Challenges, Challenges

Hi all, just wanted to post an update. I have been taking care of my dog Whiskey for the last week and a half. He is a big  guy-143 pounds of good humor and love. Unfortunately, he has developed a herniated disk in his low back and could not even sit or lay down it was so bad.

Not the first time this has happened. The first time was in October. Despite multiple Vet visits we did not learn exactly what was wrong at that time. It could have been a back problem or meningitis. (Yeah, dogs get a non-bacterial kind.)

This time I took Whiskey to a neurologist near Detroit for an exam-and an MRI. He got lots of muscle relaxers, pain killers, steroid treatment and anxiety medication to keep him calmer for the next month while he recuperates. Yes, diagnosis: Herniated disk. We hope to treat this without surgery if we can.

He is on bed rest till next week and then we can slowly reintroduce activity. Uh huh, slowly…


Lost Bride Lunch with Lucky

Meeting with “Lucky” today for lunch at noon at the Ecumenical Senior Center in Kalamazoo. Dr. Washington has an appointment and is unable to join us. I picked up lunch and it was looking like I would be a minute or two late. Seriously, I would get there at 12:02 on my current pace. I called the office and asked the staff member to let Lucky know that I was on my way. Just give me a minute or two. Apparently, Lucky forgot the pictures of Shayna that he wanted to bring me so he left to go home and get them. I actually pulled into the parking lot at noon, exactly. The staff members let me know Lucky had left when I got there.
One of the ladies serving lunch at the Center set me up in their back room/office area to wait for Lucky. I brought enough Lees Famous Chicken to share with the staff as well. I had never had it. Lucky requested it. The staff members seemed pretty happy with the selection.
Lucky showed up a while later with a few pictures of Shayna and to share lunch with me and the staff. I showed Lucky the picture of the dress. I reviewed the details of the project with Lucky. I told him how Valerie Abbott told the dry cleaners that Shayna had been murdered in her apartment. Lucky said “Well that explains a lot.”
We talked for quite a while about Shayna, how they met and came to live together, her kids, his grown kids and ex-wife, how he never expected to fall for a younger woman. (Lucky is closer to Valerie Abbotts’ age and in fact knew her when he was a kid.) He struck me as a warm individual with solid bead on life.
We talked about the civil filings I had found. None of Shayna’s kids lived with her. She had visitation once a week with her kids. Shayna’s mom has the oldest, Jayda, the oldest. Alissa, the middle child, lives with Amy, her paternal aunt, as dad is in jail. Samaj, her son, is in foster care. According to Lucky, the foster parents changed his name to Issac. Lucky says the kids still call him Samaj. I got a sweet picture of Shayna and her three kids from Lucky. Lucky said that after Shayna’s death Jayda asked him if he was still going to be their dad. He was very touched and said he told her “yes, of course.”

Lucky said when he met Shayna 2-3 years ago it was practically love at first sight. She told him of her car accident in 2006 and that she had medical issues but Lucky said he didn’t really see them at first.
We talked about the contents of the police report of Shayna’s death, the items I found through public record searches and through the Gazette archives. I noted that there had been no new involvement with the law in the last few years. Although it was not expressed in so many words, I took it that Shayna had more concern for her children’s futures now and that the love a good man had brought her around.

Based on the medical report and the analysis of council, Lucky believes that Shayna died as a result of taking a lethal cocktail of legally prescribed drugs she got in February from her doctor in Paw Paw, Michigan. He thinks a toxic cocktail of these prescribed drugs was what gradually wore her down over the course of a month and finally did her in. Malpractice was mentioned a few times but since Lucky and Shayna were not married yet, he had no standing to pursue legal action. Valerie Abbott would need to take the action. Lucky said he forwarded to Valerie the name of the attorney he consulted along with the information needed to take legal action. To his knowledge, nothing has happened.

This is a lot to take in. Most of my questions have been answered. Asking more would serve no purpose for me. I feel like my research is done now. Lucky seems like a really great guy who wanted the best for Shayna and her family. You could tell by the way he spoke of Shayna that he was looking forward to spending his life with her. They would have been married August 23.

Time to get some sketches rolling.

Lost Bride Research-the police report aftermath

It has taken me some time to process the information in the police report. It is a raw, real and intimate view of the end of someone’s life. I had a lot to think about.

The police report presented me with a possible way to find out more information about Shayna without intruding on her family.
When Riley Scott, Shayna’s fiancé, left the police station, his boss, Dr. Washington of the Ecumenical Center in Kalamazoo, picked him up and brought him home. Riley works in maintenance at the facility. After some quick searching I was able to find the Ecumenical Senior Center in Kalamazoo and a picture of Dr. Diane Washington, the director.

