It seems like just yesterday, the world approached 2020 and the new decade with optimism and energy – which all quickly came to a halt when the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to its knees. This year began a different way altogether, with uncertainty about what the second year of the pandemic could bring, nervousness over the 2020 election results and the end of Donald Trump's presidency and urgency for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines many hoped would end the pandemic and allow the world to return to normal.
As we prepare to enter 2022 another year wiser, we look back on all the events that shaped the year, including a verdict in the killing of George Floyd, the death of a member of a royal family and moments within QAnon movement, which played a huge role in the 2020 political arena. We also reflect on news stories all of America tuned into, including the case of Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell and the confusing saga surrounding Alex Murdaugh that began with the shocking double-murder of his wife and son.
Here is a recap of everything that happened in 2021.
Entering The Second Year of The COVID-19 Pandemic
On January 1, 2021, the world entered its second year of living with COVID-19. New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world looked much different this year amid mask mandates, crowd size limitations and travel restrictions.
In New York City’s Times Square, where crowds normally flock to watch the ball drop per the city’s New Year’s Eve tradition, was completely empty for the first time in its 103-year history save for select essential workers who were invited to attend after a long year of heroism in the pandemic.
Called to action by then-President Donald Trump, a mob of his supporters descended upon Washington, D.C. on January 5 and January 6 to attend a "Stop The Steal" rally, during which Trump made false claims that the 2020 Election, which determined Joe Biden would become the next president of the United States, was rigged.
Some in the crowd marched over to the Capitol Building, shouting phrases like "hang Mike Pence" after he refused to reject Biden's victory, quickly grew violent, and thousands breached police perimeters and entered the Capitol Building as Congress was beginning the ballot count, with some rioters even seen scaling the walls in order to break in. The mob spent the next several hours vandalizing and looting the building as Capitol Police evacuated the building.
Many senators including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recalled fearing for their lives during the insurrection.
President Joe Biden's and Vice President Kamala Harris' Inauguration
Despite much debate over election results by a vocal, right-winged minority, Joe Biden became the 46th President of the United States on January 20, 2021. He previously held the title of former Vice President under President Barack Obama.
At his right hand is Vice President Kamala Harris, who became the first female, the first Black and the first Asian American Vice President of the United States.
Texas Winter Storm
A brutal winter storm roared through Texas in February, leaving much of the ill-prepared state scrambling. Electricity bills skyrocketed as many Texans turned on the heat for the first time and pipes not suitable for below freezing temperatures burst and refroze.
An 11-year-old boy, who died of hypothermia, was one of more than 200 who died as a result of the winter storm.
COVID-19 Vaccines Become Readily Available to All American Adults
Vaccines against COVID-19 began being administered in the U.S. toward the end of 2020, and became readily available to American adults by spring of 2021, marking a huge milestone in overcoming pandemic restrictions and transitioning back into normal life. Many opted to get the jab at various drive-thru vaccination sites around the country.
Just as quickly as Americans embraced the vaccines, a small but vocal group began speaking out against them, some pushing conspiracy theories, misinformation and dangerous alternatives like ivermectin as a treatment for COVID-19. The movement led to various strikes, protests and brawls in the U.S. and around the world in the face of mandates requiring vaccination in certain workplaces and indoor spaces like restaurants.
Companies Report Labor Shortage During the Great Resignation
Beginning in spring 2021, companies reported widespread labor shortage as employees began quitting their jobs in droves – a movement which later became known as the Great Resignation.
Many linked workers quitting to the coronavirus pandemic, which allowed people time to reconsider their passions or seek higher pay as stimulus checks and unemployment assistance provided more financial security to make big life changes. Employees of in-person industries like restaurants and hospitality report quitting to seek work-from-home opportunities or safer environments in the face of the ongoing pandemic.
Anti-Asian Hate and the Atlanta Spa Shootings
As the coronavirus pandemic overtook the world, so did rhetoric against China and its population as the first place COVID-19 was discovered, including phrases like “China virus” by the former President Donald Trump. But racism and discrimination didn’t exclude non-Chinese Asians, and the problem became especially bad in the U.S., where Chinatowns became ghost towns, and even elderly Asian Americans reported experiencing attacks and slurs walking down the street in broad daylight.
