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Catastrophic wildfires. Deadly hurricanes. School shootings. Journalist killings. Divisive elections. A bitter Supreme Court fight. A government shutdown. Given the onslaught of bad news we’ve seen over the last 12 months, you’d be forgiven for wanting to turn the page on 2018 and start fresh in the new year. But there was plenty of good news too, with stories of inspiration and hope often emerging in the wake of tragic events. Here are eight of them.
Waffle House shooting hero raises more than $200,000 for victims
In April, James Shaw Jr. was hailed as a hero for stopping a gunman who killed four people at a Nashville-area Waffle House. But the 30-year-old electronics technician did more than snatch the AR-15 from the alleged killer. Shaw launched an online campaign that raised nearly $250,000 for the families of the victims. A separate campaign launched by freelance journalist Yashar Ali raised more than $125,000 for Shaw and his 4-year-old daughter. Weeks later, Shaw was honored in a ceremony at the Tennessee Capitol. “I never thought I’d be in a room with all the eyes on me,” said Shaw, who insisted he doesn’t think of himself as a hero, “but you know, I’m very grateful to be here.”
France offers citizenship to immigrant who scaled building to save child
In May, Mamoudou Gassama, a 22-year-old migrant from Mali who was living illegally in France, scaled the façade of a Paris apartment building to save a boy who was dangling from a fourth-floor balcony. Video of the daring rescue went viral, earning Gassama the nickname “Spider-Man.” And it quickly earned him a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron, who offered Gassama permanent citizenship — and a job as a firefighter in Paris. “What you have done corresponds with what firefighters do,” Macron told Gassama. “If this fits your wishes, you could join the firefighters’ corps so that you can do (such acts) on a daily basis.”
Dog that survived California wildfire apparently guarded home for weeks
The catastrophic wildfire in Northern California produced plenty of harrowing stories of survival. But none were quite like this one: A woman who fled her Paradise, Calif., home when the fire broke out on Nov. 8 returned a month later to find her dog, Madison, guarding the ruins of her home. “Imagine the loyalty of hanging in in the worst of circumstances and being here waiting,” Madison’s owner, Andrea Gaylord, told ABC-10. “Their instinctual job is to watch the flocks and we’re part of them. … It’s a comforting feeling.” When they were finally reunited, Gaylord rewarded Madison, an Anatolian shepherd mix, with his favorite treat: Wheat Thins.
Immigrant farm workers fled after Iowa woman’s murder. Her mother took in one of their sons.
Laura Calderwood, whose 20-year-old daughter, Mollie Tibbetts, was found dead in Brooklyn, Iowa, in August, did something extraordinary after her death. The Washington Post reported this week that after an undocumented immigrant farm worker was arrested and charged with Tibbetts’s murder, the other workers on the farm fled, fearing deportation or retaliation. (President Trump cited Tibbetts’s murder to justify his hard-line immigration policies, and threats and hate mail directed at the farm soon followed.) One immigrant family who fled to Illinois left their teenage son behind. And Calderwood took him in to her family’s home, allowing the 17-year-old to stay in the guest room while he finishes high school.
Social worker quietly amassed fortune he bequeathed to charities
A Washington state social worker who died in January left nearly $11 million to children’s charities — a figure that shocked those who knew him. According to the Associated Press, Alan Naiman, who was unmarried and childless, quietly amassed his fortune while working at the state Department of Social and Health Services. Friends described Naiman, who was 63, as an intensely private person who worked extra jobs to stockpile money that he rarely spent on himself. What’s more, many of the organizations benefiting from Naiman’s donations said they didn’t know him. “The frugality that he lived through, that he committed to in his life, was for this,” said Jessica Ross, chief development officer at the Treehouse foster care organization, which received $900,000 from Naiman’s estate. “It’s really a gift to all of us to see that pure demonstration of philanthropy and love.”
Strangers donate more than $150,000 for terminally ill man whose wife died in school shooting
William Tisdale’s wife, Cynthia, was substitute teaching at Santa Fe High School when she was killed in the mass shooting there in May. For years, she had been his primary caregiver since he was diagnosed with a terminal lung condition. After her death, their son, Joe, launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for his father’s medical bills. It quickly generated more than $150,000, enough for several rounds of experimental stem cell treatments to extend his life. “We are still in such disbelief that anything good can come out of such a horrific event,” Joe wrote in a thank-you post. “The amount of love and generosity our family and father is receiving is unimaginable. We don’t know how to put it all into words but thank you doesn’t give it enough justification.” William Tisdale died in October. “I love you both,” Joe wrote in a Facebook post addressed to his parents. “And my only comfort is knowing I have another angel.”
Sister Jean, the 98-year-old Loyola superfan, gets her Final Four ring
Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the 99-year-old basketball-loving nun and superfan of the Loyola Chicago men’s college basketball team, captured America’s heart in March, when the Ramblers went on an improbable run in the NCAA tournament. Sister Jean quickly became a media sensation as she watched from her wheelchair in her Loyola letter jacket as the team from the small Jesuit university reached the Final Four. Sister Jean became so popular that she got her own bobblehead. And last month, she was rewarded by the school with her own ring from the Final Four.
Researchers find an unsuspected ‘supercolony’ of penguins
In March, researchers revealed that they had found 750,000 pairs of Adélie penguins living in the Danger Islands near Antarctica. The previously unknown supercolony was discovered with drones and satellite imagery. Given that the global Adélie penguin population is now estimated at just 8 million and is at risk from climate change, the finding was significant. As P. Dee Boersma, director of the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels at the University of Washington, told the New York Times, “It’s always good news when you find new penguins.”
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