It's been quite the year, D.C.
2023 included highs, like Beyoncé declaring D.C. the “errbody on mute” challenge winner, all the glitter and pink of "Barbie" movie showtimes, and some impressive local anniversaries, like Ben's Chili Bowl hitting 65 years.
There were also some lows. Children were killed in shootings, carjackings doubled and wildfire smoke made the air hazardous to our health.
We remember it all, and we gathered some of the biggest stories of 2023 for you to look back on.
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YouTube prankster shot in Dulles mall by food delivery driver
In April, 21-year-old Tanner Cook made a nonsensical audio recording on his cellphone and began following a delivery driver in the food court of Dulles Town Center while playing the audio. Video shows the driver, Alan Colie, trying to get away from Cook and telling him three times to stop as he attempted to push the prankster's phone away from his face. After about 20 seconds, Colie pulled out a gun and shot Cook.
Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia local news, events and information
Colie was charged in the shooting but found not guilty of aggravated malicious wounding. The jury was split on two lesser firearms counts and decided to convict him on one and acquit him on the other.
Many on social media supported Colie, saying Cook was harassing a stranger. Meanwhile, Cook said he planned to continue making his prank videos.
Gun violence devastates DC communities, with children among the victims
Gun violence devastated D.C. families and neighborhoods in 2023. As many U.S. cities have seen drops in their homicide rate, homicides in D.C. are up 35% year over year, as of the last days of December. In 2022, 201 people were killed, compared to 272 in 2023.
Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Lindsey Appiah testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee in October and said violent crime in the District has become a “crisis.”
In February, a shooter went on a rampage in the Potomac Avenue Metro station, killing a 64-year-old Metro mechanic who died trying to protect others. Robert Cunningham tried to intervene as the gunman shot people seemingly at random. Three other people were hurt.
On Mother’s Day in May, 10-year-old Arianna Davis’ family was headed home when a barrage of more than 50 bullets were fired around their car. Davis was struck and died days later.
During a Fourth of July gathering in the Deanwood area of Northeast D.C., at least one drive-by shooter wounded nine people, including a child and a teenager.
New D.C. Chief of Police Pamela Smith was selected in July and said her top priority will be to drive down crime.
In December, the mayor’s office and Metropolitan Police Department announced a state-of-the-art real-time crime center to monitor surveillance cameras around the clock, together with federal law enforcement.
The News4 I-Team’s series Gun Violence: A Call to Action explores how gunshots change the victims and their families, how social media can fuel gun violence, what obstacles families face in trying to get away from violent communities, and the impact violence has on young people.
DC area briefly has the worst air quality in the world
"Very unhealthy" and "hazardous" air quality put the health of people across the D.C. area at risk in early June as smoke from Canadian wildfires brought in some of the most polluted air ever recorded in the region.
Heavy smog surrounded D.C.’s monuments and Northern Virginia’s airports. Many people on the streets wore face masks, and some schools cancelled outdoor activities or kept students indoors during recess. The Washington Nationals postponed a game, and the Commanders moved practice to their indoor bubble.
Burgundy and sold: Commanders say goodbye to Dan Snyder, welcome new ownership group
At long last, the NFL approved the $6.05 billion sale of the Washington Commanders from Dan Snyder to a new ownership group led by Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Josh Harris.
Many fans greeted the news with joy. Cheering Commanders fans wore “Bye, Dan” T-shirts and cheered at a “Burgundy and Sold” party at The Bullpen in D.C.’s Navy Yard neighborhood.
While the sale process of the team took less than a year, it felt like an eternity for many Commanders fans. Under Snyder's stewardship, the football team’s performance on the field tanked. Since 2000, the year Snyder took full control, the team registered a terrible 154-214-2 record, losing 60 games more than they won. They also earned just one playoff victory in 23 seasons. And that’s to say nothing of the numerous lawsuits, investigations and allegations during Snyder’s tenure. The NFL fined the organization $10 million and ordered Snyder to pay $60 million after an investigation supported claims of sexual harassment and financial fraud.
