The Top Stories from the Past 50 Years

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TENNESSEE VALLEY (WHNT) – News is non-stop, so as you can imagine WHNT News 19 has covered a lot of stories during its 50-year time span.  But some stood out more than others – for both good and bad reasons.

Here’s a look back at the top news-making moments from the last five decades.

The civil rights movement is deeply rooted in Alabama and Huntsville had its own history makers.

In August of 1963, Sonnie Hereford enrolled his 6-year-old son in an all-white school, but it wasn’t an easy task.  Governor George Wallace sent 24 state troopers to keep the child out of the school.

Hereford and three other parents filed a lawsuit claiming unfair treatment.  Eventually, a judge allowed the enrollment to move forward.

NASA and Huntsville have a history that goes way back.

Marshall Space Flight Center was established in 1960.  While the country’s space program has had some high moments, like putting man on the moon in 1969, there were also some dark times too.

In 1967, Apollo 1 caught fire during a training exercise on the launch pad.  Space shuttle Challenger came apart less than two minutes after lift-off in 1986.  And in 2003, space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere.

Eight years later in August of 2011, the space shuttle program came to an end.

Over the last 50 years, Mother Nature left her mark in a major way.

On April 3, 1974, there was a super outbreak of tornadoes.

“Confusion, really.  It’s really hard to explain.  Just a lot of chaos.  Unreal,” said Janice Jones.  Like many others, Janice Jones lost her home as tornadoes swept across north Alabama.  Four of them were listed as violent and stayed on the ground for long stretches.  In all, 86 people died.

The 1974 outbreak set records that weren’t broken until the deadly storms of April 27, 2011.

The National Weather Service says the April 27, 2011 storm system spawned 39 tornadoes in the Huntsville region, three of which were EF-5 tornadoes.

Statewide, 248 people lost their lives and at least 2,200 were injured.

The destruction was immense.   Some subdivisions, businesses and towns were wiped out.

Violent crimes captured headlines countless times in the last 50 years.

In the late 70s, John Paul Dejnozka, aka the Southwest Molester, attacked 18 women in southwest Huntsville neighborhoods. He was sentenced to 830 consecutive years in prison.

In November of 1993, 5-year-old Andrea Gonzales disappeared in Russellville.  Her parents, Paul and Kym Gonzalez, testified at trial they’d accidentally killed Andrea and dumped her body off a bridge at Mondye Landing.

Paul Gonzalez did time for manslaughter and Kym Gonzalez served time for child abuse.  Andrea’s body was never found.

In March of 1998, Jeffrey Franklin brutally killed his parents and tried to kill three siblings at the family’s home on Camelot Drive in south Huntsville.

Franklin remains in prison at the Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer.

In March of 1999, Karen Tipton was stabbed to death inside her home on Chapel Hill Rd. in Decatur.

Daniel Wade Moore was tried three times for the crime.  The first time a jury convicted him and sentenced him to death; that decision was later overturned.  A second trial ended in a hung jury.  It wasn’t until the third trial, in 2009, that a jury acquitted him.

February 2010 was a violent month.  On February 5, 14-year-old Todd Brown died at Discovery Middle School in Madison.  His classmate, Hammad Memon, pleaded guilty to shooting him in the hallway during a class change.

One week later, on February 12, Amy Bishop opened fire on her colleagues during a faculty meeting at UAH.  Three people died and three others injured.  Bishop is serving life without parole at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka.

Accidents happen.

On April 4, 1977, Southern Airways flight 242 left Huntsville on its way to Atlanta.  Just over the Georgia line, the plane hit a severe storm.  The engines sucked in a lot of hail and crashed.  Sixty-three people died on board and nine died on the ground.  Twenty-three people survived.

In February 1980, a fire nearly destroyed the Huntsville Industrial Center, known by locals as the HIC.  Two-thirds of it burned to the ground.  It housed the two oldest mills in Huntsville, which sat near the corner of Meridian St. and Oakwood Ave.

In July 1984, the SCI Company’s paddleboat named, “SCI-tanic” capsized in a microburst on the Tennessee River at Ditto Landing.  Eighteen people were on board and 11 drowned, including an entire family.

On November 20, 2006, a school bus plunged off an Interstate 565 overpass.  Forty-one students from Lee High School were on board: 34 suffered minor to serious injuries and four died.

A NTSB report says the driver of a Toyota Celica tried to pass the bus, lost control, then crashed into the bus, causing it to ride the guardrail before falling off an elevated portion of I-565.

The crash led to a three-year statewide study on school bus safety.  A task force ultimately decided students would not be safer on school buses with seat belts.

Huntsville has developed over the years.

From the establishment of Cummings Research Park in the 60s to opening day at the Von Braun Center in 1975, to the construction of Interstate 565 in the late 80s, to the BRAC initiatives that led to thousands of Department of Defense jobs moving to Redstone arsenal, and the first V-8 engine to come off the line at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant in Huntsville in 2003, WHNT News 19 was present when news happened over the last 50 years and is committed to covering the next 50.

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