Reflecting on the Letitia Davis murder: How WSU responded to the tragedy in the park

November will mark five years since the Letitia Davis murder and the establishment of the Enough is Enough campaign.

In+November+2014%2C+Letitia++Davis+was+raped+and+set+on+fire+in+Fairmount+Park.+She+died+of+her+injuries+eight+days+later.+In+response+to+the+murder%2C+Wichita+State+launched+the+Enough+is+Enough+campaign.
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Reflecting on the Letitia Davis murder: How WSU responded to the tragedy in the park

In November 2014, Letitia  Davis was raped and set on fire in Fairmount Park. She died of her injuries eight days later. In response to the murder, Wichita State launched the Enough is Enough campaign.

In November 2014, Letitia Davis was raped and set on fire in Fairmount Park. She died of her injuries eight days later. In response to the murder, Wichita State launched the Enough is Enough campaign.

Khánh Nguyễn

In November 2014, Letitia Davis was raped and set on fire in Fairmount Park. She died of her injuries eight days later. In response to the murder, Wichita State launched the Enough is Enough campaign.

Khánh Nguyễn

Khánh Nguyễn

In November 2014, Letitia Davis was raped and set on fire in Fairmount Park. She died of her injuries eight days later. In response to the murder, Wichita State launched the Enough is Enough campaign.

Standing on the porch of Dreena Reed’s house, you see a row of small houses surrounding Fairmount Park — a place to gather and the focal point of the northeast Wichita community.

Reed looks out at her neighborhood, pointing to homes and describing the people who live in them.

Across the street is a yellow house with wind chimes on its porch and a well-kept yard. That’s where her father lives. Her mother lived there too before she died last year.

Her parents were married for over 70 years. They married young. Reed’s father was 16, and her mother 14. Together, they had 14 children.

Reed was born in San Antonio, Texas, but grew up in Wichita, near 25th and Hillside. She’s lived in her home on Vassar Street since 1992.

Reed likes to take her 2-year-old grandson to play in the park when the weather is decent. But she said she worries about her and her family’s safety there — especially in recent years.

In November 2014, the Fairmount neighborhood was traumatized by a horrific event that culminated in the park — the rape and murder of Letitia Davis.

Reed remembers the night well.

She said her son was coming home on the evening of Nov. 14, 2014. He parked in front of the house and heard a disturbance coming from the park — screaming, he said.

Reed said her son told her he thought it was Wichita State students “having a bonfire or something.”

As he got out of his car, he saw a man running from the park up the street.

He went inside, and within minutes, the block was packed with law enforcement and first responders. Police knocked on Reed’s door. She didn’t answer.

“They had it so lit up over here with the police and all of that,” she said. “Today, you just can’t trust folks — not even the police anymore. I didn’t even open the door.”

They soon found out what had happened at Fairmount Park.

Davis, 36, was beaten, raped, and set on fire. She suffered burns on more than 50% of her body and died eight days later from complications.

“I asked my son, did he see anything? Did you hear anything? And he said, ‘Mom, I did,’” Reed said.

“He was in front of his car. He raised up enough just to see the guy running across here up the street.”

Reed was aware of the position that put her son in.

“The way things is today, you can’t say too much because you have folks knocking at your door with death threats and all this kind of stuff, you know, but right is right, and wrong is wrong,” Reed said.

She encouraged her son to speak with police.

“I got him in touch with the detectives and they talked to my son,” Reed said. “And at the time, you know, my son, he was on paper and everything, and he had to report that to his probation officer and all of that stuff. But he gave a description of the guy.”

It fit the description of Cornell McNeal, the man who was later arrested for Davis’s murder. McNeal has pled not guilty and is currently awaiting a second competency trial for the capital murder and rape of Davis.

“The park hasn’t been the same since,” Reed said.

‘Enough is Enough’

In response to the Davis murder, Wichita State launched the Enough is Enough campaign.

The title came out of a conversation between late WSU President John Bardo and Ted Ayres, then WSU vice-president and general counsel emeritus.

“The president’s executive team was meeting with the president shortly after the incident, and our conversation morphed into discussing [Davis’ death],” Ayres said. “I made the comment that it was so unfortunate — certainly for her, her family, her children, and the neighborhood, and in a sense, Wichita State University.

“At a certain point in time, enough is enough, and President Bardo said, ‘You know, I really like that. I think we can do something with that.’”

A week later, Ayres got a call from Vice President for Strategic Communications Lou Heldman, saying Bardo had selected Ayres to head up a new initiative called “Enough is Enough.”

In December 2014, Bardo announced the formation of the “Enough is Enough” Task Force.

Enough is Enough took on other names during Ayres’ time.

“As I got into it, we used a number of different names, and developed a Shocker Neighborhood Coalition to implement Enough is Enough,” Ayres said.

In February 2015, the Shocker Neighborhood Coalition (SNC) was formed.

WSU’s Hugo Wall School of Public Affairs joined with several partners, including the Fairmount Neighborhood Association, to submit a grant application to The Kansas Health Foundation (KHF) on behalf of SNC.

In May 2015, the KHF awarded a Community Engagement Initiative grant of $250,000 to the Hugo Wall School and the WSU Foundation.

The funds would help WSU implement a three-year community engagement project to address topics such as safety and quality of life in the neighborhoods surrounding campus, starting with Fairmount.

Although Ayres had intended to retire, “The president asked me to stay aboard in a part-time role as director of the Office of Community Engagement and Opportunity,” he said.

Ayres retired from the full-time general counsel position on June 30, 2015. The next day, he began his new position as director.

“My phased retirement appointment was for three years, from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2018, and then just coincidentally, that Kansas Health Foundation grant was for three years and pretty much covered me there,” Ayres said.

Born out of the Enough is Enough initiative, Community Engagement and Opportunity’s mission was to join with surrounding communities, neighborhood representatives, and local government to help create safe, economically vibrant neighborhoods near campus.

This article is part of an ongoing series about Fairmount. The next article, also by Audrey Korte, will focus on the achievements of the Enough is Enough initiative and the continued relationship between Fairmount and WSU. Finally, Matthew Kelly will explore the implications of continued commercial development around the community.