Not all of the most popular stories at bnd.com revolved around major news events. Some went wild with audiences who found the stories on Facebook or Google. One drew the attention of thousands of people on Reddit. Here’s a look at some of the most popular stories at bnd.com in 2017:
It was about 9:30 a.m. June 14 when officials announced that James T. Hodgkinson, of Belleville, was responsible for shooting U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., during practice for the annual congressional baseball game. While the BND had comprehensive coverage of the event, readers from across the country and the world came to bnd.com to read the letters to the editor he had written to the News-Democrat. “I have never said life sucks, only the policies of the Republicans,” he wrote in a letter dated Aug. 28, 2012. A follow-up report said Hodgkinson was “fueled by rage.”
2. Investigation seeks to understand how baby was allowed to suffocate in home filled with garbage, waste
It was Jan. 31 when first responders arrived at a New Douglas home where a 2-month-old baby was reportedly suffocating. At the time, officials didn’t give details about what they found inside the house. A News-Democrat investigative report found those details: More than a year’s accumulation of animal waste and trash bags filled with rotting garbage. A family where the parents and kids slept on one mattress. Police were dumbfounded by the squalor, and Tim and Amy Elkins were both charged. Tim Elkins pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in September and was sentenced to six years in prison. Amy Elkins also pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. She was initially sentenced to six years in prison, but won’t have to serve any jail time if she successfully completes four years of probation. The investigative report was eventually picked up by Yahoo and thousands of readers from both the metro-east and across the country expressed outrage at how the baby and his siblings were allowed to live in such a situation.
3. Metro-east enjoys some uplifting news
In a year filled with many news stories that revolved around death, crime, and corruption, two stories stood out as positive and heart-warming. In February, Dr. Bill Daily was on his way to perform heart surgery at Memorial Hospital in Belleville when his Mercedes hit a pothole in East St. Louis that flattened one of his tires. It was a dark night in a city that routinely has one of the highest murder rates in the country. But his story had a happy ending: Mike Austin, an East St. Louis resident, was struck by the doctor’s concern and drove him to the hospital. “I was happy to help him help someone else,” Austin said. What could have been a simple story ended up attracting the attention of hundreds of thousands of readers not just in the metro-east, drawing many positive reactions.
Another sweet story that drew hundreds of thousands of readers from around the world thanks to a viral post on Reddit was about a 6-year-old Shiloh boy who had the chance to meet his hero and the second man to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin was speaking during an event at Saint Louis University, and Lukas Pilkey and his parents and grandpa were the last four people let into the event. Lukas insisted on wearing his Apollo 11 commander Halloween costume, and it caught Aldrin’s eye. Aldrin told the 6-year-old “maybe you’ll be going to Mars.” Lukas told Aldrin, “I’ll be the second person to walk on Mars for you, Buzz.”
The BND’s Answer Man, Roger Schlueter, has been answering News-Democrat reader questions for 30 years, but in 2017 several of his answers went viral thanks to Google. The Answer Man took on questions about why Christopher Kimball left PBS, why “Mike and Mike” ended their radio show on ESPN, and why “Dr. Jeff: Rocky Mountain Vet” was no longer on Animal Planet. Readers were also interested in finding out what perks past presidents receive. And thanks to Google, these answers wound up being seen by more than a quarter-million readers.
18-year-old Jacob Arter was pronounced dead early in the morning of Sunday, April 23 after being hit in the face during a party in Germantown. The Breese Central High School senior was called a “bright student,” and grief counselors were brought in. A few days later, a 17-year-old Clinton County team was charged with involuntary manslaughter. The teen said he feared for his life during the altercation. The judge issued a guilty verdict on Aug. 15 and the teen was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay restitution. The sentencing drew outrage from BND readers on social media, but the Arter family said they were satisfied with the judge’s decision.
On Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse was visible across most of the country, and Southern Illinois was one of the hottest locations for thousands of people. Some of those thousands were upset, though, when they found out Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Famer Ozzy Osbourne planned to interrupt a “religious” experience by singing “Bark at the Moon” during totality. Many readers said that was ridiculous on the News-Democrat social media pages, and that sentiment was shared by thousands of readers who found the story after it was picked up by The Drudge Report. Regardless of how people felt, it didn’t stop hundreds of people from enjoying The Prince of Darkness’ concert.
It was March 16 when firefighters responded to a home in Glen Carbon. Later that morning, a paramedic performed a heroic rescue of a baby after Cristy Campbell drove into Silver Lake in Highland. The investigation into what happened showed that Campbell shot her ex-husband in the head, lit her home on fire and then drove into the lake. She had seven kids, six of whom were able to escape the house fire. The seventh, an infant, survived after being rescued from Silver Lake. After the News-Democrat filed a Freedom of Information Act request, it was revealed that Cristy Campbell had worked herself into a jealous rage believing that her ex-husband, whom she divorced in 2013, had started a sexual relationship with a co-worker. That allegation proved to be untrue.
When former St. Louis police officer Jason Stockley was acquitted of murder Sept. 15, protests sprang up across St. Louis. Thousands of people watched the BND’s live coverage on Facebook when it happened, but many were outraged and concerned to find out that a protest was also planned for Belleville. The protests didn’t worry downtown businesses but those who protested the verdict on the Public Square said they did receive death threats. Stockley himself was from Belleville, and was found not guilty of murder after he killed Anthony Lamar Smith during an altercation on Dec. 20, 2011.
Food connoisseurs will remember 2017 as the year the metro-east lost Fischer’s restaurant and the Dandy Inn, but readers at bnd.com were more interested in the surprise closing of Joe’s Crab Shack when it shut its doors for good in August. Those weren’t the only restaurants to close their doors this year, though. The IHOP in Belleville also closed, but not by choice — it stopped serving up pancakes in October after a health inspector found “extreme filth” inside the eatery. It reopened shortly before Christmas.
10. The one-offs
Not every story popular with bnd.com readers fell into a simple category. For instance, several thousand readers were interested in finding out why St. Louis is ranked one of the worst places to live in America. Social media drew a number of readers into a story about the Rams being on pace to break an ignominious NFL record. And plenty of readers were interested in the man who called a Walmart cashier and ordered up a $9,000 theft of prepaid Visa cards.