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Philadelphia Daily News
Friday, May 10, 2002

May brings relief for Vicki Schieber

Having suspect in Shannon's killing eases pain this Mother's Day

By Jill Porter,
Daily News Columnist

EVERY YEAR, when the calendar turns to May 1, Vicki Schieber is stricken.

May 1 begins the month that, four years ago, turned Mother's Day into "the closest to hell I can imagine."

On May 7, 1998 - a few days before Mother's Day - Schieber's beloved daughter, Shannon, was murdered by a serial predator long known only as the Center City Rapist.

Every year since, the approach of the anniversary has left her nauseated. "Every year, I'd turn the page to May 1 and I'd get sick to my stomach," Schieber told me this week.

"How many more women coming up this month or in the summer months are going to have to go through this? And how many other parents are going to have to live through what we did?"

This year, when the calendar turned to May 1, there was something different: relief.

This year, the alleged Center City Rapist has a name and a face and he's behind bars, charged with the murder of Shannon Schieber.

This year, the champagne the family drinks at their traditional Mother's Day brunch will be extra sweet.

This year, Vicki Schieber doesn't have to worry that there will be any more victims.

This wasn't the relief Schieber had been expecting this month.

Schieber had hoped the federal appeals court considering the family's lawsuit against the city and the police department would uphold their case this month and make Mother's Day special. That's what happened at exactly this time last year, when a lower court said the suit passed legal muster.

"Here we thought the big event, as we turn the pages of May, is we'd hear something from the court," she said.

"It's the furthest thing from my mind we'd find this guy."

The Schiebers had believed the serial rapist in Fort Collins, Colo., would flee when police there linked him through DNA, last fall, to the Center City Rapist and their daughter's murder.

"When they matched the DNA, we figured he'd be gone," she said.

"We didn't know he'd be in the military, that he'd be stuck there."

Police eventually linked the DNA to Troy Graves, 29, an airman stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyo., who's been charged with Shannon's murder.

Graves was arrested in late April.

Schieber doesn't think the timing of last year's court ruling and this year's arrest - both so close to the anniversary of Shannon's death and Mother's Day - is coincidental.

She attributes it to her guardian angel.

"Shannon never ceases to amaze me," Schieber said in her upbeat manner. "I go sit in her bedroom and talk to her a lot."

Schieber said the family's deep faith in God has enabled them to resist being devoured by rage and a thirst for revenge.

"My husband and I are very much at peace," she said.

Schieber said she felt "a calm" when Graves was arrested, especially because his resemblance to the Center City Rapist composite sketch indicated that police had found the right man.

She also spoke of "an overwhelming sadness" for Graves' family. "We both lost a child," she said of Graves' mother.

"She may be able to go see him in prison, but think of that tremendous burden, that sadness. She knows what happened to my daughter and any mother relates to that."

Schieber said she wants to talk to Graves' family - something his mother and brother expressed a wish to do - but wants to wait until "it settles down on the legal side."

She said she also wants, someday, to talk to Troy Graves himself. "I hope I get to sit across that jail cell down the road, years maybe, I hope in my lifetime, where I will be able to have a conversation with him and tell him how I feel.

"And I hope - that's why I don't believe in the death penalty - that someday he'll be able to talk to me and say, 'I was young, I was this or that, I'm so sorry.'

"I can't think of anything better than to have that happen. That's the real closure."

It's astounding that anyone who's experienced the anguish and loss that Vicki Schieber has can endure with such grace.

If it happened to me, I'd willingly submit to rage and revenge and want the killer dead.

Schieber's compassion is so remarkable that it makes you feel both ashamed of those primal instincts and awed at the rare beauty of purity of heart.

The Schiebers are on a mission, through their lawsuit, to change the police policy and procedures that allowed the Center City Rapist to go undetected long enough to murder Shannon, and prevented officers from breaking down her door - and saving her life - when they responded to a 911 call.

And although the tragedy has left them with "incredible pain," it hasn't robbed them of their sense of humor.

The appeals court heard arguments on Jan. 25 and the Schiebers and their lawyers each put $10 in a pool to see who could guess the date the ruling would come down. "We had to get some levity in this," she said.

Everyone else's date has come and gone. Vicki Schieber, believing in Shannon's fortuitous timing, picked May 9 - yesterday.

It didn't happen.

But Schieber's faith in Shannon's influence upstairs makes her still expect it will come any day now - maybe even today, just in time for Mother's Day.

"It would be like icing on the cake." she said.

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