A witness first saw the gun poking through a crack between the apartment door and the frame. There had been a knock and an eerie silence, then an attempt by two men to force the door open. Bryan Yeshion Schneps, a 21‑year‑old Temple University student, tried to prevent his attackers from gaining entry. He pressed his hands, his shoulders, his knees, his feet, the full weight of his 6'1", 180‑pound body against the door. But his stamina wore thin, and the door swung free.
Bryan cried for help. It was the middle of the day on Friday, June 10, 2005. His third-floor apartment was on W. Diamond Street in Philadelphia, in a red brick building next door to his fraternity. Two friends were in the room with him. In an instant, Bryan and the man with the gun started to struggle, falling to the hardwood floor.
“Bryan, don’t try to fight this,” one of his attackers warned. And then, suddenly, the gun went off, the bullet striking Bryan in the face.
“Bryan, where do you keep your money?” the shooter demanded.
Slumped facedown on the living room floor, Bryan couldn’t answer. The accomplice peered down at him one last time and asked, “Is this worth dying over?”
It felt like I was just floating a little bit above the ground, like something was carrying me along.
ALEX SCHNEPS, 23, Bryan’s brother, who was 15 at the time of the shooting: It was the end of my freshman year. I went to Tohickon Middle School and grew up in Doylestown, Pa. There was a dance that night. I dressed for the dance in, like, a sports jacket and tan pants — more like something I would have worn to services or something for temple. In my memory, it’s almost immediately: I walk through the door, and a friend of mine came up to me and said, “God, I’m so sorry about your brother.”
I said, “What are you talking about?”
“Well, I saw on the news that he got shot.”
I called my mom, and she answered and she was pretty hysterical. She was obviously completely torn up, just in tears. But I remember her saying specifically that Bryan was responsive. He had given a thumbs up before going into surgery.
She told me to go enjoy the dance — that everything was going to be fine. I just believed her. I wish I could remember what my thought process was. Obviously this is me looking back, like, What the hell is wrong with you? You need to go now. For some reason that thought wasn’t there.
In the memory, it feels completely naïve, this ability to just believe that everything was OK because that’s what she said, that’s what I heard. The only thought that exists in my head is OK. And that was that.
I don’t really remember the rest of the dance. I don’t remember how I got home or who drove me home. I just remember going to bed and being woken up probably around 4:30, 5:00 in the morning by my dad. It was probably the first time I had ever seen my dad crying. He hadn’t turned the light on, and he sat down on the bed and put one hand on my head. He was just absolutely struggling with what he had to say: “Bryan’s not going to make it. We have to leave now.”
It just felt incredibly hollow. There wasn’t really an emotion there yet. I don’t think I said anything. I don’t think I hugged my dad. It was a cold reaction, just getting up and getting clothes on, knowing that I needed to get in the car.
It felt like I was just floating a little bit above the ground, like something was carrying me along. OK, one arm into this hole of this shirt. And, OK, one arm into the other hole of this shirt. And then put your pants on. And then put your shoes on. And we’re going this way. Just floating. Me completely turned off.
CONNOR SCHNEPS, 21, Alex’s younger brother, who was 12 at the time and staying at a neighbor’s house the night of the shooting: I got woken up at around 5:30, 6:00. I got driven home, even though it was two houses away. … I see my brother Alex crying. I see mom and dad crying. They all look at me. My first thought was, Why is everybody crying?
A family friend was there — a cardiologist. She sat me down in the computer room. She told me that Bryan had been shot. I got very upset. Pretty much something inside of me broke. The only reaction that I could have was crying about it. It felt like my world — at least being 12 and looking up to somebody like Bryan — my world was tearing apart at the seams.
We all just piled into the SUV that we have and drove. … Nobody was really talking. I didn’t say anything until we got to the hospital.
ALEX: All the sudden we were there.
I remember seeing his friend Chip outside the hospital on the sidewalk. He was just a mess. He gave me this big hug. We had only hung out once, twice before. He was just ruined. He was crying, snot all over his face. It was that really ugly crying.
CHIP HENDERSON, 33, Bryan’s friend: I remember going down to the hospital. You know you are going to see Bryan for the last time. It was very emotional. There were no vibrant colors that day. You’re just in a daze. The stress of the situation squeezes your mind.