I called the Ecumenical Center and Dr. Washington answered the phone. I introduced myself, asked if she had a few minutes. When she said she did, I explained why I was calling. I was careful to tell her that although I would like more information on Shayna, I was not going to contact her family and intrude on their grief. Could she share any ideas or information that might be helpful?
After telling me that she thought my idea for an exhibit was “a beautiful expression” she gave me Riley Scott’s cell phone number. She said to tell him that she referred me to him, as he is a private person and might be hesitant to speak to me. Dr. Washington shared that Riley, or “Lucky” as he is called, was hard hit by Shayna’s death and having a tough time. She thinks if I can involve him somehow in the creative process, it may help him work through his grief and find closure.

I called Riley immediately. He was receptive to the idea of providing pictures and stories about Shayna. We are having lunch soon at the Ecumenical Senior Center. I am hoping Dr. Washington will be able to join us.

Lost Bride Research Day

I’m reading the police report today. Despite the fact that some of the information has been redacted, there is a pretty detailed account of Shayna’s last 24 hours from her fiancé and other witnesses.

Riley Scott had returned home from work to find Shayna on the couch, unresponsive. He called 911.

The police asked Riley to go back to the night before and relate the events of the day. He said that the day before he got home from work and he wasn’t happy. He mentioned that he told Shayna that if he was going to marry her he wanted her to keep the house clean. When he got home the house wasn’t clean and he said it upset him. Shayna  takes pain medication to the point where she can’t function. Riley said he told her she was taking no more pills and then they watched TV and had a normal evening.
Around 2:30 a.m. Shayna need what Riley called her nighttime medications. Riley was concerned that she was taking too many pills. He had started hiding her pills however she would always find them. Riley was just stressed because he couldn’t control her intake. He also said that she smoked cigarettes in the bathroom located closest to the kitchen. He said she only smokes cigarettes in the bathroom and then after taking her medication she wanted to go smoke. Approximately 30 minutes later Riley could hear Shayna calling for help. He walked back to the bathroom to find Shayna on the floor. He picked her up and helped her into the living room where she sat on the couch.
Apparently the shower curtain was ripped down in the bathroom. Riley said that Shayna would be falling down from being over-medicated  and attempt to stop her fall by grabbing the shower curtain.  Riley said she gone through approximately four sets of shower curtain since moving in in December.  Riley said he went to bed about 4 a.m. leaving Shayna on the couch. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to do that since she passes out from her medications. Reilly got up to go to work the next day leaving about 8:30 in the morning. He thought Shayna was still sleeping and made no attempt to speak to her or touch her before he went to work.
 Riley said Shayna greets him when he comes in the house. Normally they talk about his day. This day Shayna said nothing. He walked over and looked closer. He started shaking her and called her by name. When he realized she was unresponsive he called 911.
As I read the statements, I feel like I’m in the apartment. I see Shayna laying motionless on the couch in her polka dot pajamas and her pink robe. I turn and exit the apartment to see her fiancé sobbing on the stairs of their building. A neighbor passes him by without a word as she goes to walk her dog. Shayna’s mother and sister arrive to learn the news of her passing. The parking lot is filled with the cries of grief.
Riley told the officers when they arrived there have been several times when he would come home and find medications all over the carpet in the living room or the dining room and Shayna was laying on the floor. That’s when he decided to start hiding her medications.
Riley said that Shayna made a statement a few months ago “baby I’m not gonna make it till I’m 30“ Riley said that she also talked about Riley taking  an insurance policy on her and she would do the same. Shayna was concerned about her kids – if she died she was concerned her children would be taken care of. Riley said they both took out $20,000 insurance policy a few months ago

Riley was escorted to the Sheriff’s office for further questioning as the circumstances of Shayna’s death are deemed “suspicious.” Riley is questioned while the police obtain a warrant to search his car, the only car Shayna had access to as well.

The police are eventually satisfied that this was an accidental death.

There was a lethal cocktail of drugs in Shayna’s system. The autopsy report listed the following:

Quetiapine, marketed as Seroquel among other names, is an atypical antipsychotic used for the treatment of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depressive disorder. It is also sometimes used as a sleep aid due to its sedating effect, but this use is not recommended. It is taken by mouth.

Clonazepam, sold under the brand name Klonopin among others, is a medication used to prevent and treat seizures, panic disorder, and for the movement disorder known as akathisia. It is a tranquilizer of the benzodiazepine class. It is taken by mouth. It begins having an effect within an hour and lasts between 6 and 12 hours.
Amitriptyline, sold under the brand name Elavil among others, is a medicine primarily used to treat a number of mental illnesses. These include major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders, and less commonly attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and bipolar disorder.
Fluoxetine, also known by trade names Prozac and Sarafem, among others, is an antidepressant of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor class. It is used for the treatment of major depressive disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, bulimia nervosa, panic disorder and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. It may decrease the risk of suicide in those over the age of 65. It has also been used to treat premature ejaculation. Fluoxetine is taken by mouth.
Gabapentin (sold under the brand name Neurontin, among others) is a medication which is used to treat partial seizures, neuropathic pain, hot flashes, and restless legs syndrome. It is recommended as one of a number of first-line medications for the treatment of neuropathic pain caused by diabetic neuropathy, postherpetic neuralgia, and central neuropathic pain. About 15% of those given gabapentin for diabetic neuropathy or postherpetic neuralgia have a measurable benefit. Gabapentin is taken by mouth.

