On anniversary of Fairmount Park attack, reflect on violence in society

It will be one year Saturday since Letitia Davis, 36, was attacked at a nearby park, raped and set on fire.

It was a cool November evening, the night the men’s basketball team played New Mexico State. Just hours after fans left campus, Wichita firefighters responded at 11:20 p.m. to reports of flames in Fairmount Park, located about a block south of Wichita State.

Within the fire they found Davis, a Wichita woman who was walking through the park when she had a random encounter with a man who police say is Cornell McNeal, who has been charged with capital murder and rape in connection with the attack. Davis died from her injuries about a week after the attack.

McNeal is expected to plead not guilty at a Nov. 12 arraignment, according to a Wichita Eagle article.

Because of the horrific crime, the last year on campus has held an unsafe, uncertain tone. The neighborhoods surrounding campus had always been a safety concern for students — robberies have riddled university parking lots and sidewalks for years — but this heinous crime defined what has happened in the last year.

Students directed their safety concerns toward the university, which pointed out jurisdictional issues between University and Wichita Police officers. 

There were safety forums, safety walks and the addition of more officers and more lighting. 

Students became more aware of their surroundings as they walk to their cars parked on the outskirts of campus, many of them just yards from the site of the crime one year ago. They took advantage of safety escorts from the UPD.

Students, faculty and staff came together to host a benefit for Davis’ family. Thousands of dollars were raised in her memory.

An effort was created last December to strengthen the surrounding communities in an effort to further join WSU and its neighbors, which hold significant connections to the university both in proximity and in history.

If anything positive could have come from such a cruel and dreadful incident, it’s that Wichita and WSU united under one cause to hopefully solve the problem of violence in our community. The attack was a wake up call in many ways. 

In some way, WSU students, faculty and staff were impacted by what happened at Fairmount Park one year ago. Do you carry pepper spray to your car? Do you request a safety escort late at night? Do you walk in groups? Do you teach your children respect and equality?

As we reflect on this anniversary, The Sunflower urges those on campus to pause for a moment to remember the children who lost a mother, the man who lost a fiancé and the woman who lost a best friend.

— Editorial Board