Lantern launch at UPG honors slain former student
Valerie Fernandez traveled 1,000 miles to watch 40 paper lanterns drift into the sky Monday night at the University of Pittsburgh’s Greensburg campus.
The lanterns were in memory of Fernandez’s friend and former roommate Alina Sheykhet, who was found murdered in her Oakland home near the university’s main campus a year ago.
Fernandez, 21, who roomed with Sheykhet during her freshman year at Pitt-Greensburg, came from her home in Miami to be part of the memorial.
“We very quickly became inseparable and best friends,” Fernandez said of Sheykhet. “She’s missed greatly. Me traveling a thousand miles away means nothing compared to the love and support that Alina and her family gave to me. They will forever be family to me.”
Current students joined Sheykhet’s friends and family members outside Chambers Hall to release the lanterns.
Sheykhet was found dead by her parents on Oct. 8, 2017, in her Oakland home. Her ex-boyfriend, also a former Pitt-Greensburg student, is accused of killing her.
Yan and Elly Sheykhet had gone to pick up their daughter for a cancer awareness walk that Sunday when they found her bludgeoned to death in her bedroom.
Matthew Darby, 22, charged with homicide in connection with her killing, faces a trial date early next year.
Sheykhet, 20, a University of Pittsburgh junior, completed two semesters at Pitt-Greensburg before transferring to the main campus for the fall 2017 semester.
A serious injury to her knee in a high school ballet class sparked an interest in physical therapy.
Sheykhet’s family moved to the Pittsburgh area from Ivanovo, Russia, when she was 4. She graduated from Montour High School in 2015.
Brian Root, assistant director of housing at the Greensburg campus, advised Sheykhet and other students involved in the university’s Outdoor Adventure and Community Service group. OACS sponsored Monday evening’s event, along with the campus’ student senate.
Root recalled that Sheykhet enjoyed helping at local animal shelters. “She loved projects like that,” he said. “She loved kids, and she loved animals just as much.”
Members of Sheykhet’s family participated in Monday’s event but declined comment because of the pending criminal trial.
As an initial way to commemorate the slain student’s life, the campus community last year collected money that was used to place a rocking chair, engraved in her memory, in the campus library, Root said.
A local team walked in Sheykhet’s memory in last April’s annual Walk A Mile in Her Shoes event at Greensburg’s Offutt Field. Men are encouraged, out of empathy, to wear high heels for the walk, which raises money for Greensburg’s Blackburn Center, which serves victims of domestic and sexual violence.
The lantern release also was dedicated to all victims of domestic violence. Literature on the topic and advocacy bracelets were available throughout the day at the campus’ student center.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @jhimler_news.