ALEX: I was still not processing what was going on because I hadn’t seen it. We went up to the intensive care unit of Temple University Hospital. There was a very long line of friends who were there.
TAMARA SCHNEPS, 59, mother of Bryan, Alex and Connor: It was like a production line. … I said, you know, “Just talk to him. He’ll know that you’re there.”
ALEX: They were all going up to my mom at that point. I don’t remember seeing my mom at the hospital. I don’t think I did.
Right when I got out of the elevator, there was sort of a lounge across from the elevators, and my younger brother, Connor, was sitting there. I just sort of passed him. That was it. I didn’t really say anything. We didn’t really acknowledge each other. We already didn’t have a very good relationship at that point. It was one of those relationships where it was hard enough just to say hello.
There were a lot of nurses and doctors all around, but they were all laughing and joking, sort of light with each other. That haunted me. I remember thinking, How can you possibly joke, laugh, stay positive?
I remember it was very sterile. It smelled of cleaning products. There was just a lot of intermittent beeping. There were beeps from all different rooms. I immediately hated hospitals and doctors. I was very hyper-aware of what was going on. I felt like the closer I got to the room that Bryan was in, the heavier I weighed. Each step took more effort.
CONNOR: I didn’t really feel much of anything going into the hospital. I didn’t know what to expect. We got up to the intensive care unit, and we were directed towards his room. The first thing I did is I ran in there and I just sat on the bed, I held his hand, and I just wouldn’t let go.
I could feel how warm I was compared to how cold he was. And it made me think, “He’s not there.”
ALEX: I had a really hard time forcing myself to go in the room. I wasn’t going to go in. I just wouldn’t do it. My dad said, “If you don’t go in, you will regret it the rest of your life.” He said it very straight — just straight, this is what you need to do right now. It was not a tone that I had heard before.
Bryan looked much bigger than I remembered. He looked huge compared to me. I just looked so small. I went up to him. I was facing his left side and he had been shot on the right side, so he looked normal when I walked in. I stayed there for a second.
I walked around to the other side.
His back and his shoulder area and his neck were very swollen and very blue and very purple. It suddenly seemed very real. OK, so you weren’t kidding. You’re not messing around with me. Bryan was unconscious.
I did promise him that I was going to be a better brother to my younger brother. Like, if you get better, I’ll be a better brother.
I held his hand, and in it my hand felt so entirely small. And I could feel how warm I was compared to how cold he was. And it made me think, He’s not there.
TAMARA: I took Bryan for all the tests to make sure there was nothing there. They had to peel me away from him.
I said, “I want to breathe for him.” I said, “Let me take the Ambu bag.” So they let me do that all the way downstairs. I just felt that if I could give him these last few breaths, being a nurse and a mother, I felt like I could give that to him. That’s what I did. I always nurtured.
I told him how much I loved him. I said, “Just hang in there and be a good boy.”
I wanted him to hang on so he could live on in other kids. His heart went to a teenager. I think his kidneys went to a young girl.
ALEX: A couple days before, I had texted him and asked him if he was coming home that weekend. Bryan sent me back a one-word text: “Nope.”
ALEX: Bryan was six and a half years older than me. He’s actually my half brother. My mom was married once before. I never thought about him that way. He was always there from the beginning. My earliest memory of anything ever is when we lived in Texas. We had bay windows, so you could sit on the sill there and look out. There used to be these amazing hailstorms and heat lightning and thunder. My earliest memory is of sitting in those bay windows, watching those storms with Bryan. The feeling that I have — and it’s just a feeling — is of awe. What I’m recalling is just silence — no talking — and just looking out the window. And you could hear the hail.
TAMARA: Bryan was like a little mother. He couldn’t get enough of Alex. He wanted to feed him. He wanted to change him. He wanted to hold him.
ALEX: I used to keep a sleeping bag under Bryan’s bed for whenever I couldn’t sleep. I had a lot of trouble sleeping as a kid. Anytime I couldn’t sleep, I would just go into his room, and he would let me sleep on his floor.
“Bryan, I can’t sleep.”
And him being like, “OK, sleep on the floor. You can pull out your sleeping bag.” It was comforting to be there with him. Bryan could always sleep so easy. I’d have to be 8 or 9.
I moved into his room after he went to college.
In his bedroom, the walls were covered with pictures of girls. He had subscriptions to Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated. He used to rip pages out of the magazines and just post them all over his walls. Girls in bathing suits. Cute girls from TV shows and movies.
Bryan had this tin that I still have, this giant games tin. He had emptied it all out and had kept all these notes from high school from girls, notes that you would pass in class. There were probably 30 or 40 notes in there. I read all of them after he died. All these girls wanted to pass him notes. Gossip notes about who was with who. And notes that asked, “Do you want to hang out later?” I was just impressed.
Bryan used to come in really late or stay up really late. He would go on the computer. The computer was downstairs. I would hear him come in through the front door. I would always go and sit at the railing and just sort of watch him on the computer. I was pretty young — just watch him, wondering who he was talking to, what he was doing.
HEIDI WHITNEY-SARLES, 29, a high-school girlfriend whom Bryan had taken to her senior prom: He lived in Pennsylvania at the time. I lived on Cape Cod. We would talk on the phone and online.
Bryan came all the way up to Cape Cod. We rented a tux with tails for him. He looked like a movie star. He was very gentlemanly. It was nice to have an out-of-town date for me in my high school. It was nice to have somebody I cared about as a prom date and somebody that was special in my eyes. People wondered who he was.
MELANIE LEROY, 29, a cousin: Bryan and I were 11 months apart. He was a social butterfly. I was a nerdy girl in school. It was like I was on a special vacation when I visited him. I went from nerdy high-school kid to in with the popular kids when I came to town. Bryan was one of those kids that could have been prom king. Everybody knew him.
He was very goofy. We used to have sleepovers all the time. He and I always used to rubber-band the sinks. When our parents would turn on the water, it would shoot them in the face. We didn’t just do it once. We did it dozens of times.
DEREK ANGEL, 26, Melanie’s brother: Every time he stayed over we would try to stay up all night.
Bryan was that type of character — he was always getting into trouble. But he was incredibly sweet to his mom, doing the right thing. When it came to the important stuff, he was great at it.
TAMARA: He would do anything for Alex and Connor. He was the glue.
CONNOR: Alex and I would get into more and more fights with each other. There would be moments in time where I would tell him I hated him, I didn’t want to be around him — all the crap brothers say to each other when they’re pissed off. Bryan would grab us by the shoulder. He would say, “Brothers aren’t supposed to fight. We love each other.”
ALEX: I remember crying at my bar mitzvah — going to the bathroom and crying. Nobody had wanted to dance. We had the reception at a restaurant called the Cock ‘n Bull — an immensely awkward name to have to tell friends and people who weren’t friends that I was inviting anyway. I invited people that I didn’t know because I felt like I couldn’t have an empty reception. I needed to have people there.
I played fucking Pearl Jam. Like “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam. I distinctly remember requesting “Jeremy,” and the DJ being like, “Are you sure?” People must have thought I was suicidal.
The theme was the Oscars. I was surrounded by these huge cardboard cutouts of Oscars and listening to Pearl Jam. I remember Bryan coming into the bathroom and cheering me up, telling me to come back and have a good time. Once I got back there, he gave a really nice toast.
DEREK: I do remember Alex being really uncomfortable and not having a great time. Bryan, on the other hand, and I were sneaking some drinks from the bar. Bryan was trying to dance with our cousin’s babysitter, who was a couple years older than him. I think the babysitter actually gave us drinks. I think that’s how we got them.
SAM LEWIS, 26, Alex’s childhood friend: Alex talked about Bryan almost constantly. I met Bryan once. When I met him, it was literally like meeting the legend. It was after me and Alex had sung a choir concert in a small, little shopping area called Peddler’s Village. Bryan came to watch. He was really kind. We had a sound system and some boxes. Bryan just came over and took them from me. “I’ll handle it,” he said. “Don’t worry about it.”
It was absolutely intimidating. Alex was always talking about his brother and what a hero he was. You so desperately wanted to come across as cool to that person. I definitely worried about it afterwards. I don’t think I came across as cool, especially to Bryan, who was the King of Cool.
