WDBJ7's Top New River Valley Stories of 2016

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(WDBJ7) From tragic scenes to medical and scientific marvels, some of the biggest stories this year have come from the New River Valley.

2016 in the New River Valley sadly kicked off with a story that gripped not only a county, region, or Commonwealth, but the entire nation. 13-year old Nicole Lovell from Blacksburg was missing.

"In these darkest hours, that's when our community comes to shine and this community is known for stepping up and we need them to do that at this time as we pray for the return of a beautiful young girl," Lt. Mike Albert of Blacksburg Police said.

Her family said she needed medication, and without it she could die. Her father gave us a tearful message to her.

"You can come to me. I'm not mad at you. I'm worried about you. Your family is worried about you," David Lovell, Nicole Lovell's father, said.

But police learned after four days of searching she had been killed.

"It was really just a sickening feeling knowing that she wouldn't be coming back," Rebecca Lemon, who organized the vigil, said.

Two now-former Virginia Tech students, David Eisenhauer and Natalie Keepers, are still in the court system facing charges in her death.

Unfortunately, her's wasn't the only young life lost this year. In March, officers found 28-year old Alyssa Ann Kenny and her 21-month old daughter Anastasia Leighann Alley dead in their homes.

"It still doesn't feel real. I still look at my phone and I'm like," Ashley Hall, a friend, said.

"Waiting for her to call. Waiting," Bethany Ratcliffe, a friend, said.

This investigation took much longer, but after two months, Richard Nofsinger was arrested for the crimes.

"I thought I'd be more peaceful but I'm still not because I just want to ask why he took my best friend and my daughter's best friend," Ratcliffe said.

Nofsinger is also still in the court system facing these charges.

One court case that did see a resolution was that of Ashley White, the Pulaski County woman convicted of endangering her son, Noah Thomas, after he was found dead in a septic tank in 2015. In July, White was sentenced to 23 months in jail, with credit for time served, while her husband Paul Thomas was sentenced to 15 months. Both were decisions that split the community down the middle.

"It would be great if he could go home today. But I did think the judge would probably want him to serve a little more time. I think that would be a little more appropriate and that's exactly what happened," lawyer Lindsay Honeycutt said.

"That little boy is laying over there in the graveyard and they get out and get to live the rest of their life and he don't. It's not fair," Melissa Bratton said.

Ashley White was released later this year.

Also in Pulaski County, one of the biggest employers had to let a lot of employees go. Volvo announced three different rounds of layoffs totaling 1,300 people. The last one was just a couple weeks ago.

But it hasn't been all bad news in the NRV. In fact, one group at Virginia Tech helped solve an issue that was making national headlines.

The water in Flint, Michigan, had dangerous levels of lead in it. Turns out it was because of the pipes bringing the water from a new resource. A Virginia Tech group proposed a solution going back to the original resource in Detroit and visited Flint a few times this year to test the water. Just this month, team leader and Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards said he is confident in the water in Flint now.

"Given that this is currently the most monitored, closely monitored and managed system probably in the world at this point... this is probably the first place I would feel comfortable taking a bath," Edwards said.

Speaking of Tech, they welcomed a new member of their community this year. Justin Fuente came in to replace long time coach Frank Beamer as the head of the Hokies.

"It's been great. The people of Blacksburg have welcomed us with open arms," Fuente said.

In his first season, the team went 9-4 and will play in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 29.

And speaking of new additions, Radford University has a new man in charge of everything. Brian Hemphill was welcomed in October as the seventh President in Radford's history, and already wants to make big change for the good.

"We will transform Radford into an innovative, premiere university in the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond, with a keen focus on teaching, research, and service. That is our vision," Hemphill said.

It's been a busy year in the New River Valley, but that's a look at just some of the big stories we've brought you as your hometown station.