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Standoff ends with suicide

12-5-2011 Ohio:

HIGHLANDTOWN - A man about to face charges of gross sexual imposition chose to end his own life following a standoff Saturday at his Steubenville Pike home.

According to Sheriff Ray Stone, it is believed Howard McNeal shot himself at the same time law enforcement officers were breaking into his home with a battering ram. His death ended a standoff in which an armed McNeal along with two dogs kept officers away for more than five hours.

The incident began early Saturday when McNeal's wife came home shortly after 10 a.m. and reportedly found McNeal, 58, involved in a sexual act with a 3-year-old granddaughter. The grandmother grabbed the child and ran from the home. On her way to take the child to Salem Community Hospital for treatment, McNeal's wife found an Ohio Highway Patrol trooper handling a crash on nearby state Route 518. She then reported what she had seen at her home.

The trooper contacted the county Sheriff's Department. At about 10:15 a.m. a deputy and a trooper went to the door at 15469 Steubenville Pike, where McNeal reportedly met the two men holding a handgun.

Stone said at that point, the county Special Response Team (SRT) team was called to the house, along with additional deputies and troopers. An officer from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in the area also assisted. Assistant Prosecutor John Gamble was called to have a warrant created based on probable cause being established. The warrant was for a third-degree felony gross sexual imposition, a charge based on the child being less than 13-years-old.

One deputy spoke with McNeal on the telephone throughout part of the day, and it was hoped he would give himself up. But eventually, he began calling relatives to say his farewells. Stone said McNeal had already served time for a 1985 sexual battery case in another state, possibly Florida.

"He didn't want to go back to jail," Stone said.

In attempts to try to get him out, deputies used distractive explosives, rammed the door and when it they got the door open, shot tear gas into the house. However, McNeal's body was found inside.

The house also caught fire, which Stone said could have been from the tear gas canisters. The Highlandtown Fire Department, which was already waiting in the area, was assisted by West Point Fire Department and Franklin Township firefighters to put out the fire.

Information about the extent of the damage to the home was not available Saturday night. ..Source.. by DEANNE JOHNSON, Staff Writer

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