In a seventh grade stage production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Isabel Scrabis’ grandfather mistook Alina Sheykhet — who starred as Millie — for his granddaughter.
“The whole entire time he thought I was Alina, and he was so impressed. My mom had to break it to him that I was just swaying in the background,” Scrabis said. “I told [Alina] that [story] whenever we became friends a few years later and she thought it was hilarious.”
Scrabis — one of Sheykhet’s best friends — said the two were essentially the “same person.”
“We would show up to school sometimes wearing the same thing,” Scrabis said, laughing. “We loved to go shopping.”
Scrabis and other close friends said they’ve been recalling fond memories of Sheykhet since Sunday, Oct. 8, when she was found dead in her home on Cable Place. Matthew Darby, Sheykhet’s ex-boyfriend whom she filed a protection-from-abuse order against, was charged with homicide Tuesday and arrested Wednesday in South Carolina.
Sheykhet, a Pitt junior aspiring to become a physical therapist, loved to sing and dance, her friends said. Scrabis — who met Sheykhet in middle school but became friends with her in their junior year at nearby Montour High School — said they took a number of chorus classes together and were in musicals together.
“She was so incredibly talented, had the most beautiful voice,” Scrabis said. “Anytime one of us would start singing the other one would join in.”
When Sheykhet broke her knee freshman year of high school, she was no longer able to pursue dancing to the extent she had previously. But Zach Brandner, her roommate and a current sophomore broadcasting media major at Point Park, said this accident helped inspire her path of study — physical therapy.
“In a way, her knee breaking ended one career but it started a new,” Brandner said.
Sheykhet began her college career at Pitt Greensburg, where she met Brandner. Brandner and Sheykhet studied at the Greensburg campus for two years before moving into the same house this year on Cable Place in Oakland. Sheykhet began taking classes at Pitt’s main campus, and Brandner transferred to Point Park to pursue a major not offered a Pitt. Despite their busy schedules, Brandner and Sheykhet always managed to spend time together.
“Every minute of my life — well I don’t want to say every minute of my life — but so much of my life was spent with her,” Brandner said. “Every day of my life since we moved into the house that we were in in August, every day we hung out.”
At Pitt Greensburg, Brandner and Sheykhet were both part of the Outdoor Adventure and Community Service club — a club that offered both outdoor excursions, such as rock climbing, and service opportunities, such as volunteering at food pantries. Sheykhet served as the vice president of the club during her last year at the Greensburg campus.
Sheykhet was already beginning to get involved in the Pitt main campus community after transferring this year. She got a job working at the front desk at the Hilton Garden Inn on McKee Place, Scrabis said, and she joined the Animal Lovers Club at Pitt.
“Alina loved animals,” Scrabis said. “She was [recently] saying she was excited to go horseback riding.”
Paige O’Neil, a junior pharmacy major at Duquesne, became friends with Sheykhet in high school after taking a “college in high school” chemistry course together through Pitt. O’Neil said Sheykhet was extremely excited to move to main campus this year.
“She was like ‘Paige, we get to be together all the time! We’re going to have parties, you’re going to be over at my house every weekend! I get the big master bedroom — we’re going to hang out all the time!” O’Neil said.
Sheykhet’s friends all agreed she was funny, kind, loving and always had a smile on her face. Even after three years of friendship, Brandner said he and Sheykhet never fought.
“We used to joke all the time, I said, ‘Alina, we’ve been friends for three years and we haven’t had our first fight yet. Like, do you think we’re ever going to have a first fight?’ And she was like ‘no.’”
Brandner said he wants people to know that Sheykhet was more than what happened to her. He said it’s important that people focus on the good things about her and less on the person who ended her life.
“I love her so much,” Brandner said. “It was just a pleasure and an honor having her as my best friend.”
Editor’s note: Isabel Scrabis works for The Pitt News as an account executive.