While the Commanders have continued to struggle this season, Harris already has been showing long-term vision.
Greenbelt selected as next FBI headquarters site as FBI director and Virginia leaders object
After years of discussions over the fate of the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown D.C. and where the next FBI headquarters should be, Greenbelt, Maryland, was announced in November as its future site.
A three-member voting panel made up of two General Services Administration employees and an FBI employee evaluated three sites: Greenbelt and Landover in Maryland, and Springfield, Virginia. Greenbelt was selected because of the cost to taxpayers, its transportation access and the project delivery schedule, a GSA spokesperson said.
Maryland leaders including the governor, senators and Prince George’s County executive celebrated and said the huge project will spur growth in the area.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a letter that he was concerned about a “potential conflict of interest” in the site selection process. Virginia’s senators and nine U.S. House members called for an investigation.
The former federal official, Nina Albert, who found herself at the center of the controversy dismissed accusations and defended the pick.
“Actually, everything’s quite transparent and open book. GSA on their website has all of the documents that explain what my decision-making process was, what the site selection process was,” she said.
The inspector general for the GSA will review how the site was selected.
Carjackings terrify drivers as officials look for answers
The number of carjackings in D.C. doubled in the past year. More than three-quarters of the crimes involve guns, and 62% of people arrested are minors, according to MPD statistics near the end of the year.
The victims in 2023 included a member of Congress, Rep. Henry Cuellar, of Texas. In October, he said three people pointing guns at him “came out of nowhere” near his home in Navy Yard.
Some of the crimes this year ended in tragedy. Thirteen-year-old Vernard Toney Jr. died after he was shot in the Penn Quarter area in October by an off-duty federal officer. Toney and another young person had tried to carjack him when the officer opened fire, police said.
That same month, a teen girl who was inside a carjacked vehicle was killed in a crash in Northeast. In Glenarden, Maryland, four teenagers died after a stolen car crashed into a tree. Relatives of two of the teens said they got into the Kia not knowing it had been taken in a carjacking in Greenbelt earlier that day.
A criminologist told News4 last month that some of the carjackings are crimes of opportunity and that a perceived lack of consequences can explain the surge in cases.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Matthew Graves — whose office has fielded criticism for not pursuing more of these cases — has blamed D.C. law that loosened penalties on young violent offenders as contributing to the problem. His office said it’s now charging more cases, and Graves is urging D.C. officials to reinstate tougher mandatory minimums for the crime.
Flash flooding kills 10 dogs at District Dogs; DC 911 response grilled
A startling late August storm flooded Northeast D.C. and brought fast-rising, waist-high water to the front windows of District Dogs. After climbing to 6 feet in a matter of minutes, the water crashed through the plate glass windows of the doggy day care.
Employees and first responders saved around 40 dogs, but 10 dogs drowned that day.
Their human companions grieved and then questioned how the tragedy could have happened.
“It was supposed to be celebrating his birthday,” one owner said through sobs.
“They were so innocent. They didn’t do anything to deserve this,” another said as she cried.
The owner said the District Dogs location on Rhode Island Ave. will never open again after the flood, but he will explore opening a different location to serve the Northeast community in the future. D.C. later decided to restrict how the storefront can be used in the future.
911 dispatch records later showed a delay between the first calls and when rescue teams arrived and began to enter the building.
“We could have done things differently. This was an unprecedented event, and so now as we look at what we could have done differently, we are making changes,” said Heather McGaffin, director of the D.C. Office of Unified Communications.
Maryland town divided over decision to restrict beach to residents
A comment from the mayor of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland, drew rebuke from some residents and visitors after the town voted to extend restrictions until 2025 prohibiting non-residents from visiting a local beach.