Valproate (VPA), and its valproic acid, sodium valproate, and valproate semisodium forms, are medications primarily used to treat epilepsy and bipolar disorder and to prevent migraine headaches. They are useful for the prevention of seizures in those with absence seizures, partial seizures, and generalized seizures. They can be given intravenously or by mouth.[ Long and short acting formulations of tablets exist.

Vilazodone (United States trade name Viibryd) is a serotonergic antidepressant developed by Merck KGaA and licensed by Clinical Data, a biotech company purchased by Forest Laboratories in 2011. Vilazodone was approved in 2011 by the FDA for use in the United States to treat major depressive disorder. Its mechanism of action is believed to be a combination of SSRI-like activity (SERT inhibition) and 5HT1AR partial agonism, like the structurally related anxiolytic buspirone. As such it can be compared to vortioxetine, and these two drugs are sometimes used as the prototypical members of the class of serotonin modulator/stimulator antidepressants.


Lost Bride Research Day 25

I went to the Kalamazoo County Courthouse to do some records searching on Shayna Swann. I found the citations for each of the Criminal cases we have already seen but found more in the Civil/Probate files. Three if these look like custody case filings. Maybe the fourth is also-looks like it is a request to end Valerie Abbott’s custody of one of Shayna’s children-denied.






Lost Bride Research Day 24

Not much has been happening while I wait for the FOIA e-mail from the Kalamazoo County Sheriff. Then this afternoon I get a call from the Sheriff’s office to tell me that I owe them $13.02 for the FOIA that was processed by their attorney. Didn’t I get the e-mail from their attorney? Nope, nothing in my inbox or spam folder. “Oh, she must have mailed it.” Mailed what – the invoice? “Wait until Friday and if you still don’t get it, call me back.”

Ah, the mail is here. Let’s see if I got anything from the Sheriff. If nothing, I’ll call them today, I’m not waiting till Friday.

Nothing from the Sheriff. I am on the phone right now with the records division asking for help. Even if the attorney mailed the information, it just doesn’t take over a week to get a letter from one side of town to the other.
The records clerk said that the attorney left a message on my voice mail. (Uh, no message left for me.) At any rate, the clerk said that “downtown” will send “it” back to them and I can go in to the Lake Street location and pay and get the info right away. I am roll’n!

Of course, I arrived right in the middle of their 12:30-1:30 lunch hour. I went and got myself a diet soda and came back and got in line again. No idea how many people-if any- are in front of me. There’s about 10 other people in the waiting room.

Turns out that there was only one person ahead of me so I was sent back to the records room very quickly. As I walked thru the door, the clerk reached under the counter and pulled out the file.
“How did you know that was for me?” I asked.
The clerk smiled and said “We know who you are.”
Really? I’m not sure if that is good or bad.

The clerk said I could look through the file so that if I had any questions they could address them for me right away. I looked at the cover letter from the county attorney and said “so this is just about everything that you had redacted from the file?” Yes, that was correct. “Were you able to furnish a mug shot?” The clerk replied that it was the last page. When I flipped to it I saw the face of the woman I had seen in the newspaper article a week or so earlier. I said, kind of half to myself “Yeah, that’s our girl.”

The clerk looked at me as she was filling out my receipt and said “So, how did you know her?”

“I didn’t.”

Lost Bride Research Day 23

I stopped by Westwood Cleaners to see if Elaine was in. She was and was able to identify the newspaper picture of Shayna Swann as a “rough version” of the woman who owned the dress. OK, a positive ID! Here we go!

So, we found our bride but there are still more questions to be answered. I am going to search court records for more information. The newspaper may not have netted everything and I still have a few gaps I would like to fill if possible.

Lost Bride Research Day 22

My husband is lobbying me to donate the dress and scrap the idea of these artworks. His point is that if I want to honor Shayna’s fondness for this wedding dress, what better way than to see that it is used for that which it was intended.  Sure, he says, I could donate it to Goodwill but how about the Brides Project in Ann Arbor, Michigan?

Donate. Buy. Support.From their website: The Brides Project (TBP) opened in September 2011. TBP is a fundraising initiative of the Cancer Support Community. This unique project is staffed by volunteers and dedicated to raising funds for free programs for families impacted by cancer at the Cancer Support Community (CSC) of Greater Ann Arbor through the sale of donated bridal gowns. Once-worn gowns donated by brides or unsold gowns donated by bridal shops are available for brides-to-be to purchase at a considerable savings. All profits from the sale of the gowns go to the CSC to support programs and services for people touched by cancer.

