What ever happened to? Updates to MPR News' most memorable stories of 2018

A raccoon scratches itself a window sill.
A raccoon scratches itself on the window sill of the Paige Donnelly Law Firm on the 23rd floor of the UBS Plaza in St. Paul June 12, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

So much happened this year — the midterm elections, the highest ever turnout at the State Fair, Minnesota hosting the Super Bowl — that it's hard to recap everything. So, here's a look at the stories that reporters and producers found the most memorable — along with updates to the previous coverage.

For dying cats and dogs, a last loving goodbye

By Nancy Yang

Eileen Hill, one of Peanut's owners, cradles her in the family room.
Eileen Hill, one of Peanut's (aka Laddie) owners, cradles her in the family room of her Lake Elmo home on July 11, 2018.
Lacey Young | MPR News file

As the resident "crazy dog lady" in the newsroom, I loved telling this story: 1) I'm reminded that even though saving one cat or dog doesn't change the world, for that one dog or cat the world changes forever. 2) There are good, selfless people who deserve highlighting. And 3) I got a lot of cuddles with some pretty cute critters.

Update: Good news — all three hospice dogs featured in this story are doing well and being rightfully spoiled by their humans:

• Laddie, aka Peanut, has graduated from hospice to adoptable. But she's not going anywhere — on day 159 with Eric and Eileen Hill this October, Laddie became a forever member of the family.

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• Holly was also officially adopted by Marie Chaiart and Maron Masanz on July 30. Although she was recently diagnosed with glaucoma in her right eye, Holly continues to prove she is a trouper.

• Archie has put on a few pounds and is learning how to socialize with other dogs. Mike Liay reports that Archie "also had his first actual bark" in late November (a side effect of his liver condition was that he didn't really bark, he mostly made a Chewbacca noise). While out for a walk, he barked at a few Halloween decorations that were still up.

FBI: Extortion plot led to recovery of 'Oz' ruby slippers

By Tim Nelson

Law enforcement officials recovered the stolen ruby slippers.
Law enforcement officials recovered one of four known surviving pairs of ruby slippers worn by actress Judy Garland in the 1939 movie "The Wizard of Oz."
Evan Frost | MPR News

From Chris Graves, digital editor The return of the ruby slippers: Because, ummm, "Wizard of Oz," small-town Minnesota, unsolved crime and c'mon now ... they're those iconic sparkly shoes! This is the stuff of Hollywood movies.

Update: The FBI continues to investigate but has not released any updates on who stole the slippers.

Threading the needle: Mammoth Duluth museum ship eased out of longtime berth

By Dan Kraker

Moving the William A. Irvin
The 610-foot William A. Irvin rests after passing through the Minnesota Slip Bridge early Sept. 22, 2018 in Duluth.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News file

It was pretty incredible to see hundreds of people lined up for hours, late into the night, in frigid weather, watching the Irvin inch SLOWLY out of its berth. It really drove home for me just how big a part of everyday life big ships are in Duluth.

Update: The William A. Irvin is at Fraser Shipyards in Superior, Wis., across the harbor from Duluth. The plan is to have the hull refurbished in April and for the ship to return to its slip in Duluth in between the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and the Canal Park tourist district in late May. DECC officials anticipate having the ship back open to the public for tours in June or early July.

Reporter's notebook: Opioids, a death and the story that never ran

By Jon Collins

Sisters Andrea Larson, right, and Marnie Henke with father David Larson.
Sisters Andrea Larson, right, and Marnie Henke and their father David Larson are photographed at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis May 5, 2016.
Courtney Perry for MPR News 2016

I've done a lot of stories about people who've overdosed on opioids. It's common knowledge that we're in the midst of an overdose epidemic that's claiming tens of thousands of lives each year. But as the numbers grow, the individuals who are dying, and their families that live with the loss, disappear from sight. It's no longer considered novel.

People share their stories, even when they're painful, because they want their loved ones' lives to matter. It's our responsibility to do the stories justice.

Update: David Larson wrote me after this story published. He said he'd never heal from this loss: "It's just one story. Reading this reminds me that this is not just a story. It is the life lost to a disease and a system that is motivated by profit, structure and entanglement of multiple powerful parties that are paralyzed. This was very painful to read. Because you wrote it well and it is my truth."

Bloomington mosque bombing suspect left trail of trouble

By Matt Sepic

Minnesota Mosque Explosion Arrests
In this July 2017 booking photo released by the Ford County Sheriff's Office, Michael Hari is seen on an assault charge.
HOGP | AP 2017

The bombing of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center the morning of Aug. 5, 2017, left the Twin Cities Muslim community shaken and searching for answers. Members of the congregation wanted to know who attacked them, and why their mosque was targeted. Seven months later, authorities arrested four men from the town of Clarence, Ill., and held them on federal charges related to alleged militia activity.

