published Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Whitfield County family pleads for suspect in homicide case to give up

Kathy Van Kleeck , surrounded by family, urges her brother Sonny Neal to turn himself in to authorities at the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office on Friday. Neal is charged with killing his wife, Jessica, and her grandfather, Donald Shedd, on Thursday. 
Kathy Van Kleeck , surrounded by family, urges her brother Sonny Neal to turn himself in to authorities at the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office on Friday. Neal is charged with killing his wife, Jessica, and her grandfather, Donald Shedd, on Thursday. 
Photo by Kate Harrison.

DALTON, Ga. -- Standing in the glaring sun Friday outside the Whitfield County Sheriff's Office, two families wept as the sheriff stressed the urgency of finding the man suspected of killing his own wife and her grandfather.

When Sheriff Scott Chitwood stopped speaking, members of both families -- the slaying suspect's and the victim's -- embraced.

"Its not just our loss -- they're losing, too," said Cindy Miller, stepmother of 27-year-old Jessica Neal, who was found slain at her home Thursday morning along with her grandfather, Donald Shedd, 70.

Officials are hunting for Adolph "Sonny" Neal, 49, Jessica's husband, who faces murder charges in the slayings that Chitwood called a "horrific" crime of passion.

"We trusted in him. I loved him," said Miller. "But I want him to be caught and to be punished. Something must really be wrong for him to do what he did."

Sonny Neal's family begged for him to turn himself in.

"I love him and I'll be with him through this whole process. I want him to be OK. ... I just want him safe," Miranda Buckner, Sonny Neal's daughter from another marriage, said through tears. "It's just not at all like him to do something like this."

But the sheriff stressed that anyone in contact with Sonny Neal could be in danger.

"We do consider him dangerous at this point. We feel like people that may be closely related -- family, friends, work associates -- could possibly be in harm's way," he said.

Agencies have issued a national "be on the lookout" alert for Neal. Chitwood said the department was prepared to offer a reward for information leading to Sonny Neal's whereabouts, but he did not give a range.

Chitwood released no new information about the investigation into the slayings, such as the cause of death.

Miller said the family is planning for a funeral early next week and struggling to understand the couple's relationship, which she said was more volatile than people may have realized.

"Jessica was always outgoing, always happy, always together in public. But that's what's hard ... we're finding out that she wasn't always happy," she said. "They had two lives. Outside and inside."

Both families say the couple was deeply devoted to their 9-year-old daughter, who lived with them and Shedd in a house on Green Springs Road.

Jessica Neal snapped a photo of herself and her daughter every day before sending the little girl to school.

"Every day. Just because she thought ... 'If something ever happened to Maddie, I'll have a picture of her for police,'" Miller explained between sobs.

And nearly every day, the girl's great-grandfather, Shedd, picked her up from school. He would spoil her with junk food and take care of her while her parents worked at their tanning salon, Dazzle.

The child found Shedd's body in the kitchen Thursday morning. She ran to a neighbor's house, who then alerted officials. They found Jessica Neal's body in an outside building.

Miller said the families still know very little about how their loved ones died.

"We know almost nothing. I asked if she had defensive wounds, and they said, 'Yes -- she put up a hell of a fight.' She grew up with a tough life, so I could see her being tough. ... Not tough enough."

Sonny Neal's family also said he had a hard upbringing, but said he was fun-loving and cheerful, not cruel.

"My brothers were taught never to lay their hands on a woman. That's how our daddy taught us," said Sonny Neal's sister Kathy Van Kleeck, who drove 10 hours from Virginia after getting the news.

"Everybody looks at him in the paper like he's this awful guy," said Neal's niece, Marie Van Kleeck. "But when you know him from since you were born. ... We just don't know him as this guy in the paper. We just don't know what happened."

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