A Big Brother to Everyone
From the start, Kevin Neary’s story was treated as much more than just an isolated crime story. And that’s always surprised him. He says he can’t figure out why there have been so many features on him in newspapers and on TV stations. Or why more than 100,000 people from nearly 50 different countries have visited the website (kevinneary.com) that his brothers created to keep friends and family updated on his progress and accept donations through a trust fund. And it’s equal parts baffling and humbling why so many of those donations came from people he’s never even met.
“I never really understood why it got so much publicity,” Kevin says. “Why me? What makes me such a big story? Why did people want to know about me?”
Perhaps Kevin’s situation has caused people to think more about gun control, urban crime, or the beneath-the-surface tension that exists in gentrifying neighborhoods. Or perhaps it’s simpler than that. Perhaps, at its very core, it’s a story about how one person in one city deals with one life-changing event. What would you do if you were walking home one night, only to wake up and never be able to walk again? How would you find the will to go on when you need assistance showering, eating, and brushing your teeth? Would the anger come spilling out? What about the sadness? For many of his friends and family, it’s put their own lives into a different light.
“It makes you think not only about the horrible thing that has happened,” his friend Darian says, “but it makes you wonder how many times you’ve had a close brush with something like this and not even known it.”
“There’s no reason for him to have to go through this,” adds his brother Joe, who admits to having felt “very intense anger” at times over the past year-and-a-half. “He was just walking down the street after walking someone home. That’s the frustrating part. He was doing everything right. He was working hard. He was trying to make something happen—and all of a sudden someone comes and takes that away.”
But Kevin is trying to handle his situation as well as he possibly can, which is probably one reason the cameras and reporters keep finding him. At Easton’s sentencing hearing last September, Kevin delivered an impassioned speech to the court about how difficult his daily life has become. Then, he looked at Easton for the first time since the shooting and said he wasn’t angry or bitter with him. (Later, he’d admit he was annoyed that Easton seemed disinterested during the whole hearing, but reiterated that he doesn’t “hold any animosity because he was in a certain circumstance that led him to do certain things based on certain environmental factors.”) Easton, who decided to forgo a trial and plead guilty, got sentenced to 30-60 years in prison by 65-year-old judge Jeffrey Minehart, who told a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter that Kevin’s impact statement was one of the most heartbreaking things he’s ever heard in his courtroom.
Those who know him best weren’t surprised by how gregarious, uplifting, and generous in spirit Kevin seemed during that difficult day in court. That’s the way he’s always been. When he got to Penn in 2001 after transferring from the University of Miami—“one of the best decisions I could make,” he says—fellow transfers Darian and Tom immediately noticed how friendly and easygoing he was. That continued through college and after, as they all remained close friends.
During graduation week in 2004, they were celebrating at an Old City bar when Kevin decided to buy an expensive bottle of champagne. When they finished that, he bought another one. Years later, he texted Darian to come out of his Fordham law school class. Darian obliged and immediately saw Kevin, who had decided to make the trip to New York to surprise his friend for his birthday.
“He’s a big brother to me but he’s also a big brother to everyone he meets,” says Chris. “I think his friends from Penn will tell you that he’s always the first person to pick up the check and take care of people.”
Kevin’s gregarious nature spread to many different groups of his friends, and his boundless energy—“I used to say to people that Kevin could be asleep in the house and you’d know he was there,” his father says with a laugh—allowed him to maintain all of those close friendships. That was part of the reason he loved Philly so much: he was always around people, doing new things.
Luckily for him, the people are still around him, perhaps now in even greater numbers. The toughest part, he admits, has been losing the ability to do things on his own. His personality may have survived the gunshot wound but his independence died in the ambulance that night.
“I just liked walking around and doing nothing,” Kevin reminisces. “You know what I mean? You just have those days when you just take in the surroundings. You just have a carefree walk. Yeah, that would be what I miss, especially in the city. You just do nothing, take in the sights, sit there and see what’s going on around you, without a care in the world.”