By all counts, it happened in an instant.
One moment, 2 1/2-year-old Gloucester toddler Caleigh Ann Harrison was playing on a portion of Long Beach in Rockport, on an outing with her mom, Allison Hammond, her then-4-year-old sister Elizabeth, and the family dog. Then, according to reports, Hammond briefly left to retrieve an errant ball that had sailed over a nearby wall.
When she looked back, Caleigh was gone, not to be seen again.
The gut-wrenching saga of little Caleigh’s disappereance — the questions about whether she had fallen into the water and been swept away by riptides, or in some circles, whether she may have been the victim of an abduction — captured the attention of virtually every resident across Cape Ann and far beyond last April 19. It also sparked a stirring vigil held on Gloucester’s Stacy Boulevard, when the community turned out to mourn the disappearance and apparent loss of one of its own so young. And the tragedy has been chosen by the Times news staff as the biggest news story of 2012.
While the Hammond and Harrison families of Caleigh’s parents came to accept some level of closure when pink capri pants similar to those the toddler was wearing that awful day washed up on Good Harbor Beach in November, it remains a story that’s not fully resolved. And so do many of the stories on the Times’ top 10 list.
Indeed, the No. 2 story — the development of the three massive wind turbines that have changed Gloucester’s skyline from Blackburn Industrial Park — is still very much evolving, with promises of alternative energy savings to come. The exit of NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco, seen as a hope for a new cooperative spirit between the federal agency and Gloucester and New England fishermen, does not become official until February, or until federal officials name a successor. And the advancement of the planned 101-room Beauport Gloucester hotel remains in the application process, perhaps already on a path as the No. 1 story carrying over from 2012 to 2013.