In a March meeting, after a councilman raised concerns from businesses about prohibiting their guests or other tourists on the beach, Mayor Pat Mahoney countered by saying, “I’ll be the voice of the south side now. Quote-unquote: We don’t want them people down here.”
A longtime resident, Denise Plater, observed: "The way that he said it, it is definitely perceived as a discriminatory term." Plater, who is Black, said she didn't know if the mayor was referring to a specific demographic, but she knows it didn’t sit well with many of her friends and family. Census data shows Chesapeake Beach is more than 80% white, with African Americans making up less than 10% of its residents. Plus, she said, many of the town’s tourists come from predominantly Black areas.
The I-Team made multiple attempts to ask Mahoney about those comments, but he did not respond. In a statement to The Southern Maryland News, however, he said that by “them people,” he meant “tourists” and “fossil hunters."
Fentanyl overdoses spike among students
School districts across the region have struggled with student overdoses. Last month, officials with Loudoun County Public Schools said at least 10 students at six different schools suffered suspected overdoses on their campuses since the beginning of the school year.
Celia Linares said her son was one of them, and the overdose nearly killed him.
"He didn't have a pulse when they took him to the hospital," Linares said in Spanish. "I was very worried."
Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman wants parents and kids to know these potentially deadly pills are disguised to look like prescription drugs. Those pills are suspected of containing fentanyl, the incredibly potent opioid the DEA says is causing a spike in overdose deaths nationwide.
"They look just like Percocet pills," Chapman said. "They look like pharmaceutical-grade pills and they're not."
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued an executive order stating that school districts must tell parents about any overdoses involving their children's schools within 24 hours. And across the river, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public emergency in response to the rise in opioid overdoses in the District.
Sonic boom rattles DC area as fighter jets respond to private plane that flew through restricted airspace
F-16s dispatched by North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) set off a sonic boom heard and felt from Annapolis to Fredericksburg, Virginia, on a Sunday afternoon in June as they scrambled to intercept a private jet that flew through D.C.’s restricted airspace.
The fighter jets were authorized to fly at supersonic speeds to respond to the Cessna Citation jet with an unresponsive pilot. The airspace in about a 30-mile radius of D.C. is restricted.
The Cessna flew at an altitude of 39,000 feet more than 450 mph directly over Northwest D.C. and through Virginia, according to FlightAware. A defense official told NBC News that NORAD F-16s scrambled, began shadowing the plane and saw the pilot onboard was incapacitated.
The jet crashed in rural southwest Virginia after running out of fuel, government sources said.
“By far the most likely suspect is some sort of a pressurization issue,” William Waldock, a professor of safety science who teaches aircraft accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, told the Associated Press.
First responders reached the crash site on foot about four hours after local and state authorities were notified. No survivors were found, officials said.
NBC News reported that the Cessna Citation belonged to John Rumpel from Melbourne, Florida. Rumpel said his daughter, granddaughter, nanny and their pilot were all on board.
The mother and her daughter were returning home to the Hamptons, News4 New York reported.
Lakhinder Vohra told News4 New York his friend Adina Azarian, a Hamptons realtor, and her 2-year-old daughter, Aria, were on the Cessna.
Driver goes on rampage in multiple vehicles, including stolen ambulance
A Maryland man stole two different trucks and an ambulance during a wild August chase from Virginia into D.C. By the end of the driver's rampage, he had caused more than 13 hit-and-run crashes -- one of them with a Virginia State Police trooper's car.
The chaotic chase began on I-66, with a truck reported stolen out of Falls Church. The driver caused a two-car crash on the interstate before speeding off.
The same driver caused another multi-car crash in the northbound lanes of I-395 just minutes later. Five people were injured and sent to the hospital, after the stolen truck crashed into at least 10 cars sitting in heavy traffic.
The driver then got out of the truck and ran away, eventually getting into a second truck and stealing it. Minutes later, he caused another crash on the George Washington Parkway by driving the wrong way down the road and hitting another vehicle.