It appeared anti-Asian hate incidents came to a head on March 16, 2021 when a white man began a shooting spree on Atlanta-area spas, ultimately killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women. He pleaded guilty to killing four women in Cherokee County and was sentenced to life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty for killing four people in Fulton County, where he faces the death penalty. There, prosecutors say he was motivated by race and gender, but in Cherokee County, prosecutors did not believe race played a role in the killings. His trial in Fulton County is set for April 2022.
Prince Philip's Death
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, died at the age of 99 on April 2, 2021.
Philip is remembered for his lifetime dedication to developing sports and charities. He played polo and enjoyed yachting. He competed in and helped develop the equestrian sport carriage driving. He also spent a lot of time piloting.
He had given up his Greek and Danish royal titles early in his life in order to marry Elizabeth II, and the pair celebrated their 70th anniversary together in 2017. Their marriage was considered the longest of any British monarch. He is survived by their four children: heir apparent Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. They also had eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Derek Chauvin Found Guilty of All Charges in the Murder of George Floyd
George Floyd's murder in 2020 by the hands of Derek Chauvin, a white officer with the Minneapolis Police Department, kicked off a months-long country-wide Black Lives Matter movement when a video of Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck until he died went viral.
On April 20, 2021, Chauvin was found guilty of all charges, including second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. He became the first white police officer in Minnesota to be convicted of murdering a Black person. Chauvin was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison.
The verdict marked a sense of justice being served to many Americans who followed the high-profile case closely.
The other officers present at Floyd's killing, including Tou Thao, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, will stand trial together in March 2022. They have all pleaded not guilty.
Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell Indicted For Murder
After nearly a year-and-a-half of frenzied media attention on Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell surrounding Vallow Daybell's missing, then discovered buried, kids JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan, that eventually ended in Hawaii, where the pair were arrested, the Idaho couple were officially charged with the murder of the two kids on May 25, 2021.
They have both pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Their trial is now set to begin in January 2023. Chad Daybell's trial was originally scheduled to begin in November 2021. Lori Vallow Daybell is still deemed unfit to stand trial. She has been at a mental health facility since June.
“No timeline on when she will be restored into competency, whether or not she’ll waive her right to a speedy trial is an issue that she cannot decide at this point,” said Jim Archibald, Lori Vallow’s attorney, according to AZFamily.com.
JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan hadn't been seen by family or friends since September 2019 and were officially reported missing from their East Idaho suburb three months later, after grandparents requested police to conduct a welfare check for JJ at Lori's home.
The children's bodies were found months later on June 9, 2020 at Chad's property in Rexburg. Tylee's body was dismembered and burned, court documents said. JJ's body was found wrapped in tight plastic and wrapped in duct tape.
The Murdaugh Saga
In June, news of the shocking double homicide of a wealthy South Carolina mother and son shook the nation. The pair were shot to death in their family’s hunting estate, where they had retreated in the wake of the family’s patriarch’s death. Authorities released no information except that there is no threat to the general public.
But as more news was revealed about the Murdaugh family, a legal and prosecutorial family who have deep ties in Colleton County, a mystery surrounding what could have possibly happened to Paul and Maggie Murdaugh gripped the nation. Paul had been facing felony charges stemming from a boating accident that led to the death of his friend Mallory Beach at the time of his murder and father and husband Alex Murdaugh, pictured, had been battling a decades-long opioid addiction, according to his attorney.
Then the saga became more intriguing when Murdaugh reported being shot in the head in a rural road, which he allegedly later admitted was a murder-for-hire plot he was in on so that his surviving son could obtain his insurance money, according to an arrest affidavit filed by a State Law Enforcement Division officer in the case against the alleged gunman. Murdaugh has been indicted for False Claim for Payment, Filing a False Police Report and Conspiracy in connection to that case.
