As Oliver Neal stood on the sidewalk Friday afternoon, watching his white Pontiac being loaded onto a flatbed truck, he was still having trouble hearing in his left ear.

“I thought I got shot — that’s how close the bullet came to my head,” Neal, 60, said less than 24 hours after surviving an attempted carjacking and gun battle in West Mount Airy during which he shot and wounded a 16-year-old gunman.

Neal shot the robber, whom police have not named, in both legs. He is hospitalized. Police said that Neal, who has a license to carry a gun, had fired in self-defense and would not face charges.

Other than the ringing in his ear and a mark under his left eye — a small mark Neal believes may have been left by gunshot residue — Neal was uninjured. This was so even though he and the robber exchanged more than a dozen shots at close range.

“It felt like somebody took a hammer and smacked me across my temple. That’s how close it was,” he said of a bullet that just missed him.

As it happened, the attempt to steal Neal’s older-model car took place only hours after Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw held a news conference to talk about the police response to a surge in carjackings. The department says 757 people were carjacked in Philadelphia in 2021, compared to 404 in 2020.

”We recognize the fear and uncertainty these incidents bring, as the victims in these cases have touched nearly every demographic,” Outlaw said.

In the carjackings, police arrested 150 suspects in 93 incidents, Outlaw said. She said the force had created a task force to focus on the vehicle crimes.

”While we can expect more arrests and case clearances in the future, we recognize that these statistics are not anywhere close to where we need them to be, and work is underway to minimize these occurrences.” Outlaw said.

In an interview Friday, Neal, a married father of three, grandfather of four, church elder, and retired 39-year employee of the U.S. Postal Service, shrugged off any attention he had received.

“I’m not no hero,” Neal said. “ I’m just trying to protect myself so I can go home to my wife. And I have kids that I love dearly, and I have grandkids who are doing excellent in school at Temple and Milton Hershey.”

Neal had driven to West Mount Airy from his home in Northeast Philadelphia just after 7:30 p.m. Thursday to visit his mother-in-law. He double-parked in front of her house to dash in with some items, then drove around the corner to park on Cherokee Street, near Sharpnack Street. There, he saw two figures on the corner.

“As I was parking my car, the guys came down, they got beside the car, they looked at me, I made eye contact. I got out my vehicle. I never took my eyes off them,” he said. “I grew up in Philadelphia, Southwest, and you learn always watch your back.

“The next thing I know, the guy walked quickly and right up in front of me, and the gun was six inches from my nose,” Neal said.

“Give me the keys,” Neal said the man said.

“What?” Neal replied

“Don’t play around. Give me the keys.”

Neal said his hand was already on his gun when he noticed the robber appeared to be tightening his grip on his gun. “I think he shot first. I don’t know if he did or I did,” Neal said. “I just know we went back and forth.”

Police said the gunman’s accomplice ran off and was being sought. The front hood of Neal’s car has a bullet hole, and a bullet struck the rear driver’s side tire on a neighbor’s car parked across the street. Dried pools of blood remained in the street and sidewalk. Some of the gunman’s blood ended up on Neal’s hand, he said.

Neal said he cannot understand how he was not shot given how close the gunman was. “Soon after the altercation was over I was thanking Jesus for my life,” he said. “He’s the one who made the outcome the way that it was. It wasn’t me, it was the Lord. Because if someone has a gun this close to you, at your head, and I’m not shot.”

Jason Carter, 48, a neighbor of Neal’s mother-in-law, said crime was uncommon in the area. “People have a right to defend themselves,” he added. “It’s a shame.”

Neal said he’s been carrying a gun for years and had recently persuaded his wife to carry one, too. “It’s that bad out here,” he said.

As for any young people tempted to break the law, Neal had straightforward advice.

“Get a proper education, and work hard like everybody else does,” he said. “Opportunities are out there.”