Parents' trip went on after Oakland shooting rampage
By Margaret Harding and Bobby Kerlik
Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012, 10:26 p.m.
The parents of John F. Shick provided their first public account of their relationship with the troubled former grad student and their days and weeks after his fatal rampage at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.
A posting attributed to Larry and Susan Shick on their blog "The Log of Moira" said they continued to sail through the Caribbean for more than a month after learning that John Shick, 30, walked into the Oakland hospital and opened fire on March 8, wounding five and killing one before University of Pittsburgh police fatally shot him. Therapist Michael Schaab, 25, of Regent Square died in the attack.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office told the couple it was prepared to keep their son's body in refrigeration. Pittsburgh police detectives seized his Oakland apartment to search for evidence, they wrote.
"The effect of all of this was that there was no reason to hurry back to the states to take care of matters -- certainly John wasn't going anywhere, and until the police released his apartment, we couldn't close down matters there," the undated post reads. "So we decided to continue with our planned trip and work our way back to the states as we could."
The Shicks discussed their relationship with their son in the post, but did not provide insight into the shooting other than to say they think he chose an "elaborate way of committing suicide."
The Shicks could not be reached on Thursday.
The posting shocked and startled relatives of Schaab, said his uncle, Joe Daum, 45, of Monroeville.
"To all of us, it was very disheartening to know they lack any compassion at all for the victims," Daum said. "It seems they went away and it was their way of washing their hands of their duties as a parent, and by a larger extent, their responsibilities to society. It is so bizarre to come across as so unemotional about your own son."
Mary Schaab, who is Michael Schaab's mother, released a statement saying that she and her husband "feel sorry for the Shicks."
"I couldnt image not taking care of my son if he had an illness, whether it be mental or physical, and we would have been there 100 percent for him because we would not want him to feel he was alone in the world," Schaab said. "Michael gave us great joy and happiness. He is greatly missed but our love for him remains strong."
A lawyer for one of the victims who this week sued John Shick's estate -- the first lawsuit connected to the shootings -- said Susan Shick told him that she and her husband wanted no part of their son's legal affairs.
"Our relationship with John over the last years was difficult at best, as he became increasingly surly, withdrawn, and verbally abusive, though never physically threatening," the post states.
John Shick, a California native, moved to Pittsburgh last year to attend graduate school but withdrew from Duquesne University after disciplinary problems. Records show Shick spent time in mental hospitals in Portland and New York starting in 2005. Investigators and the Shicks' blog post say he had schizophrenia.
Authorities say Shick was angry about what he thought were misdiagnoses from doctors here and elsewhere. District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said he was investigating whether UPMC -- which runs Western Psych -- and other officials who had contact with Shick could have done anything to prevent the shooting.
Mark Homyak, a lawyer who sued Shick's estate on Wednesday on behalf of shooting victim Kathryn Leight, said he hasn't ruled out suing UPMC and is investigating whether the hospital or doctors "failed to take the appropriate steps."
Leight, 65, of Shaler was working as a receptionist in the clinic's lobby when Shick started shooting and was wounded in the chest. Her five-page lawsuit claims Shick "failed and/or refused to follow medical advice, including failing and/or refusing to attend appointments with his physicians and/or failing and/or refusing to take medication prescribed to treat his schizophrenia."
"She cannot return to work. She has post-traumatic stress disorder as well as ongoing significant pain from her injuries," Homyak said about his client. Leight and her family could not be reached.
UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said Leight still is employed by UPMC. She declined further comment.
The Shicks were sailing when the shooting occurred. When the Coast Guard told the couple on March 10 to call Pittsburgh, they feared their son was in "minor legal trouble," according to the blog post.
A forensic investigator told Larry Shick his son was killed by police in an armed rampage. Larry Shick drew a finger across his throat to signal the news to his wife, the couple wrote.
"The shock was all the greater because John had never shown to us any inclination to violence against himself or others," the post said.
Police in Portland arrested John Shick in 2009 for fighting with officers there. In Pittsburgh, he twice threatened UPMC staff with a bat, but police were not called, investigators said.
Susan Shick arrived in Pittsburgh in mid-April to clean her son's apartment while Larry Shick stayed in Port Canaveral, Fla., to "work on never-ending boat maintenance," the blog said.
Larry and Susan Shick held a brief memorial service off Cumberland Island, Georgia, on May 5, they wrote. Susan Shick read two Psalms: 23 and 96.
"We hoped and expected that John would grow up happy, healthy, smart, and successful," they wrote. "We had become attached to that expectation, forgot that life is uncertain, and when things did not work out as we hoped and expected, our mental habits piled extra suffering on top of the natural pain of seeing a man not live up to his potential."
The couple ended the post by saying they scattered John Shick's ashes in the Cumberland Sound.
Homyak said he met in Pittsburgh with Susan Shick, who said her son left no will and neither she nor her husband would open an estate on his behalf, or get involved if a judge ordered an estate be opened.
"She immediately offered her condolences to my clients and the decedent. I'll give her that. She did provide me with the renter's insurance policy," Homyak said. "I felt lucky that I didn't have to hire an investigator to rent a boat and chase them down."
Homyak said his clients are hoping to recover money from the renter's insurance policy John Shick held. He said John Shick's estate has not been inventoried.
The full post, titled "The Death of John Shick (March, 2012), is online at http:// www.sv-moira.com/DeathofJohnShick.htm .
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