Child abuse victim tells Paint Henry Blue of harrowing ordeal

By James Saxton
Times Correspondent

“Please don’t kill me!”

The plea came from a 12-year-old Kevin McNeil, who while walking home from school one day was lured beneath some high school bleachers by a man he didn’t know.

Audience members and dignitaries, including Det. Kevin McNeil (front row, third from right), raise blue pinwheels during a Paint Henry Blue kickoff reception Thursday night at the Merle Manders Conference Center in Stockbridge at the beginning of child abuse prevention month. Also pictured are (l. to r.) Linda Luke-Hutchison, Gloria and McDonough Mayor Billy Copeland, County Manager Cheri Hobson-Matthews, Stockbridge City Councilperson Elton Alexander, McNeil and Stockbridge Mayor Judy Neal. Special photo

The attacker beat the boy savagely. “With his man hands he hit this boy as hard as he could,” McNeil recalled, telling the story in the third person to a crowd of more than 300 in Stockbridge Thursday night, only to reveal at the end of the disturbing account that he was that boy.

April is child abuse prevention month, and lead organization Prevent Child Abuse Henry County hosted a Paint Henry Blue kickoff reception Thursday night at the Merle Manders Conference Center to raise awareness of the problem.

The efforts of a number of agencies in the county aim to prevent what happened to young Kevin McNeil that dark day.

“His pleas for his life caused the man only to hit him harder,” McNeil told the crowd. “Once he was done beating this little boy, he then did the unthinkable to this little boy, sexually assaulting this little boy. Then he wrapped his grown man hands around the little boy’s neck and began squeezing as hard as he could.”

The attacker ignored the boy’s pleas for his life and then slammed the boy’s head against the concrete. Choking on his own blood, eyes swollen almost shut, the boy continually begged the man, “Please don’t kill me.” The attacker picked him up, turned him upside down and slammed him head-first into the concrete.

“The little boy could hear in his head his mother’s voice calling, ‘come home,’ so he fought that man with all of his life.” McNeil said he broke free, escaped from the bleachers, darted out into a busy street – narrowly avoiding being hit – and watched his attacker disappear into the night.

When his mom saw him limping home two hours later, McNeil said she asked him over and again what happened. He said all he told her was that he was robbed, finding it unbearable to admit he’d been raped and beaten as well.

It was that story that McNeil said kept him up at night, gave him nightmares and left him angry at the dark. He said he suppressed the memories for years, even playing football by those same bleachers and never looking at them twice.

As an adult McNeil became a police officer. He said it wasn’t until he watched children go through the same thing he did – watching them struggle through it with forensic interviewers – that he started to face his own trauma and got therapy.

“I’d struggled with suicidal thoughts, (problems with) intimacy and making relationships since then, but never talked about it,” McNeil said. It hurt to open the old wound, he said, but it enabled him to reconnect with himself, “bringing that scared boy inside back from the brink.”

Today McNeil is a Special Victims unit detective with the DeKalb County Police Department in Tucker. He is also an author and empowerment coach and the owner of a motivational speaking company called Believe, which specializes in empowering abuse victims to recover their authentic selves and live out their life’s purpose.

“And that’s why I do it,” McNeil said. “Not just because it’s a job, and not even to stop the bad guys. No, it’s because of one word: Hope. We know there’s hope.”

Hope, and making a difference one child at a time, were continual themes Thursday night at the Paint Henry Blue reception as leaders, law enforcement and agencies from the county and all four cities joined forces.

“I am so proud of this community,” said Susan Crutchfield, chair of Prevent Child Abuse Henry County. “Our leaders really stepped up to help build awareness.”

The cities of McDonough, Stockbridge and Hampton each adorned their City Hall property with blue pinwheels – symbolic of child abuse awareness – and used special lighting to turn their fountain blue, she said. The City of Locust Grove also planted pinwheels at their train depot, and each city sent its mayor, police officials and other leaders.

Henry County cable TV channel SCB-TV reporter Shana Thornton emceed the event, which also featured accounts by child abuse victim and awareness advocates Bianca Johnston and Lyric Schwadron, songs by the K-Piano Club of Stockbridge, the color guard of NJROTC of Stockbridge High School, and proclamations from the county and from Stock-bridge Mayor Judy Neal, McDonough Mayor Billy Cope-land, Locust Grove Mayor Robert Price and Hampton Mayor Steve Hutchison.