In securing wheelchair-bound students, bus operators for First Transit are required to attach four straps from the bus to the wheelchair. McNeil only attached two.
“I want to be truthful,” McNeil says. “What [First Transit] said about the straps, they’re right. I did use two. I’m not going to deny that.” Yet McNeil says that the safety violation was not the reason he was initially asked to resign. “They mentioned the straps, but they said I was fired because I prayed over somebody. . . . That was the only reason. . . . Later they changed it around and said it was the straps.”
When I asked McNeil if he thought he would have been fired for the safety violation alone had he not prayed, he wasn’t sure. “I really don’t know other people’s minds,” he says.
Students at Rutgers have rallied to McNeil’s cause, some circulating a petition to bring him back to the school. I spoke with Gene Isaacs, a senior film student at Rutgers, who recorded a YouTube video for McNeil to explain what happened and also plans to make a documentary about McNeil for a class. Isaacs says that he thinks the safety issue wasn’t the real cause for McNeil’s expulsion but just an excuse. “They were always telling [McNeil] to calm down about [his praying]. . . . They were pretty strong about him putting his hands on the girl in the wheelchair,” Isaacs tells me. “The whole safety part of it was just giving them the reason to terminate him.”
McNeil tells me that now that he’s no longer working at Rutgers, he’s running family errands and working with his church. “I’m a retired fireman,” he says. “This was a part-time job for me. There wasn’t a lot of money.” He gets by financially and says that he really just misses the students: “The only reason why I was there was because I enjoy the students. Some things you do because you love it and it’s not a money thing.”
He holds no grudges against his old bosses, whose names he didn’t want to give to the press, and is instead focusing on his ultimate dream: becoming a pastor. “That’s why I believe in healing and I pray,” McNeil tells me. “Everything that happened on that bus, how those students felt and them feeling uplifted, it’s God. I just pray.”
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.