Year in Review: Minnesota’s top stories of 2023
Another year has (almost) come and gone, and a new year is nearly here. As 2023 draws to a close, take a look at the top news that made headlines throughout the year.
But first, 5 INVESTIGATES won a whopping SEVEN Regional Emmy Awards this year for its reporting, some of which was comprised of a series of reports. Those are:
- The Relentless — Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
- Video Or It Didn’t Happen — Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
- Rejected (this one had a good resolution)
- The Power Switch
- And Good Luck
- Minneapolis v. Richardson
You can find all of 5 INVESTIGATES’ reports HERE.
The start of a new year always brings new goals and hopes for many, but it was a bit of a difficult month this year.
Minnesotans were interested in the new laws that took effect at the start of the year, snow fell (several times), and we marveled at a Minnesota man who made a 400-mile drive through a blizzard to transport a kidney to a hospital in North Dakota.
Then Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a “Monday Night Football” game. Fortunately, he survived and even returned to action this season. It also thrust the importance of knowing CPR to the national forefront and raised more than $9 million for his foundation, turning a terrifying moment into a unifying one with a positive result that could save countless lives.
Several tragic events also occurred in January.
- A St. Paul city employee shot and critically injured a teenager at a recreation center. He recently pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced in February.
- A White Bear Lake police officer was shot, the first in what would be a particularly bad year locally for officers injured or killed in the line of duty. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS highlighted the officer’s road to recovery. The person who shot him was sentenced over the summer.
- Another shooting hurt two deputies in Winsted and resulted in a man’s death.
- The death of Kyla O’Neal, a pregnant mother who was killed in Lakeville, caused more grief. The man responsible was recently sentenced to prison.
- And 5 INVESTIGATES highlighted signs that a new and possibly more dangerous chapter of the overdose epidemic is unfolding in the Twin Cities. That report led to a story on how that same issue is tearing through another major U.S. city. Several other warnings were issued throughout the year.
And for those searching for a bright spot, sports provided none as the Vikings’ magical season ended in the first round of the playoffs after losing to the New York Giants.
As if all of that doom and gloom wasn’t enough, February offered its own dose of difficult news.
- A 15-year-old student was fatally stabbed inside a St. Paul high school. The person responsible pleaded guilty and was sentenced last month.
- A knife-wielding man was fatally shot by St. Paul police. Bodycam video was released as the community grieved and prosecutors asked the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office for help in making a charging decision, which hasn’t happened yet.
- The legal case concluded in a heartbreaking killing of 6-year-old Eli Hart. The city just recently approved a playground in his honor.
- Kyle Jacobs, a music producer and songwriter from Minnesota, died at the age of 49.
- And a home exploded in East Bethel, hurting three people. Amazingly, nobody was killed.
Thankfully, the entire month was not so glum.
The Girls State Hockey Tournament provided plenty of entertainment and thrilling storylines; The “CROWN Act,” banning racial discrimination based on hairstyles, was signed into law; And the Minnesota Department of Transportation released its snowplow name contest winners. It even resulted in a special thank-you from Lizzo to one local middle school.
Other big stories from the month included:
- Minnesota becoming the first state to universally test newborns for congenital cytomegalovirus.
- The Roof Depot protests, which eventually led to a sale agreement that is still on track to be completed.
- A pair of 5 INVESTIGATES reports, one on a man’s exoneration after 25 years and another on the monthslong process before a missing woman was found dead inside her home in Minneapolis.
March was a busy month in the Minnesota sports world.
- The Boys State Hockey Tournament, Girls State Basketball Tournament and Boys State Basketball Tournament all provided countless memories.
- The Gophers women’s basketball team parted ways with coach and Minnesota basketball legend Lindsay Whalen. While the university said she would stay on as a special assistant in the athletic department, that didn’t happen. She was later replaced by Dawn Plitzuweit.
- Legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant died at the age of 95. Fans turned out to mourn his loss at the Vikings Museum, and the team later held a celebration of life ceremony for him at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Plenty also happened off the court and gridiron.