An ambulance heading to the chaos on I-395 stopped on the Parkway to attend to that crash. When medics got out of the ambulance to help, the driver of the stolen truck hopped in and drove off. A Virginia State Trooper began a chase.
When the driver stopped the ambulance at one point during the pursuit, the trooper got out of his car -- but the ambulance then reversed into the police vehicle, and drove off again, back onto I-395.
The wild ride ended when the driver crashed the ambulance head-on into a parked car on 14th and D Streets. The driver was arrested, and charged by federal, state and local law enforcement.
Virginia officials and Wizards, Caps owner agree on $2B plan to bring teams across the river
The announcement of a tentative deal to send two of D.C.'s marquee sports teams across the Potomac River caught most DMV residents by surprise. It was only Monday afternoon when we learned Virginia leaders were looking to lure the Washington Wizards and Capitals into the commonwealth. Less than 48 hours later, the owner of the teams and Virginia's governor made a surprise announcement that it's all but a done deal.
The $2 billion plan would transform the rapidly developing Alexandria neighborhood of Potomac Yard. It's also poised to send shockwaves through downtown D.C., which is accustomed to the economic rewards of hosting tens of thousands of Cap and Wizards fans but has struggled with increased crime.
And it throws another ball into the air for a region that's trying to juggle a lot of major changes — including the FBI HQ's move to Maryland from D.C., and D.C.'s efforts to coax the Washington Commanders back from Maryland.
"National Landing Wizards doesn't quite have the same ring,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said, referring to a name frequently used by developers for a strip of neighborhoods that includes Potomac Yard.
In the leadup to Wednesday's announcement, D.C. and Virginia lawmakers proposed dueling multimillion-dollar bids to either transform the teams' Capital One Arena in the District, or spur the move across the river.
Then Ted Leonsis, owner of Monumental Sports and Entertainment — the company that owns the teams — and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced they will work together to create a "world-class" entertainment district in Potomac Yard ("pending legislative approval and completion of definitive documents," a statement from Monumental noted).
In case you missed it, here are some of the biggest questions looming about the move of the Washington Capitals and Wizards from D.C. to Northern Virginia.
COVID cases surged late in the summer
As the summer wound down, people around the DMV suddenly noticed a lot more of their friends and family getting sick.
COVID was back with new variants, and with a vengeance that caused hospitalizations to go up again.
“This [virus] is still being nasty and tricky. It’s still shifting just as fast as vaccines can be developed. And we are seeing an uptick in infection nationally, an uptick in emergency room visits and hospitalizations, but it is nothing to the kind of level that was experienced earlier in the COVID epidemic,” Dr. Jesse Goodman, a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Georgetown University Medical Center, told News4 in mid-September.
Omicron subvariant EG.5, which some health experts nicknamed “Eris,” was the dominant strain, while FL.1.5.1 was the second-largest strain.
With most COVID tests now done at home and unreported, individual cases of COVID-19 are harder to track. But CDC data showed hospitalizations were on the rise since late July. Goodman, who is a physician at three hospitals in the D.C. area, said he saw an increase in COVID-19 patients in the weeks before speaking with News4.
“I think just generally, and also talking to my colleagues, whereas a few months ago we weren’t seeing much, we didn’t have many COVID patients hospitalized. Now, we’re starting to see them,” he said in mid-September.
A new formula of COVID vaccine was approved by the CDC on Sept. 13.
Why a driver going 36 in a 35 mph zone got a speed camera ticket in Virginia
A problem with some speed cameras in Northern Virginia school zones led to drivers receiving tickets in error, Fairfax County police said.
Driver William Restrepo knew something was wrong when he saw why he was ticketed: for going one mile over the speed limit.
“They clocked me at 36, and the speed limit is 35. So I’m like, that’s a little petty to begin with,” he said.
