Where Are They Now?

In between the breaking news and the celebrity hijinks, which stories resonated on Yahoo! in 2011?

A couple caught in a riot happening at the unlikeliest of cities; another crypto-zoological sighting; a tacky superhero costume; an on-air attack — good luck finding a pattern.

Truthfully, a headline-grabber depends on a lot of other factors: time of day, competing topics, and the mood of a nation. Then a story, often with a compelling image, will suddenly attract thousands, if not millions, of eyeballs and just as quickly disappear.

But they don’t disappear. Lovers under fire, instant millionaires, sudden departures — their stories go on well after the cameras shift their focus to another subject and readers compulsively click on yet another overnight success or triumph over tragedy. Rather than find out why one story did “better” than another, a team of Yahoo! writers tracked down the top 10 most popular stories (non-celebrity, non-breaking news) to find out just what happened to these fleeting heroes and heroines.

1. Romance amidst the riots: This was a year of protests, from revolutions in the Middle East and fiery turbulence in London to milder outbursts against Netflix price increases or the Hershey warehouse’s student working conditions. With so much chaos, the odds of love amidst the ashes would seem to be higher. No couple symbolized that more than  Alex Thomas and Scott Jones, laying down in the streets of Vancouver amidst maddened hockey fans and riot police. They had been together only six months, but they became the world’s sweethearts. We finally tracked them down — but not in British Columbia.
2. Premature death of a high-school athlete:  Premature death is a tragedy that can touch anyone. Wes Leonard inspired his Michigan high-school basketball teammates, and it was his winning shot that had him hoisted high above the ground in victory. Then, moments later, he was unconscious; dead within hours. Yet his family and his teammates were determined to extend his legacy beyond the basketball courts.
3. Giant creatures from the deep: No matter how modern our technology gets, age-old sea monsters seem to get better at evading it. Or they play coy, either giving us just a blurry glimpse or pushing out logs, dead hedgehogs, or whatever else to fool us. In this case, two kayakers spied England’s version of the Loch Ness Monster and got a (blurry) shot before they paddled out of there — or did they?
4. Super-heroine makeovers: “Wonder Woman” may be pop culture’s most enduring female comic heroine, but she can’t get a break in Hollywood. She was destined for a TV reboot, but a costume malfunction — in design — outraged fans already perturbed that the 75-year-old Amazon (happy birthday) has never gotten her own big-screen debut. So, what’s the status of that outfit … and the show?
5. Fast food, NFL, and the call of nature: In the “Mad Libs” world of storytelling, it’s hard to resist one that combines McDonald’s, a Minnesota Vikings running back, and an urgent need to use the facilities. Who would deny a 6’1″, 217-pounder, even after hours? Assistant Tiffany Langeslay did, and briefly suffered the loss of her position because of it. Did she stay the course?
6. Grammys gibberish: Say what you will about red-carpet reporting; Literal gibberish isn’t what we expect. Emmy Award-winning correspondent Serene Branson kept as cool as possible, even when misshapen words left her mouth as she was live on the air. What looked like a frightening live recording of a stroke turned out to be a far more common condition.
7. Death in the water: Most medical-horror movies, even those inspired by real life, are based on rare circumstances. In a case of life imitating art, news reports about the very real deaths of four people from Naegleria fowleri, a freshwater amoeba that can fatally attack the brain, only added to the story’s persistence.
8. Reality run-around: National Guard helicopters chasing a balloon, posers crashing a state dinner — people pull a lot of stunts to get on a reality show. For the Cerdas, a new home meant their daughters, who suffered from a rare immunodeficiency disease, could be able to breathe freely. “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” came through for them, but the family couldn’t keep up with the expenses of the Las Vegas home. They sold it and moved to Oregon, and suspicions were raised about their daughters’ conditions.
9. Bride on the run: The original nickname that some media outlets gave for Valerie Shevchenko, “Runaway Bride,” might have been a cute allusion to the 1999 Julia Roberts film, but her high-speed hotfooting in New York came from a curious collision of coincidences: a secret elopement and an East Coast earthquake.
10. Street millionaire: The Cinderella story traces its origins way back, perhaps all the way back to 9th century China, which shows how the rags-to-riches storyline cuts across time and culture. A private investigator did an amazing job carrying out a dead man’s wishes: He tracked down his brother Max Melitzer, homeless in the streets of Utah. But even Cinderella ran into problems at the stroke of midnight, and Melitzer’s fortunes may have encountered a snag.

Read on to find out how these stories played out in 2011.

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