A train derailment in Raymond caused evacuations but, fortunately, nobody was hurt. It was especially notable at the time due to other train derailments that had happened across the country. Investigators later determined an issue with the rail caused the derailment.
Concerns arose when Xcel Energy revealed a leak at its Monticello nuclear plant. Records showed a lack of coordination in responding to that leak, but the company insisted the leak posed no threat to the public. However, the company was fined for failing to get proper permits in the aftermath.
As issues with thefts of Kia and Hyundai vehicles persisted, local leaders started to pressure the companies to issue a recall. The state attorney general also announced an investigation into them, although no charges have been filed. The companies have provided updates and said they’re confident the fix will stop the targeted thefts but it’s unclear how much of an impact the update is having.
Other big stories from March:
- More issues for the Southwest Light Rail project, and an audit shed some light on its handling.
- Minneapolis’ first Black expo failed, then its lead planner blamed others. Local business owners expressed their disappointment and planned their own event.
- The community rallied around an Eagan police officer who was hurt in a crash. We followed his release from the hospital and celebrated news that he’s doing “remarkably well.”
It was another tough month for several communities in April.
Three separate shootings killed three law enforcement officers, injured three others and ended with two of the suspects dead. Western Wisconsin Officers Emily Breidenbach and Hunter Scheel were shot and killed during a traffic stop. Thousands attended their funerals and a portion of a highway was later renamed in their honor. In Granite Falls, agents serving a warrant came under fire, hurting one officer. The suspect was quickly charged and sentenced. Pope County Deputy Josh Owen was killed and one other deputy and a police officer were also hurt after responding to a domestic violence call. A funeral for Owen was held late in the month. A man was also killed in a shooting involving FBI agents.
A few other stories captured Minnesotans’ attention that month:
- Mother Nature’s cruel April Fools’ joke, sending a storm that left thousands without power.
- Minneapolis became the first major city in the country to allow mosques to broadcast the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, five times a day.
- The governor and attorney general intervened in a Brooklyn Park murder prosecution amid criticism of Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty’s charging decision. In response, Moriarty publicly denounced their actions.
- Former President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 charges in one of many court appearances he’s made this year. Later in the year, a local group of voters tried to block Trump from the 2024 ballot but that was rejected by the state’s high court.
The fourth officer-involved shooting in the span of a month killed St. Croix County Deputy Kaitie Leising. The suspect was also found dead. Hundreds gathered to pay respects as Leising was laid to rest. A fundraiser was later started to honor her and support the law enforcement community.
With the end of the 2023 legislative session in May, there was a lot of attention on the Capitol as lawmakers approved some very high-interest bills. KSTP’s Legislative Tracker followed all of the major bills, and Capitol Wraps offered some more in-depth coverage. Some of the bills that caught Minnesotans’ attention the most were those for marijuana (which has continued to be a popular topic), the statewide rideshare ordinance, which will likely be a big story again next year, rebate checks and the “Idaho Stop.” However, in a very busy session, many others also made headlines.
Federal prosecutors announced charges against 45 suspected street gang members, the first wave of charges in a new strategy to target violent criminals in the Twin Cities. Additional charges were announced in August and more in November, but will it work?
You also might have watched or read coverage of:
- A home explosion in Otsego.
- The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Minnesota woman.
- 5 INVESTIGATES’ look at the growing scrutiny of a longtime medical examiner’s testimony.
- The final state conviction in the killing of George Floyd and the sentencing.
- The renderings for the Mall of America waterpark plans.
As summer started, the U.S. Department of Justice released the results of its investigation into the Minneapolis Police Department. Afterward, the city was critical of parts of the DOJ’s report but will be spending millions to carry out the required changes when a consent decree is finalized.
5 INVESTIGATES highlighted the alarming pattern at Minnesota’s largest railroad. A subsequent report highlighted secret recordings at the company captured by a whistleblower.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on President Joe Biden’s student loan plan, and the president then offered a new plan. Other initiatives have since been announced by the president but aren’t as extensive as he wanted.
