2021 in review: Top Minnesota news August-December

A second year into a global pandemic, 2021 brought with it the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines, protests at the U.S. and state capitol buildings, high-profile trials and the tentative return of some beloved events. As 2021 draws to a close, here is a look at the top news that made headlines throughout the year.

Read Part 1 of this report here.


After her medal-winning performance at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Isanti celebrated its hometown hero, Grace McCallum. Apple Valley also celebrated Gable Steveson, who became the first Gopher wrestler in program history to win an Olympic gold medal.

Gov. Tim Walz introduced a requirement that would require state employees working in person to show proof of vaccination and attest to their vaccination status by Sept. 8.

The Greenwood Fire was first spotted as being a "couple hundred acres" on Aug. 15 and expanded to more than 40 square miles less than two weeks later. The U.S. Forest Service said the fire destroyed roughly 14 cabins and homes, along with 57 outbuildings.

Hundreds of people poured onto the lawn of the Minnesota State Capitol to voice their opposition to vaccine and mask mandates. Dozens of health care workers also protested. Meanwhile, the U.S. gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, a milestone as the nation battled a contagious coronavirus variant.

Fair organizers said it was "full speed ahead" for the Minnesota State Fair this year and the highly-anticipated event kicked off Aug. 26, though roughly 150 vendors chose to sit out the 2021 fair.

The Pentagon confirmed the U.S. completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war and closing a chapter in military history. More than 400 Minnesota National Guard soldiers provided support at Hamid Karzai International Airport before the U.S. completely evacuated and 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reported from Fort McCoy in Wisconsin as service members built out capacity in anticipation of the arrival of refugees.

Minnesotans were also interested in this viewer-contributed video of the line at the Minnesota-Canada border after it opened to all Americans who were fully vaccinated and tested negative for COVID-19.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by KSTP (@kstptv)


Rare mono-mono twins were born to North St. Paul parents in September. Essentially, a mono-mono pregnancy means the twins share a placenta and an amniotic sac during pregnancy.

A Chicago man was arrested and charged in connection with a Highway 169 shooting that killed youth baseball coach Jay Boughton.

A first-degree manslaughter charge was filed against former Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kimberly Potter, who had already been charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright.

Two people charged in connection to an 8-year-old Sherburne County girl’s death in 2020 were each sentenced to four decades in prison.

After closing during the pandemic, St. Paul’s historic cave tours were set to resume.

President Joe Biden issued an expansive mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for COVID-19 weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. Earlier in the month, nearly 200 Minnesota health care workers sued their employers to block a pending requirement that they be vaccinated against COVID or risk getting fired.


5 INVESTIGATES reported on new body camera footage revealing Minneapolis police officers had talked about "hunting" down protesters and celebrated shooting them with rubber bullets five days after the murder of George Floyd.

Multiple 911 callers "frantically begged for help," reporting shots fired at the Seventh Street Truck Park bar, about a block away from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Two men were charged with a dozen felonies each in connection with the shooting.

President Joe Biden became the first president to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day in a proclamation. Gov. Tim Walz similarly signed a proclamation recognizing the day.

Crow Wing County Attorney Donald F. Ryan said U.S. Marshals Service task force members who shot and killed then-32-year-old Winston Smith on top of an Uptown parking garage in July acted lawfully and would not be charged.

Mid-October, Walz officially announced he plans to run for reelection.

A Minneapolis police officer was charged in connection with a crash that killed 40-year-old Leneal Frazier during the summer. Frazier was the uncle of Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded the viral video of George Floyd‘s death.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell announced he is leaving the department next summer.


Local races took place at the beginning of the month. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter won second terms, seven new members were elected to the Minneapolis City Council and residents voted on various ballot questions.

Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges after pleading self-defense in the deadly Kenosha, Wisconsin shootings that became a flashpoint in the nation’s debate over guns, vigilantism and racial injustice.

Days later, jurors convicted the three men charged in the death of Ahmaud Arbery, the man who was chased and fatally shot while running through their Georgia neighborhood in an attack that became part of the larger national reckoning on racial injustice.

Minneapolis-based retailer Target made the decision to no longer open its stores on Thanksgiving Day.

A local community rallied around a family who lost everything in a Thanksgiving 5-alarm fire. "Our entire family is beyond grateful for the prayers, well wishes, and donations," the family wrote in a Facebook post. "Our hearts are full!"

At the end of the month, the trial of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter began.


At the beginning of the month, St. Paul set a new single-year record for the city with 35 homicides reported as of early December. The number of homicides had increased by the end of the month.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said he won’t seek a third term as the city’s police chief.

The 5 INVESTIGATES ‘Banking While Black’ series revealed the story of a man who went to cash his paycheck and was accused of fraud, threatened with arrest, and put in handcuffs before the bank confirmed his check was real. 5 INVESTIGATES obtained 45 minutes of footage from the body-worn cameras of the two officers who responded to the call for "a possible fraudulent check," and continued reporting on the stories of others with similar experiences, and on the U.S. Bank CEO’s apology in a reversal from an earlier statement provided to 5 INVESTIGATES.

Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson admitted to crashing after he had been drinking and driving near Alexandria. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor driving while intoxicated charge and entered a treatment program.

In mid-December, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued multiple advisories for the region, adding the forecast hadn’t been seen before in December and was unprecedented. Minnesotans prepared for the severe weather and in the aftermath, the NWS confirmed nine tornadoes in the state.

A Woodbury mother, who was told she has months to live, hoped for a Christmas miracle—a heart transplant—and also planned something special for her children in the case that didn’t take place.

A near-anonymous letter to Santa led one local family on a quest to solve a holiday mystery and make their own miracles happen.

A jury found former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter guilty of first-degree manslaughter and guilty of second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright.

Minnesotans admired the 35W Bridge, which was illuminated for Christmas.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by KSTP (@kstptv)

Meanwhile, here are the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reports that were recipients of this year’s Regional Emmy Awards:

Other national news that made headlines in 2021: