Walk for Love celebrates late Pitt student


Thomas Yang | Visual Editor

Participants at the first annual Walk for Love wear purple, the favorite color of late Pitt student Alina Sheykhet.

By George Smith, For The Pitt News

It was a sweltering Sunday morning in Oakdale as friends, family and community members gathered to commemorate the life and legacy of the late Pitt student Alina Sheykhet.

The first annual Walk for Love commenced at Settlers Cabin Park, located about 12 miles west of Oakland, last Sunday morning. Hundreds of participants, donned Sheykhet’s favorite color, purple, walked and ran in the muggy heat to pay tribute to the late student.

A 2015 graduate of nearby Montour High School in Robinson Township, Sheykhet spent time in musical theater — dancing, acting and singing. Following high school, Sheykhet attended Pitt’s Greensburg campus where she lived with the Outdoor Adventure and Community Service living community. After two years, Sheykhet moved to Oakland to finish college at Pitt’s main campus and pursue physical therapy.

Sheykhet died in late 2017. Her ex-boyfriend, Matthew Darby, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for taking her life. In the time since her passing, Sheykhet’s family formed Alina’s Light, a charity in her honor. Alina’s Light strives to honor Sheykhet’s passion for performing arts, as well as her love for children and animals through scholarships and donations. The walk raised more than $12,000 for the charity.

The event featured numerous activities for all ages — food trucks, a bounce house, yoga, live bands, a craft table and a petting zoo. After opening remarks from Sheykhet’s parents and board members of Alina’s Light, the event kicked off with a 5-kilometer run followed by a 1-kilometer walk. Among those in attendance were Reps. Conor Lamb, D-17, and. Anita Kulik, D-45.

Yan Sheykhet, Alina’s father, said at the beginning of the event that her death has taken a toll on the family.

“Just a year and a half ago, we were a happy family,” Sheykhet said. “She was supposed to be the first doctor in the family, but that didn’t happen.”

Once the walk concluded, the participants released balloons into the sky in tribute and spent the rest of the day sharing stories, playing games and eating lunch catered by various Pittsburgh vendors. The event also included a raffle and a DJ playing some of Alina’s favorite songs.

Ember Holmes, an attorney for the family and a member of the board for Alina’s Light, spearheaded the planning of the event and said that the hard work paid off.

“We had about 500 people registered,” Holmes said. “The last month has been pretty hectic, but everyone has come together to make all of this happen.”

Alina’s Light raises funds to donate to organizations aligned with Sheykhet’s passions, such as Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh, in addition to providing performing arts students from Sheykhet’s high school with scholarships.

Rudy Pemberton, a first-year at Duquesne University and applicant for an Alina’s Light scholarship, volunteered for the event and participated in the walk.

“I’ve really enjoyed it so far,” Pemberton said. “There’s a lot going on and it feels like one big family here.”

Nicole Ricchiuto, a close friend of Sheykhet, also participated in the walk and said it did Sheykhet’s life justice.

“There’s a little bit of everything here,” Ricchiuto said. “I think Alina would have loved it.”

One of the focal points of the event was addressing domestic violence and advocating for H.B. 588, or Alina’s Law.

Alina’s Law is designed to bolster protections for victims under a Protection From Abuse order. The bill, if passed, would allow judges to order defendants under a PFA be affixed with a device that would notify the victim and police if the boundaries of the order are violated.

Kulik is the bill’s sponsor and said at the event that the bill is making good progress in the House.

“I’m really excited about the progress … we now have a lot of bipartisan support for it,” Kulik said. “A lot of members in the House right now are very interested in domestic violence bills, so I think we have a great chance of getting this through.”

Kulik said she is pushing for a hearing on the bill in front of the House Judiciary Committee, and she expects the House to vote on it by the end of the year. She added that time is being taken to properly revise the original bill so that its final passage can be ensured, as the bill has been sitting in committee after passing the Senate two sessions ago.

“We have had issues with the fourth amendment regarding due process,” Kulik said. “We want it to be fair, but we also want to ensure protection for victims of domestic violence. We need to give someone a fighting chance to get to safety.”

Before the event began, Sheykhet’s mother Elly spoke to the crowd. Voice shaking, she said her duty is to fix the system that failed her daughter.

“Domestic violence is real. If it happened to our daughter, it can happen to anyone,” Sheykhet said. “Changes must be done.”