CINCINNATI — For Metro Operator Antonio McClendon, a shooting that claimed the life of one of his passengers reopens familiar wounds. His son was shot four years ago — the 21-year-old was about to enlist in the U.S. Army, he said.
“Brought me four years back to the incident of my son,” McClendon said Monday. “I didn’t want that family to feel what I have felt of losing a son.”
For the first time publicly, McClendon talked about the Aug. 17 shooting that killed another 21-year-old man.
McClendon was driving a Metro bus along Dana Avenue at about 9 p.m. when a stray bullet punched through a bus window, and struck Neko Larkin.
McClendon told reporters he sensed there was a conflict, and said he should have drove to the next bus stop.
“I wish I would have listened to the Holy Ghost when he told me to go to the next stop, but I listened to my customers instead,” McClendon said.
The shooting happened near the intersection of Dana and Reading Road. Caught in the crossfire, McClendon drove the bus to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, stopping once to let someone on the bus to get that person out of harm’s way.
“As I was driving I was nervous, I was kind of a wreck,” McClendon said. “But I knew that if I wouldn’t have drove the way I did, someone else or even myself could’ve been harmed.”
Larkin died on the way, according to police.
Pulling from his own experiences, McClendon told Larkin’s family that “life can go on,” during Monday's news conference.
“There’s going to be mourning and crying. There’s going to be sorrow,” he said, “but God is able to take that sorrow and turn it into joy if you just let him.”
McClendon said he drives several routes for Metro. Still, he knew Larkin and talked to him regularly about work and family.
“Every time he got on my bus, and it could be times when I’m down, he’d get on my bus, he’d be like, ‘Hey bus driver, how you doing today?’ He just lifts my spirit every time he gets on my bus,” McClendon said of Larkin.
The experienced bus operator said he hopes to return to driving soon, but has his own emotional battle to overcome. To the other passengers who experienced the same fear that Saturday night, McClendon said he hopes to be more than a driver. He loves his passengers, and he loves his job.
“I feel that those that were involved need a spokesperson, need somebody to encourage them to not be afraid to ride the Metro,” he explained. “I’m there for them and I’m gonna get back into driving soon.”
McClendon earned praise from Metro spokesperson Brandy Jones.
“There’s no playbook for that,” she said. “You made the right call in seeking safety and security for your customers, and we applaud you.”
Larkin’s funeral will be held Sept. 5.
Cincinnati police said the bus was not the intended target of the shooting. The bullet that hit Larkin had been part of a separate gunfight nearby.
One day after Larkin was shot, Cincinnati police tweeted photos of a person who may be connected to the shooting. Anyone with information is encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at 513-352-3040.
Take a close look at these pictures. This person is wanted by @CincyPD Homicide Unit in connection with the Murder of Neko Larkin. If you know something, say something. Call @CincyPD_3523040. Tips are anonymous. pic.twitter.com/2nrOHELFqE
— Cincinnati Police Department (@CincyPD) August 18, 2019