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Hero kept a cool head

| Saturday, Oct. 15, 2005

Adam Silvis felt like he was stuck in a nightmare.

Valerie Oskin was lying on the ground in front of him, blood gushing from a gaping wound in her abdomen. She was moaning and told Silvis she was cold and wanted to take a hot shower.

A few feet away sat Peggy Jo Conner, staring vacantly. She tried to crack jokes with Silvis and his father, Andrew.

"It was so bizarre,'' Adam Silvis, 17, said of the bloody scene that played out before him Wednesday afternoon in a wooded area of rural Wayne, Armstrong County. "(Conner) kept insisting nothing was wrong and everything was fine. She was like a hollow shell. She had almost no emotion.''

The father and son are being hailed as heroes for stumbling upon Conner as she tried to cut Oskin's baby out of her womb with a box cutter. The two called police and emergency medical workers. Since, they've fielded interview requests from local news media, and from television networks as far away as England.

Oskin remained in critical condition Friday at Allegheny General Hospital on the North Side. Her infant son was "doing well,'' authorities said.

An Armstrong County couple who plan to adopt the boy held him for the first time Thursday, their attorney said.

Conner is being held without bail in the Armstrong County Jail on charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault and aggravated assault on an unborn child. She did not have an attorney yesterday afternoon, said Armstrong County District Attorney Scott Andreassi.

Officials said Conner had faked a pregnancy for months. She filled her home with baby items and planned to take Oskin's baby and pass it off as her own, police said.

Police interviewed Oskin, 30, at the hospital yesterday after she was removed from a ventilator. She was "doing better,'' police said. Doctors had performed an emergency Cesarean section Wednesday night. She was near full term.

Oskin told investigators she remembered Conner, 38, her neighbor and friend, clubbing her over the head with a wood baseball bat Wednesday afternoon in Oskin's mobile home in Manor, Armstrong County. Police said Conner then put Oskin and the pregnant woman's 7-year-old son in her blue Dodge Dynasty and drove a short distance to a babysitter's house, where she dropped the child off.

Police found a pair of scissors, a bulb syringe, shoelaces, a razor and a hemostat in Conner's car.

Oskin told police she has vague memories of traveling in Conner's car after being attacked, but does remember Conner dragging her into the woods. Police said Conner drove Oskin about 15 miles from Oskin's home in Manor to the secluded spot.

That's where Oskin's memories end.

It's also where they begin for Adam Silvis.

Silvis, a junior at a vocational high school in nearby Ford City, rides his all-terrain vehicle almost every day through the woods where he found Conner and Oskin. That day, he was on his way to check the tree stand he uses for deer hunting.

"I saw this blue car and this lady in front of it, and then I saw this other lady on the ground, and she was bleeding bad,'' Silvis said. "I slowed down, and the woman told me everything was fine and she was just trying to find a place to hunt around there. I just said OK and left, because I knew I had to keep my calm and act like I didn't think anything was wrong so she wouldn't take off.''

Knowing he had to control his growing fear, Silvis drove a short distance away, pretended to check his tree stand, and drove past the women a second time.

"(Conner) was leaning over the other woman by then, and she just looked up at me and smiled and waved when I drove past,'' he said, shaking his head at the memory.

The teen drove to his home about 150 yards away and told his father what he'd seen.

Andrew Silvis grabbed his gun and hopped on his own ATV.

"I didn't know what my son had seen, and I wasn't sure if it was a homicide situation or if someone was trying to dump a body,'' Andrew Silvis said. "I knew it could be a really dangerous situation.''

When the father and son arrived back at the wooded area, Conner was still "acting weird,'' both said. She told Andrew Silvis she was going to take Oskin to the hospital and tried to get into her car.

Andrew Silvis stopped her.

He told his son to go home and tell his mother to call the police and an ambulance.

While waiting for help to arrive, both Adam and Andrew Silvis said Conner sat on the hood of her car, laughing.

Within minutes, a "cavalry'' of police and emergency medical workers arrived, Andrew Silvis said.

Andreassi said a medical exam confirmed that Conner, who has three children from a previous marriage, was not pregnant.

Police don't believe that Thomas Wilks, Conner's live-in boyfriend, was involved in the plan to steal Oskin's baby.

Oskin held her baby for the first time at the hospital yesterday, but still intends to give him up for adoption, said Kittanning-based attorney Jack Steiner, who said his clients drove to the hospital on Thursday.

They talked with Oskin yesterday. "We believe she still wants the adoption to go through," Steiner said.

Steiner said his clients are just happy the baby and Oskin are OK.

"They have a lot of faith," he said. "I'm sure they would have to in this situation."

Steiner said his clients are married, in their 30s, and grew up in the Kittanning-Ford City area.

"They're hard working, good people," he said.

He described the baby, whom his clients named, as "very healthy, very big."

Steiner would not release the child's name or identify the biological father. Andreassi said he did not know who the baby's father is.

Steiner said Oskin was due to deliver Oct. 24.

"Valerie is a good person. She decided the baby needs different circumstances (than what she can offer)," Steiner said. "She still feels that way today. This tragedy is hopefully going to turn out for the best."

Adam Silvis said he's overwhelmed by the attention he and his family are getting. He just did what anyone else would have done had they found themselves in that situation, he said.

"I definitely think God put me in the right place and in the right situation at the right time,'' he said. "It's an amazing thing to have on your shoulders, to know that two people are alive because of what you did. But anyone else would have done the same thing, right?''

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