As the year comes to a close, we take a look at some of the photos that helped tell the story of 2019. From hurricanes to controversy over confederate monuments and a deadly gas explosion, here are the moments – big and small – that shaped the year in North Carolina news.
On September 6, Hurricane Dorian swept over the North Carolina coast bringing with it 110 mph winds. The storm prompted extreme flash flooding on Ocracoke Island and spawned a tornado that tore through a trailer park on Emerald Isle. FEMA denied individual assistance to residents of four North Carolina counties including Hyde County, which includes Ocracoke Island.
Phil Freelon, the decorated architect most celebrated for his work on the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History And Culture, died in July at 66 years old. The architect was diagnosed with the neuro-degenerative disease ALS in 2016, the same year the iconic museum opened to the public. Freelon, along with his wife Grammy award-nominated jazz singer Nnenna Freelon, continued to work on significant projects through his illness including opening the NorthStar Church of the Arts in Durham in 2019.
News around North Carolina's Confederate monuments continued to dominate the headlines in 2019. On the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's campus, the pedestal that once supported the controversial Silent Sam statue was lifted off the ground by maintenance crews on Jan. 15, as ordered by then-Chancellor Carol Folt. Folt also announced she was stepping down from her position. In December, UNC's Board of Governors announced the school would transfer $2.5M to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for the preservation of the statue.
In Chatham County, a contentious Confederate monument outside of the Pittsboro's historic courthouse was removed Nov. 20 after a decision from Chatham County commissioners. The United Daughters of the Confederacy filed a lawsuit to have the statue reerected. In December, a judge threw out UDC’s suit and sided with the county, whose lawyer argued the statue still belongs to the UDC, and the county can declare it a public trespass. The statue was first installed in 1907.
On the last day of spring classes on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, a man armed with a pistol opened fire on students killing two people and wounding four. The shooting prompted a lockdown and caused widespread panic across campus as students scrambled to take shelter. Riley Howell, a 21-year old student who was killed in the shooting, was hailed as a hero by the campus community for charging and tackling the shooter. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said Howell's actions likely saved the lives of other students.
Two people were killed and more than two dozen injured on April 10, 2019 in a gas explosion and fire in downtown Durham. Kong Lee, the 61-year-old owner of Kaffeinate coffee shop, was killed in the blast. "I feel a real sense of loss and grief," said Durham Mayor Steve Schewel during an afternoon press conference the day of the explosion. "We've had a terrible tragedy today." Jay Rambeaut, a gas company worker, died weeks after the explosion from injuries he sustained in the incident. The explosion also decimated an entire building and severely damaged four others.
Conservative Republican Dan Bishop came out on top in a September special election in the scandal-plagued 9th Congressional District. He eked out a win against centrist Democrat Dan McCready and averted a demoralizing Democratic capture of a district the GOP has held for nearly six decades. Bishop tied himself tightly to Trump, who staged an election-eve rally for him in the district, and the vote seemed no less than a referendum on the president, who quickly took credit for the triumph.
2019 was a monumental year for changes to North Carolina’s political maps. North Carolina judges blocked the state's congressional map from being used in the 2020 elections, ruling that voters had a strong likelihood of winning a lawsuit that argued Republicans unlawfully manipulated district lines for partisan gain. The decision came less than two months after judges struck down state House and Senate districts over extreme political manipulation of the lines.
The Chair of North Carolina’s Republican Party Robin Hayes was indicted on charges including attempting to bribe the state’s insurance commissioner. Durham businessman and the state’s largest political donor Greg Lindberg, along with two of his associates: John Gray and John Palermo Jr. were also indicted. Hayes later admitted that he broke the law by lying to federal agents about his role in the bribery case. He also announced that he wouldn't seek reelection as party chair.
In a nearly half-empty North Carolina House chamber, Republicans held a surprise vote and managed to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto of the state's two-year budget. Republican leaders had spent months trying to persuade enough Democrats to meet the threshold for an override, and finally seized a moment when Democrats opposed to the budget weren't at their seats. "This is a tragedy. This is a travesty of the process and you know it," Rep. Deb Butler, a New Hanover County Democrat, yelled at Moore just before the vote began. "Mr. Speaker, how dare you, Mr. Speaker." A new state budget has yet to be enacted.
In April, The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality ordered Duke Energy Corp. to excavate coal ash from all of its North Carolina power plant sites. The removal would slash the risk of toxic chemicals leaking into water supplies. Later that month Duke challenged the agency’s decision saying DEQ exceeded its authority in issuing the mandate.
Reporters Jason deBruyn, Elizabeth Friend, Leoneda Inge, Will Michaels, and Editor Dave DeWitt contributed to this story, along with the Associated Press.