A detective who investigated a double murder in which an eight-year-old boy was left badly burnt has ended up taking him into his own family.
Mike Blair and his wife Danyel adopted Ronnie Oneal, who had been soaked in petrol, set alight and stabbed by his father.
Ronnie witnessed the murder of his mother, Kenyatta Barron, in March 2018 at their home near Tampa, Florida, and later testified against his father, Ronnie Oneal III, who pleaded not guilty. Oneal Snr was sentenced to three life terms plus 60 years for the murdering his girlfriend and their disabled nine-year-old daughter, and for the attempted murder of Ronnie.
“It was extremely gruesome,” Blair, 45, said of the murder scene. “It was chaotic. It was violent.”
A colleague mentioned to Blair that Ronnie, who was being treated in the intensive care unit at Tampa General Hospital for severe burns, knife wounds and internal trauma, enjoyed watching American football.
Blair contacted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who agreed to donate a jersey and other sports gear. As Blair was leaving the hospital room after bringing the gifts, Ronnie took his hand and asked if he would stay and watch a film with him. Blair promised to return that evening with his wife after work.
“I was kind of shocked because at the time, he tried to keep work and life compartmentalised,” Danyel, 42, told The Washington Post. “It surprised me in a good way that he was willing to take me into that world and allow me to meet this kid.”
The couple, who have been married for 23 years and have five children aged between 15 and 23, said they felt a strong connection to Ronnie. “He had skin grafting over 30 per cent of his body, he had a breathing tube, he had a feeding tube,” Danyel said. “He had extensive damage. Nobody had expected him to live through what he did.”
Once Ronnie had recovered he was placed with foster families, though the first couple of placements were unsuccessful. His legal guardian remembered the detective and called Blair. “There’s going to be a lot of medical appointments,” the guardian told Blair, who replied: “Just bring him to our house. We’ll take him.”
By the end of his first evening “we made the decision to adopt him,” Blair said. “The biggest thing that we wanted to give him was stability and a place where he knows he’s safe. Whatever we needed to do to move towards that, we were willing to do. We kind of jumped off a cliff and figured we’d land OK. And we have.”
Ronnie, now 12, told the newspaper: “They take care of me. They’re really nice. I feel happy.”
Blair added: “We assured him that he would never move again, that he would be permanently part of the family. We can’t imagine life without him.
“He has a daunting question he thinks about every single day, which is, ‘Why?’ It’s the unanswerable question.”