‘Turn yourselves in’: Davon McNeal’s grandfather pleads with shooting suspects

Two suspects in the conflict that left 11-year-old Davon McNeal dead in Southeast D.C. on the night of July 4 remain on the loose, and McNeal’s grandfather said there’s only one thing for them to do: give themselves up.

“We’re going to find them. We’re not going to stop,” said John Ayala. “Their face is all over the place. There’s nowhere to hide. I don’t care if they leave here and go to New York City or North Carolina. … The word is out, their pictures are all over the place. They need to come and turn themselves in and give the family some closure.”

One suspect pleaded not guilty at a hearing on Saturday.

Ayala remembered McNeal as a loving boy who always made sure to give all the adults a hug whenever he came into his home.

He also appreciated McNeal’s regard for his community, even at such a young age. He was killed on Independence Day after a community peace cookout, organized by his mother, Crystal McNeal.

Ayala said his grandson was learning to be the kind of role model Southeast D.C. needs more of.

“Going out and collecting coats and books for kids when it was that time of the year,” Ayala said. “Eleven years old, he was on the side of [his mother] learning how to do these things at a young age. And that’s the type of kid we want in our community. Hopefully, when they get older, they’ll be a role model for other young kids who want to do the same thing.”

John Ayala saw his grandson killed that night as he ran out of his mother’s car to pick up a cell phone charger. He said Davon was caught in the crossfire between “guys that were having neighborhood beef.”

He said he wondered if the shooters would have been loose on the streets this summer if it weren’t for the coronavirus pandemic. Some inmates from the D.C. Jail were released because of concerns the virus would spread among the inmate population.

“Those people,” he said, “should not be let out because of COVID-19.”

He suggested there could have been a better way to keep tabs on criminals who might have picked up where they left off after they were released.

“A nonviolent offender, I can see that, but people who were violent, they have to stay inside. All they’re going to do is come back out here and commit the violence they went to jail for,” Ayala said.

Ayala remembered that his grandson was a great football player who was most valuable on a local team that went to play in a tournament in Florida, but he was also just a little boy who was nervous about learning to swim and would run away when adults tried to give him a kiss.

He suggested that societal problems — lack of activities and employment for young adults — have engendered an atmosphere in which violence and criminal activity are more appealing than getting a job at a place like McDonald’s.

“We need to figure out ways to keep our young people busy so they won’t get themselves into violence,” he said. “When they’re just hanging out in the community, they look at the people that cause violence, and look at the people that are up to no good, they become the role models, because those are the people that got the females, they’ve got the nice cars, they think that’s the type of people they want to be like.”

Ayala said he’s trying to be strong.

“There are times you want to break down, but you’ve got to be strong if you want to continue this fight.”

Dan Friedell

Dan Friedell is a digital writer for WTOP. He came to the D.C. area in 2007 to work as digital editor for USATODAY.com, and since then has worked for a number of local and national news organizations.

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