Restrepo got the ticket after a speed camera on Franconia Road near Key Middle School, in Springfield, recorded his speed. When school is in session, flashing 25 mph signs light up. But he was ticketed in July.
“I realized they are only supposed to be working during school hours. Who do I talk to?” he asked.
Restrepo emailed News4. It turns out he was right to suspect that something was wrong.
Police said the tickets were issued in error to drivers near three schools: Key Middle School, in Springfield, Irving Middle School, in Springfield and London Towne Elementary School, in Centreville.
Frederick sheriff ‘regretted' signing letters to allow gun shop owner to get machine guns, court docs say
A motion filed in June by federal prosecutors shows Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins “regretted” signing letters that allowed a gun shop owner to obtain combat-style machine guns.
Jenkins was indicted in April for allegedly helping Robert Krop get machine guns and conspiring with him to rent the weapons to private citizens. Jenkins pleaded not guilty to five counts of conspiracy and making false statements.
The indictment alleges Krop wrote five letters between 2015 and 2023 for Jenkins to sign requesting machine gun demonstrations for potential future purchase by the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office.
The motion filed this week details how undercover federal investigators tried to prove Krop had illegal machine guns at his Frederick business The Machine Gun Nest.
Horrific DUI crash on Rock Creek Parkway reveals problem with DC DMV
A problem with how D.C.’s Department of Motor Vehicles was processing DUI cases was uncovered after a horrific crash on Rock Creek Parkway in March.
Nakita Marie Walker, 43, of D.C., was charged with second-degree murder in a drunken driving crash that killed three people on Rock Creek Parkway.
She had five DUI convictions – three in DC – but never had her driving privileges taken from her, according to prosecutors and court records.
City officials blamed a processing error between the courts and the DMV.
A senior administration official close to the investigation said the problem could go back as far as 2010.
“That’s resulted in what is a significant amount of individuals in the same position as Ms. [Nakita] Walker, meaning that they are on the roads driving with convictions that have not been added to their record and their licenses have not been suspended,” said Joseph Davis, who works at the DMV and is vice president of the union.
The problem with the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles processing DUI convictions could go back more than a decade, News4 learned.
Davis said some DUI cases don’t get processed for as many as 10 years after the conviction.
“It is a regular occurrence that individuals will appear who have just recently had their DUI appear on their record and the DUI occurred 10 or more years ago,” Davis said based on his experience.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration launched a multiagency investigation in to how widespread the problem is.
Giant pandas leave DC for China
One of the most bittersweet moments of the year came when the National Zoo's giant pandas, who called D.C. home for more than two decades, left for a new home in China.
Tian Tian, 26; Mei Xiang, 25, and their youngest offspring, 3-year-old Xiao Qi Ji, were loaded into white FedEx crates and onto a truck before traveling out of the District.
When the pandas arrived at the airport, crews carefully off-loaded them and hoisted them onto the FedEx "Panda Express" plane.
Mei Xiang could be seen peeking out of the window of her crate on the way to the plane, giving the D.C. area what felt like one final goodbye.
The plane took the pandas on the 19-hour journey from Dulles International Airport to Chengdu, China, where they now live in a new home at the China Wildlife Conservation Association.
That new home is basically "a panda base, if you will," according to Bryan Amaral, senior curator at the National Zoo.
"It's a place where they have lots and lots of giant pandas, very similar to what you would see — how our giant pandas live here, very similar to that," Amaral said. "They just have a lot more giant pandas than we have. Where we have elephants and, you know, all kinds of other things, they have just pandas."
While it's not the first time D.C. has had to say goodbye to pandas at the National Zoo, it's the first time in 23 years that the panda exhibit at the zoo is empty.
Those living in the DMV know they had something special with these pandas, and the pandas' keepers were just as sad about their departure, although they also know the pandas will be well cared for in their new home.
"I'm excited for their future," Brandy Smith, the zoo's director, told News4. "Although I'm a little bit heartbroken for us."