WASHINGTON — It’s going on two years since 11-year-old Davon McNeal was shot to death at a Fourth of July cookout in 2020. But, it’s still a daily struggle to move forward.
“It’s like it just happened yesterday,” Davon’s mother, Crystal McNeal said in an interview with WUSA9.
She had always been his biggest fan – watching his football games, buying him personalized cleats, celebrating the good grades he kept earning.
“He was going to finish school – he would have been in the ninth grade this year at the age of 13. He wanted to go to college, and he was going to play for the NFL,” she said. “And take care of his family and buy his mom a house.”
Now, those dreams are immortalized in Crystal McNeal’s basement – a celebration of her son filled with pictures, murals, football jerseys, even a helmet the now Washington Commanders gifted her last year.
“My best friend. That’s how close we was,” Davon McNeal’s younger brother, Kevon McNeal, said.
Kevon McNeal, now 11 years old, told WUSA9 in an interview that he lives in fear of the same thing happening to himself or other family members and friends.
“It's like sometimes I don’t like to go outside because [there could be] shootings and stuff,” he said.
In fact, the CDC recently released data showing guns were the No. 1 killer of children in 2020, a number including Davon McNeal's death.
On July 4, 2020, the 11-year-old was running into a home in Southeast D.C. to grab a phone charger. He and his family had spent the day at an anti-violence cookout that his mother had organized.
Crystal McNeal had stayed in the car with some of her other children when the group heard gunshots and ducked down.
She rushed out of her car to check on Davon and saw her son lying on the ground.
At first, she thought he was just grazed and would be OK, but then she found out the truth at the hospital.
“I kept on saying 'Davon wake up.' He won't move. And, I start feeling on his body. I always played with his feet. I started touching his feet, and everything just was cold,” Crystal McKneal said. “And I was just start asking the doctors like 'why is his body cold?' Then I knew my baby was gone.”
Her children said they don’t expect the violence to stop in D.C.
“A lot of kids, they do need help. I get phone calls like 3 o'clock in the morning, I get DMs asking me like when they gonna be OK?” Crystal McNeal said. “And, I don’t have the words for them because I don't know when I'm gonna be OK.”
Instead of words – she planned an escape to Florida for her kids and some of Davon McNeal’s friends.
“It was awesome,” Davon McNeal's stepbrother, Kaliek Lawson, 14, said.
Kevon McNeal said that’s where he feels safest – in Florida.
Crystal McNeal said she is doing what she can, but it’s a lot to shoulder on her own.
“I'm still in the same community doing the work where I lost my child, and I don't get the help and support like you will think that I should get,” she said.
She said officials and neighbors alike need to step up to take care of these children – and her.
“We need more recreation centers for the youth,” she said. “We most definitely need mental health support for the kids, and they know it, too.”
As she works to uplift D.C. kids, she’s leaning on the walls covered in memories of Davon for support.
Crystal McNeal believes her biggest fan, Davon McNeal, is standing watch as she works to make a difference in the life of others grieving.
“I'm still out here doing the work, just because I don't want to see another child gone,” she said.
Crystal is focusing next on a foundation she’s building in honor of her late son.
First and foremost – she plans to offer mental health services, connecting children to trauma therapists. She also wants to create a center where children can play sports and do crafts as a sanctuary in the city.
At the same time, she’s still fighting for justice for her son's death.
Four men have pleaded guilty to his killing, but she’s not satisfied with the proposed length of their sentences – all less than 20 years.
Crystal McNeal said she, and her son Davon, knew all of the individuals charged. She said she had been working to help them stay on the right path.
They’re scheduled to be sentenced in June, and Crystal McNeal plans to be there advocating for more time.
“The time that they giving these guys is not right,” she said. “We ain't the one pull the trigger. They're the ones that pull the trigger and took someone’s life that looked up to all of them.”