Our countdown of The News & Observer's most-read stories of 2015, as measured by digital page views, wraps up with the top five — stories of tribute, Trump, triumph, tenacity and a tragedy that resonated around the world. Stories 5 through 1:
By Will Doran, Aug. 17
The story: Small-town charm and big-city amenities. Friendly character. Quality recreation. Affordability. A vibrant, walkable downtown. Proximity to centers of higher education and research. That’s Apex, Money magazine said, naming the town the best place to live in the country in its annual rankings, and validating its “Peak of Good Living” motto.
The rest of the story: Apex celebrated with Peak-A-Palooza, spending $20,000 to put on a festival attended by thousands in October. The town also ordered up some road signs to boast about the honor. And Town Manager Bruce Radford decided to go out on top, retiring last week after 14 years on the job. This “Peak” performance may amplify the challenges that come with rapid growth; Apex is expected to have about 90,000 residents by 2030.
By Colin Campbell,
The story: It was early June, and Donald Trump was already drawing capacity crowds — this time at the state GOP convention in Raleigh. He had not formally announced his candidacy for president, but he said that 10 days hence he’d make an announcement, and “a lot of people are going to be happy.” In now-familiar character, he also said GOP rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio each had recently made an “ass out of himself.”
The rest of the story: Trump, of course, did officially enter the race, on June 16. He has been leading the GOP field in the polls, speaking bluntly and making headlines almost every day since.
By Corey Lowenstein,
The story: Six times, Stephen and Cher Lair of Apex had gone to the hospital to deliver a baby. Six times, they had brought home snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. But on Aug. 26 came a truly blessed event — one known to the world through a viral video of the gender reveal in April. She was a gem, really, named Ruby Jane, and Corey Lowenstein’s story and video of her brothers’ welcome to their first sister also went viral.
The rest of the story: The Lairs are doing fine as they celebrate their first Christmas season and new year with Ruby Jane. Lowenstein’s video, meanwhile, has been watched more than 1 million times worldwide.
By Anne Blythe, Nov. 27
The story: It’s not every day that an eighth-grader takes the government to court. Hallie Turner, 13, who attends Ligon Middle School in Raleigh, did — but lost her bid to get the N.C. Environmental Management Commission to mandate a reduction in greenhouse gases. The commission had dismissed her petition on procedural and legal grounds, and a Wake judge upheld the dismissal.
The rest of the story: Hallie, who has been working to address global climate change since the fourth grade, says the fight isn’t over. She spoke Dec. 17 at a hearing the EMC held to get input on how to respond to the proposed federal Clean Water Plan. Her options in the court case include an appeal of the judge’s ruling, or a new petition to the commission.
By Jane Stancill, Jay Price, Anne Blythe, Tammy Grubb, Thomasi McDonald, Sarah Barr and Ron Gallagher, Feb. 11
The story: The killing of three promising students in a Chapel Hill condo – UNC-Chapel Hill dental student Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23; his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19 – shocked the world and sparked a social media outcry of “Muslim Lives Matter.” A neighbor, Craig Stephen Hicks, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder. The night after the killings, thousands of grieving students from around the Triangle huddled in the cold at a candlelight vigil at UNC.
The rest of the story: Barakat was active in Project Refugee Smiles, an effort to provide dental care to refugees from the Syrian civil war. His video asking for aid has been seen more than 200,000 times, and the group raised more than $500,000 in the weeks after the killings.
Volunteers took the place of Barakat and his wife on a mission trip to Turkey in August. Seven students are attending UNC and N.C. State with scholarship money raised to honor those killed. Students in UNC’s dental school started a yearly day of service, DEAH DAY, in September to honor the victims. And a nonprofit launched by the Barakat family, The Light House Project, is establishing a community resource center in an East Raleigh home that once belonged to Barakat. Hicks, meanwhile, probably will stand trial in 2016.
Eric Frederick is The News & Observer’s digital managing editor.
Frederick: 919-829-8956. Twitter: @Eric_Frederick
Our 15 best-read stories of 2015