Claims that he may have siphoned tens of millions from his former law firm and allegations by the children of his former housekeeper Gloria Satterfield that her death may have been misrepresented further complicated Murdaugh’s legal troubles.
He faces various civil suits, including ones from Satterfield’s family and his former law firm. The charges he faces include "Breach of Trust with Fraudulent Intent, Obtaining Property by False Pretenses, Money Laundering, Computer Crimes, and Forgery," according to an attorney general's statement.
Seven new indictments with 21 criminal charges were filed against Murdaugh, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said Thursday. The new charges he faces include money laundering, computer crimes, breach of trust and forgery, according to court documents obtained by The New York Post. That brings the total number of charges he currently faces to 48.
Murdaugh has denied that there was a murder-for-hire plot and is contesting the civil lawsuits. He is currently being held without bond in Richland County jail.
Taliban Takeover of Afghanistan
In August, the world watched in horror as Taliban fighters captured Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. President Ashra Ghani fled the country in August 15 and foreign countries began evacuating their Afghanistan-based citizens in the days following.
Taliban fighters took over the country's official functions following their takeover, and even hosted a press conference from the Presidential Palace, as pictured.
This comes after months of assault on the country’s provinces, with most towns surrendering without fight.
U.S. Military Takes Control of Kabul's Airport and Air Communications
Amid mass evacuations and panic, the U.S. Military took control of Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, securing the perimeter around the airport, helping evacuate American citizens and taking over air traffic controls to help other countries evacuate their citizens by air.
But evacuation procedures were flawed at best, and many Afghans that were eligible for entry into the U.S. or other countries reported struggling to obtain visas and access the airport. Desperation set in, and at one point, people stowing away on planes were seen falling from the sky.
A suicide bombing also occurred at the airport amid the confusion, killing dozens of Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.
Afghans Attempt to Flee
A U.S. cargo plane evacuated 640 people, all packed packed on board for a flight to Qatar. The giant aircraft was designed to carry 150 troops or 170,000 pounds of equipment.
A photo of the inside of the plane showed desperate mothers, a baby drinking milk and children fleeing their homeland with only what they could carry.
Abortion Rights Restricted in Texas, Threatened Across the Country
Texas enacted the country’s most stringent ant-abortion laws on Sept. 1, 2021 when the state outlawed abortions after a fetal heart rate is detected, which can be as early as six weeks in some women, meaning by the time a woman discovers she is pregnant, it may already be impossible for her to seek an abortion in the state of Texas.
Women’s health rights continue to be threatened in the U.S. as new restrictions enacted in Texas in December also made providing abortion medication after seven weeks of pregnancy a felony, and sending abortion medication in the mail a crime.
And a pending Supreme Court Case addressing whether a Mississippi state law, which bans abortions after 15 weeks, is now threatening to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that has guaranteed a woman’s right to seek an abortion in the U.S. for nearly 50 years. A decision is not expected until summer 2022.
Hurricane Ida Devastates Louisiana and Surrounding States
On the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in September 2021, Hurricane Ida, a storm just shy of a Category 5, ripped through Louisiana. Much of the state was left without power and many got around by boat after many roads were flooded.
As major cities like New Orleans recovered somewhat quickly, more rural areas of the state felt impacts more severely and for much longer.
Michael K. Williams, star of 'The Wire,' Found Dead in Brooklyn Apartment
Beloved actor Michael K. Williams, who starred in several shows, including "The Wire," "Boardwalk Empire," "When They See Us," "The Sopranos," and "The Night Of," was found dead on September 6, 2021 in his penthouse suite in the high-end Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
The New York Medical Examiner's Officer has determined that the cause of death was "acute intoxication by the combined effects of fentanyl, p-fluorofentanyl, heroin and cocaine," according to CNN.
Williams was the frontrunner for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Montrose Freeman in the HBO horror drama series “Lovecraft Country.” He had been nominated for an Emmy five times in the last seven years, but he was favored to win the honor this year, critics said.
