Tuesday, October 27, 1998
Parents of slain student sue city, 2 police officers
They say Shannon Schieber was still alive when
police knocked on her door the night she was slain.
By Clea Benson,
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
For a few crucial minutes on the night Shannon Schieber was strangled
in her Fitler Square apartment, there was a chance the Wharton School doctoral
student could have been saved by police, her parents say.
Vicki and Sylvester Schieber believe their 23-year-old daughter was still
alive and her killer was with her when two police officers banged on her door
in response to a 911 call from neighbors who heard her distinctive, deep voice
call for help. Getting no response, the officers left, telling the neighbors
Schieber was not at home.
The Schiebers filed a federal civil-rights suit against the two officers
and the city yesterday, alleging that police should have forced their way into
their daughter's apartment May 7 after a neighbor told a 911 operator he heard
her call for help and heard choking sounds when he went to her door.
Schieber's nude and beaten body was discovered 13 hours later by her
brother, who broke into her apartment after she missed a lunch date with him.
Her killer is still at large.
The Schiebers are asking for changes in police guidelines governing how
officers should handle reports of people screaming for help.
The suit also seeks unspecified damages.
``If Shannon had died in an accident or because of some reckless behavior,
we undoubtedly would have still been devastated,'' Sylvester Schieber said
yesterday at a news conference in the Center City office of attorney David
Rudovsky. ``But we are even more devastated at the shocking knowledge that
police stood outside her apartment door while the killer was undertaking his
Police Commissioner John F. Timoney said yesterday that he could not
comment on the lawsuit or the Schiebers' allegations. ``The belief that
something or anything could have been done to save [their daughter] must be a
great source of anguish for [the Schiebers], and my heart goes out to them,''
``I can say that the Philadelphia Police Department is committed to solving
Mayoral spokesman Kevin Feeley said there would be no comment from the
Mayor's Office because city officials had not read the lawsuit. ``Ever since
this tragedy occurred, we have kept in close contact with the Schieber family
and their representatives . . . and have kept them updated on the status of
the investigation regularly,'' Feeley said.
The day after Schieber's murder, Timoney said an internal review found that
the two veteran officers who responded that night, Officers Steven Woods and
Raymond Scherff, had acted properly. Timoney said at the time that it was not
clear that the screams had come from Schieber's apartment. Timoney described
the officers as being ``devastated'' when they learned of Schieber's death.
The Schiebers, of Chevy Chase, Md., said that they were not satisfied with
the internal review, and that their requests for additional investigation into
the police response have been rebuffed by city officials.
The complaint filed by the Schiebers asserts that neighbors were awakened
by noises coming from their daughter's apartment in the 200 block of South 23d
Street. About 1 a.m., Parmatha ``Parm'' Greeley, a neighbor across the hall,
and a downstairs neighbor, Amy Reed, heard noises, including objects falling,
feet running, and voices calling out, the suit states.
About an hour later, Greeley heard Schieber cry out for help, the suit
alleges. He immediately banged on her door and said he was calling police,
according to the complaint. There was no response.
Greeley went back to his apartment, dialed 911, according to the suit, and
told the operator that he had heard his neighbor yell for help. ``I knocked on
the door and I just heard like a choking sound,'' the complaint states Greeley
told the operator.
Ninth District Officers Woods and Scherff, dispatched by a 911 operator who
told them there was ``a report of a female screaming inside,'' arrived in
about five minutes. They were met by Reed and Greeley, who told them they had
heard cries for help and a commotion inside Schieber's apartment.
In their suit, the Schiebers charge that the neighbors were ready to break
down their daughter's door, but police refused to let them. The police placed
their nightsticks against the door, knocked several times, and called out, but
did not enter, according to the suit. After about five minutes, the officers
left, telling the neighbors to call 911 again if they heard anything else, the
The officers, noting that Schieber's apartment was dark and the sliding
glass door on her balcony was closed, assured the neighbors that she was not
at home, the suit states. Having been reassured by police, the suit says,
Greeley and Reed went back into their apartments and made no further efforts
to force their way in.
Though Schieber's balcony door was closed when police checked it at 2 a.m.,
it was open the following afternoon, when her brother arrived. This is
evidence, the Schiebers say, that the killer was inside when police arrived
and escaped through that door once everyone had left.
The Schiebers said they were pleased with the efforts of homicide
detectives, who have mounted an intensive search for the murderer,
interviewing more than 100 people and checking DNA evidence from numerous
crime scenes against evidence found in Schieber's apartment. Homicide
detectives are also visiting the scenes of similar crimes committed in the
area, in the hope that evidence from one of those crime scenes will match the
``We are convinced that the police believe the greatest likelihood of their
capturing her murderer will arise when he attacks again,'' Sylvester Schieber
said. ``For Shannon, that is no consolation. For the next family victimized,
it will be a pitiful shame. You cannot fully appreciate what a family goes
through in this situation unless you have experienced it.''
The Schiebers described their daughter as the kind of person who had always
campaigned on behalf of others, a student leader and a volunteer with an
incredible capacity for reaching out to other people.
One friend told Schieber's parents that Schieber had begun helping an
elderly man in her neighborhood get to church every Sunday, a man she had met
one day while he was having trouble getting his groceries into his apartment.
``She spent three hours helping him in the middle of all the other stuff
she had to do,'' Sylvester Schieber said.
She was also interested in politics. She was student body president in high
school, president of her freshman class at Duke University, and active in
trying to improve life for doctoral students at Wharton, her parents said.
The day before she died, Schieber went to school administrators to urge
them to organize an orientation program for doctoral students, who often felt
socially isolated, a program that the school has now implemented.
Schieber was the kind of person who stood up to problems, not the kind of
person who would be a victim, her parents said.
``If threatened, she would go directly at the threat and try to resolve
it,'' her father said. ``The police have told us it was clear that she
struggled. . . . We knew she was concerned about security and safety. If we
had had an inkling, we would have had her out of here in a minute.''