson was indicted in September on felony charges of injury to a child for using a wooden switch to discipline his 4-year-old son. Peterson’s case revived a debate about corporal punishment, which though on the decline, is still widely practiced in the United States.
The NFL star pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of misdemeanor reckless assault in November. He was suspended without pay for at least the remainder of the season and will not be eligible for reinstatement before April 15, 2015, for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.