“Mommy, mommy! Man! Park!”
Five-year-old Langston McNeil of Conway, who was diagnosed with autism last year and only speaks sparingly, urgently said these words to his mother Brittany on the morning of April 14 as they drove past Collins Park in Conway.
“As I continued to drive, he started rocking back and forth screaming ‘Help! Help! Help!’,” McNeil said. “I looked in my rearview mirror and I couldn’t make out what it was.”
She saw a bicycle on the ground and something else she couldn’t quite see, so she quickly turned around in a nearby gas station and headed back to Collins Park to find a man lying on the ground next to the bike.
“He was very still. I thought he was dead,” she said. “He had one shoe off. He wasn’t responding and was cold to the touch, but eventually started slurring his words.”
She flagged down a passing police officer who stayed with them until the ambulance arrived, and she said she ran to her truck to grab raincoats her husband had kept in the back, so the man could stay warm.
McNeil said she overheard emergency medical technicians say the man was 64 years old, and had broken his leg nine weeks prior to being found in the park.
“I was very taken aback by the whole thing. Had Langston not been with me … it’s like it was God himself. It was very touching,” McNeil said.
Langston was diagnosed with autism in January of 2020, and began attending the Early Childhood Special Education program at Homewood Elementary School in February of this year.
His teacher at HES, Angie Dennis, said he was celebrated as a hero once she heard why he was late for school that day.
“He had significant communication deficits as well as social skill delays. We were giving him services to help him in these areas,” Dennis said. “He was not saying a lot, was not even identifying pictures, and he wasn’t even greeting people. For this child to be able to recognize that ‘there is a man there, this situation doesn’t look right, we need to help’ – this is huge.”
McNeil said they also go to Charleston every Thursday for speech therapy and occupational therapy since last year.
“He’ll say words here and there but he wasn’t verbal or speaking sentences or anything [before this],” McNeil said.
Dennis said that she hopes other families can understand how important early intervention is for children who may be delayed developmentally.
“Not many families are aware there are early intervention options before school starts,” Dennis said.
Dennis complimented the McNeil family, saying they are very giving people and what Langston did was simply him modeling what he sees at home.
“We teach them that,” McNeil said. “We don’t teach them anything other than love. He’s raised in a very loving home and sees people as people. He knows to do good.”
She said she has her children, including Langston’s siblings Alexander (10), Landry (4) and Aulora (1) repeat affirmations every morning, and Langston is improving every day on being able to say his.
McNeil said Langston’s father Jeremy, a Marine Corps veteran, was also amazed when he heard about what happened, continually saying “Thank God for him” - that he always knew there was something special about Langston.
“It was just a heartfelt moment for everyone,” Brittany McNeil said.
They still don’t know the identity of the man that Langston helped, but McNeil said they hope to be able to find out soon if he is okay.