Beloved bus driver Stan McNeil would regularly pray for and encourage the students on his route at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., with high-fives and words of wisdom. So when news spread last week that he abruptly -- and mysteriously -- resigned from his position, students were understandably stunned.
Stan McNeil (Credit: YouTube)
After all, he was no ordinary bus driver. McNeil had a special relationship with his students -- a bond that was built as a result of his ongoing quest to instill positivity in them.
His uplifting speeches and bubbling personality made him so popular, in fact, that he attracted more than 2,500 followers on Twitter, where he goes by the username @busdriverLX.
McNeil was so revered that in Feb. 2012 he was featured in Rutgers' student newspaper, The Daily Targum, as the "person of the week." The article revealed that McNeil served in the Navy, is a retired Newark firefighter -- and that he's a person of faith.
"I enjoy motivating students. It’s important to motivate people because it helps bridge the gap," he said at the time. "Older people gave me encouraging words growing up, so I want to help people today (by giving them)."
Another past interview highlights those inspiring words -- and students' reactions to them:
At first, no definitive explanation was given for McNeil's shocking departure. Paul Carbonari, assistant general manager at First Transit, the bus company that Rutgers contracts, recently only confirmed McNeil's exit to The Daily Targum but he gave no further details. John Karakoglou, manager of transport systems at the college, also would only say that McNeil left of his own accord.
"He had some personal things he was dealing with with the bus company," Karakoglou told The Daily Targum. "I’m not sure, but I believe he had to resign to take care of other endeavors -- he wanted to do other things, I’m not sure. We definitely didn’t fire him."
But McNeil is telling a very different story.
On Tuesday, he appeared in a nearly nine minute video that was uploaded to YouTube by Root of all Good, a production company headed by Rutgers student Jean Isaacs.
Delivering a passionate appeal to students, McNeil said that his employer let him go, because he had "laid hands [on] and prayed" for a student (the process of "laying hands" on individuals during prayer is common in Christian circles, is even one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic church, and can be traced back to the biblical book of James).
McNeil called what happened "unfortunate."
"I don't want to blame anyone. I'm not a complainer, but I want you to know that as you students, you deserve to know the truth and you deserve to know what I said. I had no intention of leaving the job," he said. "I came in ready for work and I got pulled into the office and I was told that my services wasn't needed anymore."
McNeil added, "I was told that they didn't accept the fact that I laid hands and prayed on one of the students, so I said, 'Okay' and they told me that they didn't want to put on my record that they would fire me, so they said that they would put on there that I resigned so I said, 'Okay.' And that was it."
While he didn't go into deep detail about the incident that purportedly led to his dismissal, McNeil said that the woman he prayed for was in a wheelchair and that he truly believed -- and still believes -- that she will receive a miracle. McNeil said that other students had been healed in the past following his invocations, which is why he said the prayer.
McNeil used the video as an opportunity to speak directly to students, telling them that he did not brush them or his job aside. In fact, he made it clear that he cares deeply for the Rutgers student body and wishes he still had his job.
"I wanted you guys to know that I love you and I want you to know the truth -- and the truth is I want to be there with you guys," McNeil continued.
Watch his claims below:
Rather than expressing regret, McNeil stood by his actions.
"I told my boss -- I said I don't regret none of it. This is who I am," he continued. "They think I'm going to compromise ... I'm all about God. I ain't compromising one bit."
Students have been reacting to the news of McNeil's departure on social media.
"Dear Stan, I miss you already! You always brightened my day," one student wrote on Twitter.
Another added, "Rutgers will not be the same without [Stan]."
One parent even got in on the mix, claiming that McNeil has been "an inspiration" to her son and that the students will always remember how he made them feel.
Even after his departure, the driver is still trying to inspire students. On Nov. 7, McNeil tweeted, "You students will always be my kings and queens. Remember that success is yours for the taking. Love ya'll."
TheBlaze left a voicemail for Karakoglou at Rutgers as well as a separate message for a representative at First Transit to learn more about the perceived inconsistencies in the stories surrounding McNeil's departure. We also contacted Rutgers' general press office and we were told to forward all questions to the contracted bus company.
First Transit issued the following statement to TheBlaze on Tuesday evening:
First Transit has long appreciated Mr. McNeil’s rapport with the students he transports at Rutgers University. We respect both his religious beliefs and the many positive messages he shared with the students. We likewise respect the beliefs and practices of all the Rutgers Students who choose to interact with Mr. McNeil.
This case is about safety, which is a core value of First Transit. All of our vehicle operators are instructed, “If it can’t be done safely, don’t do it.” Unfortunately, a full internal review revealed that Mr. McNeil had failed to follow a critical safety protocol that was cause for immediate termination. When advised of his violation, Mr. McNeil chose to resign.
The nature of this purported "safety protocol" infraction is unclear.
Isaacs is planning to produce a complete documentary about McNeil called, "Against The Grain: The Story of Stan the LX Bus Driver," which will be released online in December.
Rutgers University is a public school, which could be the reason that the prayer allegedly sparked such a negative reaction. Fears over church-state separatism have been known to yield similar results.