The community was devastated again after a crash in Minneapolis killed five women. The man police say is responsible is facing both state and federal charges.
And in another heartbreaking development, a missing St. Paul woman was found dead. Her boyfriend is facing murder charges and he’s also been linked to another missing woman, although he hasn’t been formally charged in that case yet.
Also in June:
- A home in Coon Rapids exploded, seriously injuring one person.
- A semi tipped and hogtied traffic.
- Hubbard Broadcasting celebrated 100 years just months after KSTP celebrated 75 years.
After months of conversation, multiple delays, concerns from many Minnesotans, and evaluation by the state’s attorney general, Fairview and Sanford called off their planned merger in July. The announcement came eight months after the planned merger was initially announced, but many were skeptical or downright opposed right from the start. Due to Fairview’s partnership with the University of Minnesota, the plan even led state lawmakers to pass legislation preventing U of M health care facilities from being owned or controlled by an out-of-state entity. Later, Fairview also elected to not renew its partnership with the university, although a new deal could still be reached.
A shooting in Fargo killed one officer and seriously hurt two others. Jake Wallin, the officer killed in the shootout, and Tyler Hawes, one of the officers injured, have ties to Minnesota. Wallin was remembered at his funeral as a “true guardian.” Hawes, thankfully, continues to recover and recently opened up about the shootout.
Several new laws took effect at the start of July, many of which were approved by the Legislature just a couple of months earlier. The laws ranged from the universal free school meals legislation to the elimination of TEFRA’s parental fee and many others, impacting all Minnesota businesses and workers.
Near the end of July, a driver who tried to flee a traffic stop was fatally shot on Interstate 94. Questions arose over the potential conflict of interest during the investigation but the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office is now reviewing the findings.
Other stories that caught viewers’ attention in July:
- A federal study found nearly half of all U.S. tap water contains PFAS, known as “forever chemicals.”
- The Minneapolis Police Department parted ways with an officer who had a controversial past after coming under fire. That officer is now suing the city to “clear his name.” 5 INVESTIGATES noted the department has tried to hire others with controversial histories before.
- Taste of Minnesota returned and drew thousands to downtown Minneapolis.
- Several Minnesota breweries won awards at a national competition, and others were also recognized later in the year.
- Severe storms left a trail of damage throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin, leaving many without power.
- A home exploded in Jordan, hurting one person. Two puppies were rescued from the rubble days later.
Concerns over a change to a law regarding school resource officers’ use of force suddenly popped up just weeks before the start of the new school year and quickly spread like wildfire. Around three dozen law enforcement agencies ultimately suspended their SRO programs due to the controversy, although many also continued their programs, and GOP lawmakers and many law enforcement officials demanded a special session for lawmakers to provide more clarity in the law. However, Gov. Tim Walz and many DFL lawmakers opposed any special session and, after Attorney General Keith Ellison provided his legal opinion, opted for community meetings to hammer out the perceived issues. After over a month of drama, the issue slowly faded into the background, although it may reignite during next year’s legislative session.
While that law change flew under the radar for a while, several others went into effect on Aug. 1 and got a lot of attention, mainly marijuana legalization and expungement. A controversy quickly developed over what is OK to sell and a quirk in the law regarding possession vs. sales caused a lot of discussion.
Heartache for the law enforcement community returned as a Minneapolis police officer was shot in the line of duty. Fortunately, he was treated and released from a hospital later that same night and was publicly honored for his work. Two of those charged in the incident have court appearances in the coming months while the juvenile already pleaded guilty.
Also on many Minnesotans’ minds in August:
- Minnesota’s rebate checks started going out.
- The Great Minnesota Get-Together provided numerous memories, despite the heat.
- The fight for rideshare regulations played out in Minneapolis in mostly the same way as it did at the state level three months earlier. Those efforts continue and are sure to be a key topic next year.
- Devastation from wildfires in Maui, which a Minnesota couple saw firsthand.