MICAELI ROURKE, 23, Alex’s childhood friend: I knew Alex looked up to Bryan because all these things really did come to Bryan so naturally. I remember he told me that Bryan was very outgoing, very social, that all the girls had crushes on him and the guys thought he was the coolest or wanted to beat him up because they were jealous.
This is what a brother does — introduces you to something that’s harder to see.
ALEX: Bryan used to have this family van. One of those big conversion vans — the back seat would fold down into a bed. My parents gave it to him as his first car. Our house was on the bottom of the hill. When we would get to the top of the neighborhood, he would put the van into neutral, and he would say something like, “We’re going to coast all the way home.”
Bryan would blow through stop signs. I remember laughing a lot. If it would start to slow down, we would rock back and forth to try to propel the van forward. I think we made it home every time. But that last stretch, the last part of our street, I was always laughing the most because we were rocking back and forth violently in our seats, just yelling, “We’re going to make it! We’re going to make it!”
After Bryan went off to Temple University, he was somebody I called every day. I called him just to tell him very insignificant things. He never treated me as an age. I was never the 12-year-old brother. I was always just his brother. He was always fairly honest with me. It seemed when I look back on it, he would tell me the truth. He would let me in on things.
When are you coming home? That was the big question. When I knew Bryan was coming home, I used to wait for him by the window like a puppy. I would hang out by the window and wait.
My parents eventually left. He immediately pulled out a beer and said, “Shhh. Don’t tell Mom and Dad.”
ALEX: My parents drove me into Philadelphia to Bryan’s apartment on Diamond Street. He lived on the top floor of a building next to his fraternity and across the street from a sorority, so there was never a lack of a party. We all walked upstairs to see his apartment, which was basically a studio with a doorway that separated the kitchen from the bedroom/living room.
Bryan had a futon, a fake fireplace, a small TV. There were pictures of friends and family around and on the walls, as well as movie posters. And that was kind of it. My parents eventually left. He immediately pulled out a beer and said, “Shhh. Don’t tell Mom and Dad.”
Bryan had two people come over. I didn’t know who they were. He said they were “acquaintances.” It became apparent that Bryan was selling them weed.
I felt awful. I was so disappointed. Everything he did was trying to impress me in the wrong ways. He threw a party for me. He wanted to introduce his friends to me. I was pretty shy. I had a hard time talking to people. I always felt ashamed about that experience. Looking back, I would have loved to have joined in, but the 14-year-old in me was very much against it. It was hard. There was just a lot of observation. God, is this it? Is this what I have to look forward to?
It made me want to leave. Maybe it was because I saw him as incorruptible. But there was a certain level of corruption in seeing that. It didn’t change my opinion of him, but there was this thing on top of him, this other layer. There is a non-innocent part of life, and this is part of it. This is what a brother does — introduces you to something that’s harder to see.
JACK YESHION, 59, Bryan’s father who split with Tamara when Bryan was a toddler: I saw him as often as I could. … There was a couple things I wasn’t aware of, like when they called him “Hollywood.”
ALEX: “Hollywood” was Bryan’s nickname in college. … Bryan liked that lifestyle. He liked the idea of having money and wearing nice suits and smoking cigars and drinking nice drinks. He bought this ridiculously expensive Polo leather jacket that he wore all the time.
TAMARA: I gave him money for something else, and he came back with the jacket. I couldn’t get mad at him.
ALEX: It was absurd. I have a picture of him holding, like, a big cigar in one hand and another cigar in the other hand. There’s a poster of “Scarface” on his wall behind him. That’s the side of him I didn’t know that much.
TAMARA: I didn’t worry about Bryan when I dropped him off for college. There was no reason to worry. Whatever Bryan did on his own, he hid it well. We had no idea that there was anything out of the ordinary going on. Kids selling pot happens everywhere in college. That part of it — I had no idea. What Alex saw, Alex never told me.
ALEX: Bryan came home to see me in a show. I think it was “Seussical: the Musical” in a cafetorium — a half cafeteria, half auditorium in the middle of nowhere New Jersey. Maybe it was around January or February of ’05. It was maybe springtime.
