‘Walk for Love’ to commemorate life, legacy of murdered Pitt student


Photo courtesy of Isabel Scrabis

The Alina’s Light charity organization will hold a “Walk for Love” to honor Alina Sheykhet (pictured) on July 7.

By George Smith, For The Pitt News

In the aftermath of former Pitt student Alina Sheykhet’s death in the fall of 2017, family, friends and peers have come together to honor and continue her legacy.

Sheykhet’s family formed Alina’s Light in late 2018, a charitable organization dedicated to supporting those who share Sheykhet’s passions while raising awareness and promoting education on domestic violence. Alina’s Light will be hosting a Walk for Love on Sunday, July 7, at Settler’s Cabin Park in Robinson Township to honor Sheykhet and raise funds to continue the work of the organization. The event begins at 9 a.m., following registration for participants at 7 a.m. The cost is $25 for adults, $15 for children ages six through 12, and free for those five and under.

Sheykhet was passionate about the performing arts, animals and children. Alina’s Light is meant to honor her memory by providing scholarships to students of her former high school who share her love for performing arts, as well as raise funds for charities that benefit children and animals.

A 2015 graduate of Montour High School in nearby McKees Rocks, Sheykhet spent time dancing, acting and singing musical theatre. After high school, Sheykhet attended Pitt’s Greensburg campus, where she spent time as part of the Outdoor Adventure and Community Service Living Community, eventually becoming its vice president. Additionally, she joined the Animal Lovers Club. After two years, Sheykhet moved to finish college at Pitt’s Oakland campus and pursued a physical therapy major.

Ember Holmes, the secretary of the board for Alina’s Light and the family’s attorney, said the charity aims to support legislative action to try and prevent future instances of domestic violence.

“The goal is to help people that Alina wanted to help, and support and work towards the passage of Alina’s Law,” Holmes said in a phone call.

Alina’s Law, or H.R. 588, is sponsored by state Rep. Anita Kulik, D-45, and centers on bolstering current protection-from-abuse laws that Kulik says ultimately failed Sheykhet.

Sheykhet used the current PFA system in hopes to protect herself from her ex-boyfriend, Matthew Darby. Following a break-in attempt less than a month before her murder, her ex-boyfriend was released on bail, and Sheykhet petitioned for a PFA, which was not granted until three days before her death. PFA laws don’t employ physical barriers to stop a defendant from violating the order — only the threat of fines or imprisonment.

Darby would later be sentenced to life in prison without parole for murdering Sheykhet.

Alina’s Law, if passed, would provide courts with broader authority to deem whether the defendant poses a substantial risk to violate the order or commit a crime against the victim. If the defendant is found to be a viable threat, a judge would have the ability to order the defendant to wear a tracking device that would notify both the victim and local police if the defendant enters the space protected by the PFA. This would allow the victim time to reach safety and give police the ability to resolve the situation.

State Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-43, is a cosponsor of the bill, and, like Kulik, said he believes Sheykhet’s death could have been prevented.

“I’m a cosponsor because I believe it could’ve helped Alina, and it should be enacted to help protect more potential victims of deadly domestic violence,” Costa said to The Pitt News in 2017.

The passage of the law is still in progress, Holmes said, as they work through its legal wording.

“The law was reintroduced earlier this year, and we are working through some kinks with the language,” Holmes said. “We are coming up with some revisions to parts worded as ‘electronic monitoring’ because it is not an electronic monitoring device … it only tracks when the defendant gets within a certain proximity of the victim.”

Holmes added that the tracking capabilities of Alina’s Law benefit the defendant as well.

“While it gives the victim an opportunity to get to safety, it may also protect the defendant from false allegations of violating the PFA,” Holmes said.

In the wake of the tragedy, friends of Sheykhet keep her memory alive. Zach Brandner, her former roommate and a senior marketing major at Point Park University, said he considered Sheykhet to be a special person.

“She was so much fun to be around,” Brandner said. “I miss her every single day.”

While the walk next month will raise money for scholarships given by Alina’s Light, it will also honor Sheykhet as a celebration of life, Holmes said.

“Afterwards there will be a DJ, food trucks, bounce houses, a craft table, live bands, a petting zoo and yoga sessions,” Holmes said. “It’s going to be a really great event.”

The event hopes to be as memorable as Sheykhet. Her close friend Nicole Ricchiuto said she lit up every room she walked into.

“She always saw the good in people,” Ricchiuto said. “She was always there when I needed her.”