- A data breach at the University of Minnesota, and details released later weren’t positive. The university is now facing a lawsuit over the breach.
- An order from the Minnesota Supreme Court took aim at an eviction filing law.
As marijuana legalization continued to make headlines, the state’s management office lost its first director before she even started. That forced the process to restart and Gov. Tim Walz to adjust his approach to what he’s looking for in the agency’s director. The agency continues to be led by an interim director.
Minneapolis also dealt with a leadership change in September as Cedric Alexander retired from his role as community safety commissioner after just 13 months on the job. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS first broke the news of his retirement back in July. Todd Barnette was chosen to replace Alexander later in September.
Additionally, an apartment building in Minneapolis was sued for an alleged “bait-and-switch” scheme after failing to have units ready for students by move-in day. The ordeal left many in housing limbo as a new school semester started and also led city leaders to implement a new pre-lease protection ordinance.
And Minnesota’s newest sports team started its formation. Minnesota, one of six markets in the inaugural season of the Professional Women’s Hockey League, signed three Olympians with local ties as its first players, then drafted another local player with the first overall pick in the inaugural draft. The league will officially kick off in January and just made a sudden coaching change.
Here are some other popular stories in September:
- Gas prices were on everyone’s minds after a sudden surge. They’ve since fallen by over $1 per gallon around the state.
- Another home explosion left one person hospitalized in Isanti. She later described her escape.
- A Minnesota teen became the youngest American girl to become an international master of chess.
- A Minnesota state lawmaker suddenly resigned from her position. Her replacement was elected in December.
- A judge again ordered the city of Minneapolis to stop implementing its 2040 Plan, the latest development in the long-running case. That forced the city to revert to its former plan in November.
October brought more heartbreak — on several fronts — but also provided some thrilling moments.
The tragic death of Adam Johnson during an English hockey game hit the hockey community and many Minnesotans hard. He was remembered as having a “heart of gold” and was honored in several ways, both locally and abroad. While police arrested a man in his death, criminal charges may never come.
Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel started a horrific war in the Mideast. Appalling pictures and videos of the war posted online caused concerns for parents; many protests have called for peace; antisemitism has increased globally and locally; and some Minnesotans in Israel have described their terrifying new reality. However, the war rages on and an estimated 20,000 people have been killed in the conflict. For anyone wishing to help those affected, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit is accepting donations.
The violent year for law enforcement continued as five task force members were shot while executing a warrant in Benton County. Documents later showed they were searching for meth when it happened. Fortunately, all survived. The man suspected of shooting them has since been charged and will be back in court in February.
And on Capitol Hill, the turmoil in the U.S. House of Representatives was a daily story after Kevin McCarthy was ousted from the speakership. A Minnesota congressman was briefly in line to fill the role, which would’ve made history, but that quickly fizzled and Mike Johnson was elected after three weeks.
While those stories dominated the news cycle throughout the month, there were several other big stories locally.
The Twins carried fans on a thrilling ride, ending ridiculously long playoff droughts and creating optimism, despite the season ending earlier than we wanted. The run also allowed a Minnesotan to continue a family tradition.
The Vikings season changed drastically when Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles, then Joshua Dobbs arrived and quickly dazzled to start his stint in purple and gold. And yet so much has happened since then. The rollercoaster season looks like it’ll go right down to the wire. And speaking of the Vikings, safety Cam Bynum made a public appeal to help his wife get a visa, which worked quite well.
And we can’t forget these stories:
- The Twin Cities Marathon was canceled at the last minute, frustrating many. Fortunately, refunds were issued. In true Minnesota fashion, four weeks later, the Twin Cities had its second-snowiest Halloween on record.
- An Anoka man set a world record with his pumpkin and was later honored for it.
- A former Kmart building in Minneapolis caught fire, which also expedited demolition plans.
- Patty Wetterling reflected on her son’s abduction 34 years later.
- Catalytic converter thefts dropped, not just because of a law change.
- A ‘first-of-its-kind’ opioid treatment made an impact in Minnesota.