They just had this police presentation in my school about drugs that terrified me. I knew this about him. I remember after the show I was really quiet. I took him up to his room. I was like, “Look, I know what you are doing. Promise me you will stop. Please believe me that I’m terrified. Please stop.”
Bryan just said, “OK.” He said, “Look, I’m only doing this with friends, only with people that I know.” I just said, “Please stop.” And he said, “OK.”
ALEX: My father asked me to play “Here Comes the Sun” at Bryan’s funeral. I couldn’t say no to him. This was a time when you just didn’t say no to family. You couldn’t do that. You said yes to everything my mom said. You said yes to everything my dad said.
This was a very personal request. I had to just do it, whether it meant anything to me. It kind of didn’t at the time. I was so angry. And I was angry playing it. I was just angry that, you know, I had to sit next to a coffin in front of a crowd of people playing a song.
The song was so happy. It was just strange. I was playing it so hard. I was almost shaking. It just seemed strange. I couldn’t see the optimism in it.
There was a long time after the funeral that he would come into my room and ask me to play that song for him. After that, I wasn’t so angry.
CONNOR: I think it was the night before the funeral or maybe the night after we got home from seeing Bryan in the hospital. Alex and I sat down together, and we actually made a promise to each other that we would try our best to get closer, get to know each other better and be friends for Bryan’s sake. We knew that’s what he wanted. But that never exactly came into fruition.
ALEX: I don’t know whether it was the day of the funeral. My grandpa was there — my mom’s dad. He died a few months after Bryan. I remember him looking at me and saying, “I’m really sorry about your brother.” It made me feel almost distant. It almost felt like he was a bystander. Not even my grandfather knew how to deal or what to say. It was a very stock response.
TAMARA: I was doing a few things very early, I mean, like shiva time. I felt like I would go out on the deck and I would feel the breeze, and I would feel that was Bryan with me. I would race to get up in the morning, and if I didn’t get out in time when I wanted to be out on the deck, I was panicking.
The rabbi actually spoke to me, and he said, “You can’t do that anymore.”
ALEX: I’d lock eyes with a picture of Bryan for five minutes before I could walk away. There’s one picture in the upstairs hallway. It’s his senior picture from high school. He’s looking directly into the camera. When you walk by it, it looks like he’s following you with his eyes. I would go to walk by him, and I couldn’t walk away.
I know my mom went into a sort of, I can’t think of the word, almost like doing chores. She had a regime of things that had to get done now. Like taking care of Bryan’s clothes. What do we do with all his stuff? She got rid of most of it, which really upset me at the time. We would always do hand-me-down stuff. Some of the stuff I wore was originally Bryan’s. She kept a number of things that were the most representative of his style or had some lingering smell on it — particularly the leather jacket.
I know that there was a lot of symbolism around the wind. I know at the funeral there was a big breeze — that gave her the feeling of him being present. … I didn’t buy into any of it, and I tried really hard to. There was a lot of stuff like that — him coming to her in dreams, the butterflies — she sort of fell in love with the idea of butterflies as a symbol for Bryan.
I remember I lied to my mom after the funeral. She was obviously not in a good place. I remember telling her about seeing Bryan sitting on top of the coffin, and I had seen him running alongside of the car on the way to the cemetery. Neither of those things were true.
TAMARA: It was around midnight. I’d gotten up and I looked at the staircase, and there was a figure walking in the hall with the same clothes Bryan had on. I couldn’t see his face. He came walking down the stairs and disappeared. And I freaked. I called my sister at 1 o’clock in the morning. I said, “I’m really losing it.” It’s just not good. You want him here so badly.
My mother said Bryan visited her. He was standing in her hallway as clear as day, like he was when he left.
CONNOR: I was 12 when Bryan died. I didn’t understand it when I was that young. All I could really say to myself was that he was gone, and he wasn’t coming back. And I couldn’t figure out why.
I didn’t understand, so I went on through middle school — didn’t really explore what I was feeling, why I was feeling it. I just chose to ignore it because it seemed like the most plausible option at the time.
TAMARA: He went into a shell.
