'Who Does This To A Kid?' D.C. Family Mourns 11-Year-Old Killed By Crossfire

Jul 10, 2020
Originally published on July 10, 2020 6:18 pm

When his phone died, 11-year-old Davon McNeal was at a Stop the Violence cookout in Washington, D.C., that his mother had helped organize. She took him to his aunt's house close by to borrow a charger and John Ayala, his grandfather, says the little boy hopped out of the car.

"At that moment shots rang out. Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. He goes to the ground. You know, you hear bullets, you get out the way," Ayala said.

Davon was caught in the crossfire, a shooting sparked by a neighborhood beef. An 18-year-old man was arrested on Thursday for the shooting and charged with first-degree murder.

Davon was one of several children across the U.S., who were killed by gun violence over the Fourth of July weekend. They were doing everyday things — playing in the yard, walking through a mall, watching fireworks with family — when random bullets ended their lives. Secoriea Turner from Atlanta and Royta Giles from Hoover, Ala., were 8. Natalia Wallace from Chicago was 7. And Jace Young from San Francisco was 6.

"This is ridiculous," Ayala said. "Our babies are being gunned down, this has got to stop."

Wanda Ayala, Davon's grandmother, who is called "mama" by all her grandchildren, says she'll never forget the phone call she received a little after 10 p.m. with the news. Everything else is a blur. Racing to the hospital. Having an anxiety attack. Praying Davon would be OK.

When she saw him, he looked very small and very still.

"I said, 'Davon, baby, wake up, baby, mama's here.' He's lying on the table. This can't be right. Who does this to a kid?" she said, while sobbing uncontrollably.

Davon's family has a history of community service and trying to keep neighborhoods safe. His grandfather started a chapter of the Guardian Angels in D.C. They patrols streets, provide counseling and act as role models to at-risk youth. Davon's mother, Crystal McNeal, works as a city violence interrupter, mediating between gangs to resolve conflicts and prevent retaliation. It's a program D.C. has used more in the past couple of years as homicides have spiked.

Wanda says Davon loved his friends, videogames and football. Ever since his older brother started playing, Davon wanted to as well. So Wanda signed him up for coaching.

"From that point on, his goal was to go to the NFL. That's all he talked about," she said. "[He would say] 'And when I make it, I'm buying my mother the biggest house I can find.'"

Wanda said neither she nor her husband had a lot of money growing up. Even when they had kids, finances were tight. So when they could finally afford vacations, they were determined to spoil their five grandchildren.

John and Wanda Ayala are devastated by their grandson's death. "This is ridiculous," John Ayala says. "Our babies are being gunned down, this has got to stop."
Kavitha Cardoza

"It's the difference between being a mom and a grandma," she said. "So with the grandkids, we just wanted to do everything with them."

They took vacations every year with the children. One time they took all the grandchildren to New Jersey, to go to Six Flags. They visited all three parks and came back home to D.C.

"I unpacked everybody's bag, washed everybody's clothes, repacked the bags, got back on the road to Ocean City," she said, laughing. "We did a 10-day trip!"

Wanda has lots of happy memories with Davon, but then she remembered there are no more memories to make, no more Davon to spoil.

Her face crumpled and the tears flowed.

"Why?" she asked. "I just want to ask these guys, why?"

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

At least five young children were killed in gun violence over the Fourth of July weekend. They were doing everyday things - playing in the yard, walking through a mall, watching fireworks with family - when random bullets ended their lives. One of those children was here in Washington, D.C. Here's Mayor Muriel Bowser.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MURIEL BOWSER: This should not have happened, and it cannot keep happening. We can't keep losing our children to senseless gun violence.

KELLY: Kavitha Cardoza of member station WAMU spoke with the grandparents of Davon McNeal, an 11-year-old who was killed at a community event in Washington. And a quick warning - this story includes details of the shooting that some listeners may find disturbing.

KAVITHA CARDOZA, BYLINE: Davon was at a Stop the Violence cookout that his mother had helped organize when his phone died. So she took him to his aunt's house close by to borrow a charger. John Ayala, his grandfather, says the little boy hopped out of the car.

JOHN AYALA: At that moment, shots rang out - pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. He goes to the ground. You know, you hear bullets, you get out the way.

BOWSER: Davon was caught in the crossfire, a neighborhood beef.

WANDA AYALA: My grandkids call me mama.

CARDOZA: That's Wanda, Davon's grandmother. She says she'll never forget the phone call. Everything else is a blur - racing to the hospital, having an anxiety attack, praying he'd be OK. Davon looked very small and very still.

AYALA: (Crying) Davon, wake up, baby. Wake up, baby. Mama's here. He's lying on the table. This can't be right. Who does this to a kid?

CARDOZA: Other grieving families may well be asking the same question Secoriea Turner from Atlanta and Royta Giles from Hoover, Ala., were 8. Natalia Wallace from Chicago was 7. Jace Young from San Francisco was 6. John, Davon's grandfather, says almost to himself...

AYALA: It's just ridiculous. Our babies are being gunned down. This got to stop.

CARDOZA: Davon's family has a history of community service, trying to keep neighborhoods safe. John, his grandfather, started a chapter of the Guardian Angels in D.C. They patrol streets, provide counselling and act as role models. Davon's mother Crystal McNeal works as a city violence interrupter, mediating between gangs to resolve conflicts and prevent retaliation.

Wanda says Davon loved his friends, video games and football. Ever since his older brother started playing, Davon wanted to as well. So Wanda signed him up for coaching.

AYALA: From that point on, his goal was to go to the NFL. That's all he talked about. And when I make it, I'm buying my mothers the biggest house I can find.

CARDOZA: Wanda says neither she nor her husband had a lot of money growing up. Even when they had kids, finances were tight. So when they could finally afford vacations, they were determined to spoil their grandchildren.

AYALA: It's the difference between being a mom and a grandma. So with the grandkids, we, like, we just wanted to do everything with them.

CARDOZA: One time Wanda and John took all the grandchildren to New Jersey to Six Flags. They visited all three parks and came back to D.C.

AYALA: I unpacked everybody's bag, washed everybody's clothes, repacked the bags, got back on the road to Ocean City. We did a 10-day trip.

CARDOZA: Wanda smiles. She has lots of happy memories with Davon. And then she remembers there are no more memories to make - no more Davon to spoil. Her face crumples, and the tears flow. Why, she asks. I just want to ask these guys, why? For NPR News, I'm Kavitha Cardoza in Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF AKIRA KOSEMURA'S "DNA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.