In March, I flew to Chicago and drove two hours south on Interstate 57 to find out more.

The group's leader, Michael Hari, 47, had a history that may seem colorful to observers, but was devastating to many who know him.

Federal authorities say Hari, Michael McWhorter, 29, and Joe Morris, 23, planted bombs in O'Neill's shed and Hari emailed a phony tip to the ATF in an attempt to frame him.

Update: In September, Ellis Mack, a militia member not implicated in the bombing, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and machine gun charges. On Dec. 11 and 12, Morris and McWhorter appeared in a St. Paul federal courtroom for separate hearings and pleaded not guilty to the mosque bombing charges. The two remain jailed in Sherburne County. McWhorter's attorney said a plea deal is in the works. Hari remains jailed in Illinois, where he faces additional charges.

Libertarian GOP group draws ire for meeting in a mosque

By Laura Yuen

Abdulahi Farah speaks with Zavier Bicott.
Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center programs and services director Abdulahi Farah, right, speaks with Minnesota Republican Liberty Caucus chair Zavier Bicott, left, about hosting the caucus' annual convention at the mosque in Bloomington on May 8, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Call me a sap, but I will never tire of this basic story: People from different backgrounds working to find common ground. As a reporter, I loved listening in on a conversation among three regular guys — Abdulahi, Zavier and Mohamed — who were involved in a decision to bring a bunch of Republicans to a Twin Cities mosque.

They discussed how anti-Muslim sentiment and rhetoric have infected our political climate. They broke out laughing when one suggested a "hate potluck" was bringing out the worst in everybody. Despite the laughter, it wasn't lost on any of us that this was the same mosque bombed by men who wanted to scare Muslims out of the country. Words matter. At a time when our nation is grappling with division, vitriol and even violence, these three guys are doing their part to help bring us together.

Update: Abdulahi Farah voted for the first time in 20 years. He also became a first-time delegate at the state's DFL convention. Zavier Bicott of the Republican Liberty Caucus remains in touch with mosque officials and is considering holding another event — a "listening-circle-style town hall" — at Dar al-Farooq in March.

Train to nowhere: Twin Cities light rail becomes home for the homeless

By Nina Moini

The light rail has become a haven for the homeless late at night.
The light rail has become a haven for the homeless late at night in the Twin Cities. Many wait at light rail stations and board trains as a place to sleep rather than remain outdoors.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News file

This story exposed a growing problem of homelessness in the Twin Cities metro area and spilling onto public transit. We heard from people living through chronic homelessness by following a street outreach team from St. Stephens.

Update: After this story ran, Mattie Grassrope's son contacted MPR News to tell me that she died, and asked for a copy of the story so they could hear her voice.

Social climber: Raccoon scales St. Paul skyscraper, captures internet

By Tim Nelson

A raccoon scurries up the side of the UBS tower in St. Paul.
The #mprraccoon scurries up the side of the UBS Plaza tower in St. Paul June 12, 2018.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

It started innocently enough with a stroll to get a cup of coffee. An editor and I spotted an aberration — a raccoon perched motionless on a ledge on a neighboring building — and asked that age old question: "Now what?"

A few phone calls later, maintenance staff made a well-intentioned effort at a rescue that went spectacularly awry and the raccoon, rather than climbing down, scaled the nearest office tower.

Up she went, floor by agonizing floor, hundreds of feet above the ground, up the sheer side of the building. I, and MPR photojournalist Evan Frost, documented the feat in real time, standing below and watching virtually around the clock.

She was dubbed #mprraccoon on Twitter and then internet took over. The climb became an international sensation, riveting the globe still puzzling over what to make of President Trump's summit with North Korea's Kim Jung Un in Singapore. From Sydney to Berlin and back to Tokyo, radio and television and online audiences waited to see if she would make it to the top. Which of course, she did, topping the UBS Plaza tower early the next morning.

Wildlife management personnel trapped her on the roof, then later released her in Shakopee.

Her famed climb lives on, with countless satellite television appearances, as well as children's books, a bobblehead, a Minnesota State Fair display, seed art contest entries, countless Halloween costumes and a line of public radio merchandise. The proceeds of T-shirts and socks ultimately raised $41,000 for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Roseville.

Addition from photojournalist Evan Frost: The magnitude of the #mprraccoon didn't hit me until I got off the phone with an Australian radio show at 3:30 a.m., after she had climbed to safety. No matter what you thought about the state of the world, you could get behind her journey.

Everyone has a wall to climb, so aren't we all #mprraccoon?

Update: Evan Frost's photo of the critter climbing the wall made the list of Time's top 100 photos of 2018.

We have no idea where #mprraccoon is now.


Now it's your turn! What was the most memorable story of 2018 for you? Submit your answer here and we will hold a voting round for the top picks.