ALEX: My parents wanted to do family therapy, like the whole family going in and speaking with somebody. I went in with them for about 10 minutes. I couldn’t do it. I had to leave. I didn’t want to talk to this person who had no concept of what it was we were going through. I didn’t want to have to explain it to them.
I was always angry at Alex for never being the brother that Bryan was.
CONNOR: By the time I was 16, I started to explore my feelings a little bit more — not anywhere in depth, but I started to explore them. And then something happened in the spring semester of my sophomore year of high school where I had a crystallizing moment.
Have you ever heard of one of those moments where people say that your entire life passes you by? I had one of those moments, and I picked apart every single thing just in those few minutes.
I decided right then and there that I hated who I was. I didn’t understand my grief. I was angry at the world, and at that point in time I flipped over a table while I was in class, and I walked out.
My teacher, she followed me out. She tried to calm me down. I started cursing her out. From what I remember, it wasn’t blackout anger, but a moment where I forgot just most of what happened. I believe I hit a locker a few times, and then I walked downstairs and I called my mom. I went down to the guidance office. I just went home.
I was always angry at Alex for never being the brother that Bryan was. I was always pissed off that he didn’t make the attempt. That sort of sounds unfair for me to say. It is unfair. Bryan, at least to me, was the gold standard. I just wish that Alex made more of an attempt to be more brotherly.
ALEX: I needed an older brother. That’s what I needed. I needed the same thing that Connor needed. We just kept on running parallel to each other.
I was an angry teenager. And Connor was becoming an angry teenager. That wasn’t a good time to try and fix a problematic relationship, and I didn’t know how. I didn’t have the effort to do it. And I had other things I cared more about, and that’s the truth. That’s what’s shitty about the way I was towards him. I didn’t understand the responsibilities of being a brother. I wasn’t in any place to take care of anybody else. I needed to be taken care of.
I made Bryan’s death everything. Everything that I was before didn’t exist. After the funeral, I had this button that I wore for a year or two years. It was a picture of Bryan’s face and the dates. And I wore a small metal button with a black cloth hanging down that was torn for mourning. I have a necklace with a Star of David pendant that was his. He got it for his bar mitzvah. I haven’t taken it off really at all in the last eight years.
I would go from these moments of really severe pain, of instantly needing to cry and having to excuse myself from a room. Anything could lead me there. I could be looking at a chair. I could be looking at a person, a picture on the wall, the sidewalk.
I felt like I could help other people when they were sad. But none of their sadness could compare to mine.
I made Bryan’s death everything. Everything that I was before didn’t exist.
MICAELI: We were sitting in English class. I think it was September or October. He sat behind me, and I guess we were talking about our summers. I remember lamenting that I had just been dumped for the first time, and I was really upset. He was my first boyfriend — a pretty big deal to me.
Alex said, “Yeah, I’ve been going through a really hard time too. Did you know my brother?” I said that I had heard that he had passed away, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t know if he wanted to talk about it. And Alex goes, “He was shot.”
He just started to tell me everything that happened: where his brother was, how old his brother was, how he got in the situation where the gun was involved, and the trial and how his mom was not well — obviously she was crushed — and how that was hard for him, how he had to carry that.
Alex was composed when he was telling the story, but then after he told me everything he wanted to tell me, you could see the happiness drain out of him. We were still sitting in the middle of English class. People were just sitting around us laughing and talking and having free time.
I excused myself and used the bathroom. He excused himself too. He found me in the hallway and apologized. I think he felt a little bit embarrassed.
ALEX: For a long time, I refused to admit that one event could shape my entire life like that. The truth is that it did, and there’s no avoiding that. It’s just a matter of accepting the truth. It’s really accepting that it has entirely, 100 percent shaped who I am.
For a long time, I just wanted to be Bryan. Maybe if I tried hard enough, I would just go away and he would be me.
The first question that popped up in my head at any social setting was, What would Bryan do? Sometimes it worked. But I think a lot of my comments came off as awkward, like somebody trying too hard. If I didn’t think I could measure up to someone, I just receded into myself.
I have these moments of disappearing. Those still happen to me today. I just go somewhere else, and I go there for the rest of the night. I wake up and I’ll be fine. It’s a rebuilding process.