The inspiration to start the Brides Project came from Helen Sweet, who started The Brides Project in Canada. She graciously allowed CSC to take this idea to the United States.

Then my dear husband asks me if I am comfortable with memorializing the life of someone who spent so much time on the shady side of the law. You know, I have given this a lot of thought since I saw those court records. The feelings and motivations I had when I first learned the details of this wedding dress have not changed. The fact remains that this dress was precious to Shayna Swann. She intended to wear it to start a new chapter in her life. That still presents a strong motivation for me.

I think that I can create some beautiful and thought provoking works without sensationalizing a persons’ death or glorifying how she lived her life.  But then, humility is not one of my strengths.

Lost Bride Research Day 20

As promised, here are the clippings I found on Shayna Swann related to the newspaper search of her name:

Title: Public Notice: neglect petition

Wow. Named in a neglect petition when she was 5 years old. That is a tough start to life.



Title: 17-year-old sought in alleged scam
1)KG 04/17/2002 B, 004:5 NEWS 1 MICROFORM TECHCENTER





Title: Alleged scammer turns herself in
1)KG 04/19/2002 B, 004:5 NEWS 1 MICROFORM TECHCENTER





Title: Girl gets five-month jail term for health-care scam
1)KG 05/29/2002 B, 003:1 NEWS 1 MICROFORM TECHCENTER


Title: Birth of a daughter
1)KG 09/30/2002 D, 008:1 NEWS 1 MICROFORM TECHCENTER

So, if a 17 year old gets a five-month jail term while pregnant, not likely that she actually finished high school. Incarcerated and pregnant . . . It’s like a bad reality show.


Title: Circuit Court Sentence
1)KG 01/14/2003 B, 002:1 NEWS 1 MICROFORM TECHCENTER


Title: Birth of a daughter
1)KG 04/19/2004 E, 008:1 NEWS 1 MICROFORM TECHCENTER





Title: Circuit Court Sentence
1)KG 11/23/2004 B, 002:1 NEWS 1 MICROFORM TECHCENTER




Title: Driver critical after car strikes I-94 guardrail




Title: Wanted
1)KG 04/30/2007 A, 006:5 NEWS 1 MICROFORM TECHCENTER

OK! A picture of Shayna!




Title: Birth of a son
1)KG 10/28/2009 B, 012:5 NEWS 1 MICROFORM TECHCENTER

The clipping from Vital Statistics on the birth of her son just wasn’t clear enough to post.


Lost Bride Research Day 19


I went to the Kalamazoo Public Library today and searched microforms for the previously researched articles. I found all of them and was able to photograph them with my handy little iPad here. I haven’t used a microfilm or microform reel reader for at least 30 years. I am so spoiled by technology.

After the library I went to the Kalamazoo County Sheriff offices to get a copy of the police report of Shayna Swann’s death. Yeah, that was an experience. The County jail is at the same location.

Access to the records room is one person at a time. While you wait for your turn to access the records office, you are  in the lobby where people are inquiring about their family members’ release time today, why their son was not administered his medication on time after his arrest and the assortment of persons waiting to file requests for restraining orders, etc. Two men were admitted to records just ahead of me. I wondered how long I would need to wait. Two others filed in after me for the records room as well.

It was probably 10 minutes when the receptionist said I could go back to Records and buzzed me through the security door. When I got in the room, the two gentlemen who were ahead of me were still there completing a gun ownership transfer. (They inquired to confirm if you still have to produce the weapon to transfer ownership since they don’t have the weapon with them. No, the records clerk replied, no need to produce the weapon any more.)

The records room visitors’ area is the size of my 1/2 bath. No wonder access is one person at a time. I filled out a FOIA form and requested the police record of Shayna Swann’s death – case number 14-2386 – and a mug shot, which the young lady at the counter confirmed they had. “Of course that will be a bit more expensive than just copying the records.” After I submitted the form, I asked about how long and how much.

Apparently the Sheriff has five business days after the day the form is submitted to complete the request and bill you. If it takes them longer, they can give themselves another 10 days to complete the request. They send an e-mail invoice and after I pay it, I can get access to the records. I find myself feeling like this is an incredible lead time for copies of paperwork. I am so spoiled by technology.

One of the articles I found in the paper had a small picture of Shayna Swann so I stopped by Westwood Cleaners to see if Elaine was in and could identify the woman in the photo as the wedding dress owner. I missed her today; a staffer told me she usually works afternoons on Tuesday and Wednesday so I will try tomorrow on my way back from running errands.

I will post the clippings I have so far tomorrow.