Disappointment After Disappointment For QAnon Followers
But 2021 saw disappointment after disappointment for followers of QAnon when many predictions on which the conspiracy web is based did not come true. Believers anticipated Trump's return to power at several points throughout the year, though it was unclear through what means he would take power.
QAnon followers were letdown on Nov. 13, when hundreds of conspiracy theorists gathered in Dallas, Texas, at the site where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, to await the second coming of his late son, John F. Kennedy Jr., who died in a plane crash in July 1999. They believed his death was faked, and he would come back from the dead to become Vice President in Trump's new presidency.
Of course, there was no second coming, and some of conspiracy theorists eventually moved on to a Rolling Stones concert in the area, and claimed Keith Richards was JFK Jr. in disguise.
Crowd Surge at Astroworld Festival Leaves 10 Dead, Hundreds Injured
During the 2021 Astroworld Festival, an annual music festival hosted in Houston, Texas, by rapper Travis Scott, excitement turned deadly as the crowd of 50,000 began pushing toward the stage, leading to panic and chaos.
Eight people in the crowd died Nov. 5, the first day of the festival, with hundreds more injured. Two more victims succumbed to their injuries, raising the death toll to 10. One of those victims was 9 years old, with the oldest known victim being 27 years old. Many had been attending high school or college in the area.
Many attendees came out later to describe being trampled or fainting in the crowd. Some even recalled being frightened in the packed crowd and attempting to get help, even before Scott took the stage.
More than 250 lawsuits seeking damages in the billions of dollars are now being pursued against festival organizers.
Trial of Kyle Rittenhouse
Following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man shot in the back by a white police officer in August 2020, protesters flooded the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Amid the protests, Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, and Anthony Huber, 26, were shot to death and Gaige Grosskreutz, who was armed with a gun that night, was injured. The shooter was Kyle Rittenhouse, a 16-year-old who travelled from his home in Illinois in order to "protect people," he later said in an interview.
Rittenhouse was ultimately charged with one count of first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Rosenbaum, two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety for firing two shots at people he did not hit, one count of first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Huber and one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide. Rittenhouse said he acted in self-defense.
Following a contentious trial and a three-day deliberation by the nearly all-white jury, the teen was acquitted of all charges.
The Trials of Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William 'Roddie' Bryan Jr. in the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery
In February 2020, 25-year-old Black man Ahmaud Arbery was jogging through his Glynn County neighborhood in Georgia when he was chased down and murdered by three white men: 34-year-old Travis McMichael, his father 64-year-old Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan, who filmed the encounter.
They claimed they were trying to perform a citizen’s arrest because they believed that Arbery was the suspect in a string of home invasions in the area. Travis McMichael claimed he shot Arbery in self-defense.
Virgil Abloh's Untimely Death at 41
Louis Vuitton’s artistic designer Virgil Abloh died on Nov. 28, 2021 at the age of 41, following a private battle with cancer. The news came as a surprise to the fashion community, many of whom posted tributes about him on social media in the days after.
While many anticipated Louis Vuitton to cancel their presentation of his Spring-Summer 2022 collection at Art Basel in Miami, Florida, just days after his death, the fashion house instead went on with the show per Abloh and his family’s wishes. The finale consisted of a drone light show, which spelled out the words “Virgil was here” in the Miami night sky.
Last summer, Abloh was promoted within Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy to a new position that would see him work across the group's 75 brands, making him the most powerful Black executive in luxury.
Michigan School Shooting
A deadly school shooting occurred at the Oxford High School in Michigan at the end of November 2021, with three students killed and another succumbing to their injuries shortly after. Several more were injured.
This school shooting was particularly devastating following a lull in large-scale shootings in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic shut down schools and public places, according to The New York Times.
Suspect Ethan Crumbley, a 15-year-old student at the school, was arrested without incident and charged as an adult with terrorism and first-degree murder. His parents James and Jennifer Crumbley were charged with involuntary manslaughter and each ordered to be held on $500,000 bail. His father reportedly bought the gun used in the shootings — a 9mm Sig Sauer — just days before the shooting
All three have pleaded not guilty.