TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — In a trial that captivated the Tampa Bay area and the nation this year, Ronnie Oneal III insisted on acting as his own attorney in a capital murder case.
It began March 18, 2018 with a frantic 911 call as Kenyatta Barron called for help and begged for her life.
That night, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Detective Mike Blair was called to the scene.
“By the time I arrived that night, we were told there was a child being medevacked to Tampa General, but he was not expected to live,” Blair said.
The veteran officer has responded to hundreds of calls in his career. This call changed his life.
As a detective on the homicide team, Blair had little involvement in the criminal investigation of this case. But a visit to the hospital to see the surviving victim changed everything for him.
“The easiest way to surmise the whole, this is – it’s been a God thing for us,” said Blair.
Little Ronnie was just 7 years old when his father stabbed him and lit him on fire in their Riverview home on the night he murdered his mother and sister.
Recovering from his stab wounds and burns has not been easy, but it’s important for Ronnie to remember his mother.
“She was just a good mom. We did like a lot of things together. She was nice, pushed me on the swing, made me some good wings,” said Ronnie.
For him, the murders – and even the trial – were one brief moment in time. He doesn’t want his mother and sister remembered for only that.
Kenyatta Barron had gone back to school and was enrolled at Hillsborough Community College at the time of the murders. She still found time to play football with her son in the front yard. She also made him bean pie.
Ronnie’s sister, Ron’Niveya, was severely handicapped. She was confined to a wheelchair and could not speak, so Ronnie learned some sign language to communicate with her. He says his sister went to school and was even recognized because of her positive attitude.
“There is this thing called terrific kid and she got that a lot,” Ronnie said.
While he was in the hospital recovering from his injuries, Detective Blair brought Ronnie things from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers through his connections with the team.
One night, as Blair was leaving, Ronnie reached out to the detective with a simple request that touched the big man’s heart.
“He kind of held on to my hand as I left, and he said, ‘could you watch a movie with me?'” Blair recalled.
At that moment, the deputy had to return to work. He also knew he had to call his wife.
“We were planning to go on a date night that night and I said, ‘hey, instead of doing date night, do you mind if we watch a movie with this kid?'” said Blair.
Mike and Danyel Blair have five of their own children and a full life. They ditched their “date night” together and went to the hospital.
“I had already known that I would want to take Ronnie home with us, starting that night,” Danyel Blair said.
It didn’t happen instantly. Ronnie was living with other family members at the time, but there were some problems in that home.
A Guardian Ad Litem was supervising his care. The Blairs met the Guardian in the hospital.
“I kind of did the polite, ‘if he ever needs anything, give me a call,'” Detective Blair said.
Eventually, the call came. For Detective Blair, it was more than a phone call – it was a calling.
“When I got the phone call, I was driving, and I was driving by our church and the guardian was asking, ‘do you know of somebody who can help us out,'” he recalled.
Danyel Blair had prayed for that moment.
“I had already started praying that God would soften Michael’s heart and say, ‘OK yes, we have a place and Ronnie belongs home with us,'” she explained.
Their other children had also encouraged their father to accept him.
“My kids had come to me at one point in this period of time and said to me, ‘Dad, you just need to go with Mom on this; we need to start fostering,'” Detective Blair said.
Now Ronnie has a new home, five new siblings that have accepted him into their lives and new, loving parents who have formally adopted him.
“They are really nice people. They are the best moms and dads, and they really take care of me. There is no one else better than them,” Little Ronnie said.
Detective Blair says they’ve adopted a family mantra that Ronnie repeats to himself in times of stress.
“It goes; ‘I am safe, I am loved and I am part of this family,'” he said.