From another COVID surge to a heartbreaking loss, these were HNN’s top stories in 2021
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – For another year, COVID dominated the headlines in Hawaii.
But that wasn’t the only story that demanded our attention in 2021. There were catastrophic weather events, tragedies that gripped the community and … a UFO scare that made national headlines.
Here’s a look at the top stories across HNN’s digital platforms this year:
- A Delta surge and new restrictions
Everyone is talking about Omicron these days.
But earlier this year another COVID mutation was on everyone’s mind: Delta.
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The variant triggered a surge in COVID over the summer and brought on the deadliest period of the pandemic so far in Hawaii. It also prompted new restrictions and vaccine policies.
Over the summer, Hawaii hospitals were so full of COVID patients that oxygen supplies were stressed and patients were being treated in “surge tents” in hospital parking lots.
And in late August, the governor got national attention when he told visitors to stay away.
- The Navy’s tainted water crisis
The first signs of a major problem in the Navy’s water system started the weekend after Thanksgiving. Residents on military installations smelled fuel in their water and saw oil slicks in their cups.
Then, dozens (and then hundreds) reported illnesses.
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The Navy’s water crisis has prompted fierce debate about the future of the Red Hill underground fuel tanks, which sit right above a main drinking water source for Oahu.
There’s also been concerns about the Navy’s handling of the situation ― and how it will be fixed.
Meanwhile, thousands of families remain in hotels as work to flush the lines continues.
- An other-worldly sighting?
HNN’s story about a UFO spotted in the night sky above Leeward Oahu aired on New Year’s Eve 2020.
But in the days and weeks to follow, it became among the most popular stories on HNN’s website for 2021.
In fact, the sighting ― which prompted an FAA report ― made national headlines.
What was the mysterious blue light that people saw? We still don’t know.
- A girl’s ‘straight up wrong’ arrest
Another HNN story that made national headlines: The arrest of a 10-year-old girl over an offensive drawing. The ACLU said the incident was “straight up wrong.”
But HPD defended their actions, saying the officers acted reasonably and that the drawing was a “credible threat.” The department also dismissed ACLU’s claims at the arrest was racially motivated.
The girl, who is Black, was arrested in January 2020 at Honowai Elementary School in Waipahu after a drawing she made upset another student’s parent.
The ACLU and an attorney for the family said the 10-year-old girl’s rights were violated when she was detained and questioned without her mother.
The girl was then handcuffed and brought to jail without being charged with a crime, ACLU said.
- The death of a Hawaii football legend
Colt Brennan, the record-setting quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist who led the University of Hawaii football team to unprecedented heights during his time with the Warriors, died in May.
He was just 37, and his death shocked the state.
In the days and weeks that followed, fans remembered Brennan as a star ― on and off the field.
“He pushed Hawaii football to the forefront of the NCAA,” said one fan. “He showed that even though Hawaii is a small island, we still represent and play super good football.”
Another wrote on Facebook, ““I’ll never forget the passion with which he played and the thrill of the unity of our island ohana that he in part gave us.”
- An hours-long barricade at an upscale hotel
On the evening of April 11, a man barricaded himself in his fourth floor room at the Kahala Hotel & Resort and fired through the door at security staff.
The incident prompted an hours-long lockdown at the hotel and hours of coverage at HNN.
Eventually, a huge police presence ushered guests and staff to safety.
The first shot was fired about 6 p.m. and the lockdown ended nearly 10 hours later, when SWAT officers made entry into the room and found the suspect dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
- When Haleiwa was evacuated
Torrential rainstorms in March triggered widespread flooding across the state.
In Haleiwa, the situation got so dangerous that the entire town was evacuated as the rain-swollen Opaeula Stream — which rose from 4 to 16 feet — topped its banks, flooding homes and waterways.
While dozens of businesses across the North Shore and Oahu were damaged in the severe weather, Haleiwa was spared the worst case scenario that emergency management officials feared.
- After the Capitol violence, a Hawaii arrest
Investigators are still trying to piece together what led up to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
But what’s clear is that those who stormed the Capitol came from across the country, including Hawaii.
Among those arrested for their role in the violence was Nick Ochs, the founder of far-right extremist group Proud Boys Hawaii. Ochs was subsequently indicted in February and faces 20 years behind bars.
Hawaii’s Safe Travels program allows trans-Pacific visitors and returning residents to skip the state’s mandatory quarantine if they present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID tests.
The problem? It relies on people to tell the truth.
Some have tried to outsmart the system by using fake vaccine cards to get in. And a handful have been arrested — in stories that get plenty of national attention.
In August, for example, a father and son were arrested for trying to pass off their fake card as real.
There have been many stories in 2021 that have moved Hawaii’s communities.
But the loss of little Isabella “Ariel” Kalua was particularly heartbreaking.
Her reported disappearance in September prompted hundreds of community members to join in the search for the 6-year-old, scouring Waimanalo shorelines and neighborhoods for any sign of the girl.
And then in November, their worst fears were confirmed when Isabella’s parents were arrested for her murder. Horrific allegations about the girl’s final days left many with a single question: “Why?”
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