Top 10 local stories that shaped 2019

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CHICAGO — From the unthinkable to the offbeat, here are the top ten local stories that shaped 2019 voted on by WGN viewers.

10 - CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson fired

After more than 30 years of service, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson was suddenly fired by Mayor Lightfoot just weeks before he was set to retire.

The firing came during an investigation into an October incident when the superintendent was found asleep behind the wheel of his vehicle. Mayor Lightfoot eventually said she was lied to.

“At some point the IG’s report may become public,” Mayor Lightfoot said. "I don’t think it’s fair to his wife or children to do so at this time.”

The mayor said Johnson engaged in a series of “ethical lapses” that were intolerable. It paved the way for Interim Superintendent Charlie Beck to take over the department from his time in Los Angeles.

9 - Mass shooting at Henry Pratt Plant in Aurora

In February, a gunman who was being fired from his job at the Henry Pratt Plant in Aurora opened fired on his co-workers, killing five.

Surveillance video from inside the plant showed the 45-year-old gunman get ready for a shootout with police. In addition to his five co-workers, he was killed and six others were also injured.

8 - R.Kelly charged with criminal sex abuse

He’s one of two celebrities this year to make major headlines in Chicago.

In late February, R&B singer R. Kelly was charged with ten counts of aggravated criminal sex abuse. It came a month after a six-part docuseries aired detailing allegations from a string of women.

In July, 18 more charges for child exploitation and child pornography were announced. By the end of the year, legal troubles are not over for the man once considered the king of R&B.

7 - Death of 5-year-old AJ Freund

One of the most emotional stories of the year, police said 5-year-old AJ Freund was beaten to death inside his Crystal Lake home.

His parents are accused of trying to cover up the murder.

“AJ, please come home,” his father said. “You’re not going to be in any trouble.”

Freund’s body was found buried in a shallow grave just days after being reported missing.

His case brought up questions about the way the Department of Children and Family Services is run, with several employees linked to the case being fired.

6 - Chicago Teachers Union strike

The Chicago teachers strike became one of the longest in decades, lasting 11 days.

In the end, the city agreed to pay for smaller class sizes, more social workers and nurses, and approved a 16 percent pay increase over five years.

5 - Bill signed to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois

In June, Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana in 2020. It makes Illinois the 11th state to do so.

"With this legislation our state is once again a leader,” Gov. Pritzker said. “Putting together the most equitable cannabis legalization in the nation.”

Revenue from the move is expected to reach $1.6 billion a year.

4 - Humboldt Park gator

He quickly became a fan favorite. The Humboldt Park gator was finally captured at 1:30 a.m. on a Tuesday.

After at least a week of eluding authorities, Alligator Rob, brought in from Florida, was able to capture the five-foot, 30 pound gator.

It led to celebrity status for Alligator Rob, t-shirts and fundraising campaigns.

3 - Death of 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa-Lopez

19-year-old Marlen Ochoa-Lopez was nine months pregnant when she was allegedly lured to the home of Clarissa and Desiree Figueroa.

She was killed and her baby was cut from her womb. That child later died.

The Figueroas are facing first degree murder charges for their deaths.

2 - Jussie Smollet claims he was attacked in Chicago

It’s the story that seemed to change by the day. In January, actor Jussie Smollett told police he was attacked by two men yelling racial and homophobic slurs in Streeterville.

“I want them to stop saying alleged attack,” Smollett said.

Then a month later, he’s charged by Chicago police with filing a false police report. A month after that, those charges were dropped by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. It led many to question State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

But it didn’t end there. In November, the “Empire” actor filed a counterclaim against the city, alleging malicious prosecution.

1 - Lori Lightfoot wins runoff election in landslide

In April, Lori Lightfoot became Chicago’s first African American female mayor and the city’s first openly LQBTQ mayor.

“We can and we will build trust,” Mayor Lightfoot said. “Not fear each other.”

Although her leadership is one of the biggest changes at City Hall, you can’t forget other shifts.

Brand new aldermen were elected. Meanwhile, the corruption case against the city’s longest-running Alderman, Ed Burke, continues. Burke pleaded not guilty to corruption charges.

Clearly, politics topped the year. Now it’s time to see what a new decade and 2020 will bring.

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