“That’s an image that will always be in my head”

Sheykhet’s roommate remembers the night Pitt student was murdered

Photo by Nikole Kost
Zach Brander, a roommate of the slain Pitt student, Alina Sheykhet, embraces a friend at a vigil near the Cathedral of Learning over the weekend.

Written By Nikole Kost, Online Photo Editor

As he walked up the stairs with Alina Sheykhet’s parents to see why she wasn’t answering her phone, Zach Brandner thought his roommate left without telling anyone.

After Sheykhet’s father knocked down the locked door, all it took was a quick glance of his roommate’s body lying on the floor to realize she was dead.

“There was no question that she was alive or not,” Brandner said. “I didn’t look for a very long time at all because it was just too graphic for me and that’s not how I wanted to remember her. That’s an image that will always be in my head.”

Those were the sentiments of Point Park student Zach Brandner after the discovery of his murdered roommate and best friend. The sophomore broadcast reporting major has since moved into Lawrence Hall until he figures out his next move.

Sheykhet and Brandner met their freshman year in a class called Freshman Seminar at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.

“Basically she wanted to go to Pitt main [campus] and I wanted to go to Point Park,” Brander said. “So we decided to live together.”

They moved into 3597
Cable Place on Aug. 1, 2017.

“We just always danced it out in our living room when we were stressed,” Brandner said. “We loved taking selfies together; we took pictures all of the time.”

Sheykhet and Brandner also enjoyed cooking together.

“Just being together and hanging out together was a big part of our lives,” Brander said.

Sheykhet, a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, was murdered in their Oakland home on Oct. 8. Sheykhet’s ex-boyfriend, Matthew Darby, is being charged with the murder.

“It was something you see in a movie,” Brandner said.

Sheykhet’s parents along with Brandner discovered her body on the floor of her bedroom.

“The first thing I thought was Matt Darby killed her,” Brandner said.

According to the criminal complaint, “Sheykhet suffered from a fractured skull in two areas, severe trauma to her mouth from a sharp edged weapon, as well as damage from a blunt force weapon that broke her nose and mandible. Additionally, seven of her teeth were knocked out, her tongue had several lacerations and a penetrating blunt force injury to the back of her head that fractured her skull.”

Sheykhet was pronounced dead at the scene.

“None of us heard anything at all,” Brandner said. “If we would have heard anything we would have been up there trying to help.”

The roommates were taken Downtown for questioning and were soon released.

They were allowed to go back into the house with a police escort by 6:30 p.m. that night to get the things they needed.

“When I went back into the house the other day to pick up my stuff it just felt really, really bad,” Brandner said. “There were things I noticed on the kitchen wall that I didn’t notice that morning and evidence they had found that’s still there because they can’t take it down.”

Brandner and his roommates will not return to their Oakland home.

“It’s just not possible for me to live there any longer,” Brandner said.

Darby had previously broken into their residence on Sept. 20 when Sheykhet was able to scream for help.

“When we called the police she said, ‘I hope I didn’t ruin his life,’” Brandner said. “Her mindset was that all of this was her fault.”

Darby was charged with criminal trespassing and was released on bond the same day.

According to the criminal complaint, as a condition of the bond, Darby was ordered to not have any contact with Sheykhet. On the day of Sheyket’s murder, she had five missed calls from Darby.

“Because he had broke into our house two weeks prior to this, now looking back we look at it as a failed attempt of killing her,” Brandner said.

After police suggestion, Sheykhet filed an emergency Protection From Abuse (PFA) form that night that was effective immediately. Sheykhet filed a formal PFA soon after.

A PFA order from a court gives protective relief for a victim and describes certain things the abuser must do or is forbidden to do in regards to a victim, according to Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Abuse.

A PFA can last up to three years and can result in criminal charges if the abuser does not follow the order.

“She always said, ‘He didn’t want to hurt me, he just wanted to talk to me,’” Brandner said.

The PFA was not served to Darby until Oct. 5, according to the criminal complaint.

“Police said they lost it in the crazy mess of things,” Brandner said. “There was a pretty sizable gap of time where he could have come over and technically he could have gotten off because he could have said that he didn’t receive the PFA yet.”

Brandner and his roommates have not had the chance to sit with their landlord to discuss the rental agreement.

“I’m assuming considering the severity of the situation that we will be released from the rental agreement,” Brandner said.

“Point Park has very graciously offered me housing in Lawrence Hall and I am going to take them up on that offer until at least the end of the semester until I get things figured out,” Brandner said. “I emailed the dean right after this happened and said that I was going to be missing some classes. He was very understanding and emailed my professors for me and they have been very understanding as well.”

Dean of Student Life Michael Gieseke notified Brandner’s professors.

“There is no set protocol other than we reach out to the student, see how they are doing and find out what they need,” Gieseke said. “Every situation is different which is why I say there is no set protocol.”

Pitt has offered housing for Brandner’s other roommates who are students there.

Brandner began seeing a counselor on Oct. 13.

“My friend Marissa has seen a counselor in the past and he has invited us to come along,” Brandner said. “I have good moments and bad moments. The past couple days have been extremely hectic.”

Sheykhet’s viewing Wednesday had over 200 people in attendance. The viewing was closed casket.

“There was no way that it could possibly be open,” Brander said. “I didn’t have to see her like that and it helped in a way.”

Taylor Celich, a sophomore broadcast reporting major at Point Park, was good friends with Sheykhet from high school. Celich last spoke to Sheykhet a month before the murder.

“They said her face was unrecognizable,” Celich said.

Sheykhet’s close friends held a memorial balloon release in Schenley Plaza Thursday evening.

“She deserved better…a lot better,” Brandner said. “I applaud her for always loving people even though they necessarily don’t deserved to be loved. She’s my best friend and she’s someone I will always call my best friend no matter what. I will never forget her.”