- A Minnesota chocolate company won not just one international award but two.
The process of selecting new state flag and seal designs captivated Minnesotans and public discourse. The public submitted thousands of designs before that number was whittled down by the commission. The new designs were chosen in December and could debut before the midway point of 2024. By the way, the failed designs do still have some life.
Two Minnesota natives were killed in military accidents. Sgt. Cade Wolfe, of Mankato, died when an MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed in the Mediterranean Sea. He was 24. Later in the month, 32-year-old Maj. Jeffrey Hoernemann, of Andover, died when a CV-22B Osprey crashed off the shores of Japan. His family later released his last messages to his mother, sent right before the flight.
Election Day was much quieter this year without any state or federal offices up for grabs, but it still produced historic results in St. Paul and St. Louis Park, changes for Minneapolis City Council, and the thinnest of margins in a Hopkins City Council race.
Amid a brutal start to the season, the Wild fired its head coach and an assistant, then quickly replaced them. Former coach Dean Evason was kind enough to discuss his firing and Wild tenure with KSTP Sports. The Wild had more turmoil in December and also got an update on their broadcast deal.
As the holidays arrived, 5 INVESTIGATES highlighted a serial shoplifter that targeted Minnesota retailers. He was then arrested on Thanksgiving but was later released on $500 bail despite multiple warrants.
Viewers also took notice of these stories in November:
- Derek Chauvin was stabbed in prison. He was released from a hospital a week later and another inmate is facing charges.
- 5 INVESTIGATES reported on the state not knowing that many mental health providers are closing.
- Yet another house explosion left a person dead in South St. Paul.
- 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS highlighted changes to the state’s “Move-Over” law.
- The State High School Football Tournament offered dozens of thrilling, memorable moments.
The unusually mild weather was a popular topic for Minnesotans throughout December. After a light coating of snow early in the month, viewers were curious about the state’s snow outlook for this winter. However, the snow and cold temps have been mostly absent so far this season. That has contributed to several ice rescues and has also been difficult on some businesses, including ski resorts. However, some Minnesotans have enjoyed the warmth, which has even allowed golfers to get a few more rounds in.
Despite the warmer-than-normal weather, the arrival of winter brought more attention to homeless encampments. In particular, one in Minneapolis has been the center of attention because of crime, including a fatal shooting. Minneapolis city leaders have made plans to close the encampment but delayed those ideas multiple times. Amid it all, the city also declared unsheltered homelessness a public health emergency.
In St. Paul, a police officer was wounded in an exchange of gunfire, which also resulted in a man’s death. Police released bodycam video of the shooting the following week but it remains under investigation.
Also, a cougar sighting in Minneapolis caught Minnesotans’ attention. A short time later, the cougar was hit and killed by a vehicle. Since then, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has announced plans to taxidermize the cougar and feature it in an educational display.
Several other stories caught viewers’ attention in December:
- A rise in EBT fraud led to a statewide warning and warrants shed more light on the investigation.
- Three people were hospitalized after a semi hit a dentist’s office in White Bear Lake.
- A former NFL player is taking part in Minnetonka’s police cadet program.
- Chisago County is mourning the death of a longtime deputy.
- A former local radio show host died after a brief illness.
- Metro Transit started enforcing fares amid calls to enclose stations to reduce crime. The agency and Minneapolis police are working together to stop crime at one hotspot.
- 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS highlighted several Minnesotans who went above and beyond to help others in 2023. Here is a giving guide for anyone in the giving spirit.
Looking back, the world also lost several influential people this year, from Jerry Springer, Gordon Lightfoot and Matthew Perry to Tina Turner, Tony Bennett and Sandra Day O’Connor. CLICK HERE to review those we lost.
Looking ahead, several new laws will take effect on Jan. 1. CLICK HERE to review those.
Finally, last but not least, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS thanks all of our viewers and readers for their support this past year. If you’ve got something for us to consider covering in 2024, CLICK HERE to let us know! Happy New Year!