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Philadelphia Inquirer
Thursday, April 25, 2002

Parents grapple with empathy


By Barbara Boyer and Larry King,
INQUIRER STAFF WRITERS

Vicki and Sylvester Schieber say they are not vengeful over their daughterís death. Vicki Schieber said she could relate to the accusedís mother. His mother asked that the Schiebers know she was sorry.
RON CORTES / Inquirer -- Vicki and Sylvester Schieber say they are not vengeful over their daughterís death. Vicki Schieber said she could relate to the accusedís mother. His mother asked that the Schiebers know she was sorry.

Vicki and Sylvester Schieber spent yesterday wrestling anew with how Troy Graves - or anyone - could have taken the life of their daughter, Shannon.

But they were not seeking vengeance. As for the slaying suspect, Vicki Schieber said: "I have forgiven him. We have to be forgiving people."

In Phoenix, the mother of the man accused of killing the Wharton School student reached out to the family of the young woman.

"I don't think those poor people are ready to talk to us, though we would like to contact them," said Michal Graves, whose son is to be charged as the Center City rapist.

In separate gestures - using reporters as conduits - the parents of the victim and the accused had something to say to each other.

"I can relate to his mother," said Vicki Schieber from her home in Chevy Chase, Md. "If you're a mother, all you want is something wonderful for your child. She must be suffering so much. My heart goes out to her."

Said Michal Graves: "If you have an opportunity to talk to them, please convey that I am so sorry. It is so horrible to lose a child like that."

• 

The Schiebers say they are strong Catholics who have relied on faith and prayer to get through the last four years.

Their only daughter, Shannon, a 23-year-old University of Pennsylvania graduate student, was strangled in 1998. Authorities said DNA linked their daughter's death to Troy Graves, whom police suspect of sexually assaulting 11 women in Philadelphia and Colorado.

The Schiebers also are relieved. They have the solace of knowing the hunt has ended.

"We're happy that no one else will be be hurt," Vicki Schieber said. "Now, the big question is what will happen with the case. Will it go to trial in Philadelphia or Colorado? We want to know."

Not a year went by that the Schiebers did not think of the crime, especially on the anniversary of their daughter's death.

On May 7, 1998, the Center City rapist entered Schieber's apartment on 23d Street, where she was sexually assaulted and choked to death. Neighbors told police they heard screams, but officers came and left without entering her apartment.

A series of missteps by Philadelphia police angered the Schiebers, who said that had police done their job, their daughter would still be alive. The Schiebers filed a federal lawsuit that is pending against police.

The case forced drastic reforms in the way Philadelphia police investigate sex crimes.

"Although they caught him, and we're certainly happy about that, it will never go away," Vicki Schieber said.

Now, they hope Graves is jailed for the rest of his life.

"A person like this does not change his stripes," Sylvester Schieber said. "As long as he's out there, he's a danger. But do we want him dead? No.

"We need to come to peace... to know that he's no longer going to endanger anyone else."

They, like Michal Graves, cannot understand what may be the heretofore unseen side of the suspect.

"It's like there was a totally different, other side to him," Vicki Schieber said. "That's the part I can't understand...

"I am not an angry person, but I have lived four years with much pain."

When asked what they would like to say to the man police plan to charge with killing their daughter, both parents were first at a loss. Finally, Sylvester Schieber responded:

"Why? Why did you waste a life that had so much potential?"

• 

Similar questions haunt Michal Graves.

For the first time in 15 years, she skipped work yesterday.

"I couldn't face people today," she said.

She stayed up all night, and as she read online news accounts, she struggled to reconcile the charges with her child.

"I want to be angry and upset, and I am all of those things," she said. "But he is still my son. He is still not a son I can imagine doing anything like that."

She got no insight from calling officials at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., where Troy Graves had been based.

"They are shocked, too," she said. "This is not the Troy that they remember, either."

The Troy she remembers moved to Feasterville as a 4-year-old, where he lived with his mother, an older brother, and a father who went to work every day at General Motors in Trenton, masking an ongoing struggle with drug addiction.

The Troy she remembers devoured National Geographic magazine and the Discovery channel. She thinks of a gentle, shy boy who joined the Audubon Society and "loved everything having to do with birds and nature."

When Troy was 8, his mother gave him a weimaraner puppy that he doted on. The family named the dog Dee-O-Gee, a standing family joke.

"People always used to say, 'Oh, is that French?' I said, 'No, it's just how you spell dog - D-O-G - with a flair.' "

Gifted at drawing, Troy Graves sketched the puppy in a picture his mother still has. It portrayed the dog sleeping, which was fine, until his mother saw a pillow behind him.

"Troy," she scolded, "he's not supposed to be on the bed."

When his parents separated in 1986, Troy Graves had to give up the dog.

"We had to move to an apartment, and we could not keep him. I told Troy we had to take him to the SPCA, and Troy was in tears," his mother said.

The boy and his mother lived in an apartment on Richlieu Road until 1989, the year he dropped out of Bensalem High School and his mother moved from the area.

He had always shunned crowds, so his decision to relocate in Philadelphia in the early 1990s surprised his mother.

"I was shocked when he moved to Philadelphia," she said, "because my sons were not city children."

Then again, Troy Graves had grown to love New York, where he paid extended visits to his grandmother, a supervisor in the city Fire Department.

In Philadelphia, he worked at a restaurant, a bank, and a security company, but eventually he tired of what he considered dead-end jobs, Michal Graves said. When he joined the Air Force, she said, she believed that was why.

But now she wonders whether he was fleeing something else.

"My mind is just racing with all kinds of things," she said. "I just wish I could take it all back, that I could uninvolve my child and give the Schiebers their child back."

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