Falling into that hole repeatedly.
It manifested itself in a lot of different ways. Socially in a very clear way. … It manifested itself academically in not caring about learning. It manifested itself physically. I would get a tightness on the left side of my body near my heart that was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t drive.
I would disappear all the time. I’d be in social situations, and I’d realize I was fidgeting a lot and I couldn’t breathe. Just very simple conversations where I thought silly, irrational judgments like, God, you’re saying all the wrong things. Maybe you’re just a stupid person, and everyone just pretends to make you feel better.
It’s a place of extreme judgment, extreme consciousness, being stuck in my head and not being able to say anything. … I used to do that all the time, and I didn’t know how to stop it. This experience of losing someone — it just blows open the Pandora’s box of questions about yourself.
SAM: Even years after he was recovering, you would see it in him still. You would see it at a party where he was talking and joking. It just, like, hit him. His eyes would glaze. He would sink back into himself. It was like a physical shift, a physical change.
It was like Alex would vacate himself. He would be just standing there. You could tell he was sad. He would wander away, wander out of the party, wander out of the house. I would go and sit with him. He knew I wanted to help, but he also knew I couldn’t possibly understand. I was a teenager.
MICAELI: It was in the middle of a show we were doing. Neither of us had really big parts. We spent a lot of time backstage. It was “Alice in Wonderland.” It was really terrible. I think we were both chess pieces.
ALEX: We were playing cards.
MICAELI: Everyone would be goofing around backstage. And every so often he would withdraw himself and play piano. He always played “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He would usually just sit and play “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and be sad. That was hard to watch. He would just be stonelike.
I don’t think everyone knew. I know Alex didn’t talk openly to people. He wouldn’t tell a lot of people who didn’t already know.
ALEX: I remember the first girlfriend in high school. We dated for a month or two. We would just make out and cry together. She was overwhelmed with a family filled with emotional trauma and not knowing how to deal with it. And I was dealing with my shit.
We would go out to the Starbucks by the movie theater and get a coffee, talk, and then go out behind the Starbucks and start making out and crying. I don’t know which came first, the crying or the making out.
We were doing “Into the Woods.” I walked into the dressing room one day and walked up to her and said, “I need to break up with you,” and just walked out. I didn’t give her a chance to respond. To this day I have no idea why.
For six months, I tried to get her back. She wasn’t having it. Rightly so.
SAM: We would hang out under this iron bridge in our town. We would hang out in my carriage house, because that was where the video games were. At the time, we both wanted to make movies. We went to the movies constantly.
We made a short trailer of a movie. It was about a guy whose brother got killed. It was called “Novocaine.”
ALEX: I was one of the henchmen who got in Novocaine’s way, and he hit me in the face with a baseball bat, and I spit up blood. I think it was in black and white, so we may have just used chocolate sauce. Novocaine’s family was murdered on his birthday. And he was seeking revenge.
SAM: We just showed [the trailer] to everybody. It was one of those things. We got so involved with making stuff — when we finally took a step back, it was, “Oh my gosh.” Alex was in the trailer. … He was telling someone not to go out and seek vengeance.
ALEX: I think for a while it bothered me because nobody could give me a direct answer about Bryan. When there’s that kind of loss, that’s all you’re doing is looking for an explanation.
RYAN STRICKLER, 30, Bryan’s childhood friend: I was outside working on my car one day — we kind of lived in the same neighborhood. I’m outside working on my Mustang. Here comes Alex, and my first gut reaction is, What’s going on? Why is he coming over here? It clicked: He’s curious. He’s smart. He’s going to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
It started off as a casual conversation. What do you know about what happened? Alex was just lost. Lost. … Looking for answers. Looking for justice. Looking for everything. I wasn’t sure how much information to give him.
ALEX: I think it was at night. I remember just crying hysterically, like uncontrollably, and there was just, like, nothing that Ryan could do. He didn’t know what to do, and he couldn’t say anything.
RYAN: The biggest regret is not being the person that I should have been to Bryan’s brother.
Bryan really taught me how to be a good friend. He really taught me, believe it or not, how to be close to people.
It tore me apart. I felt like I was two different people. I wanted to be this person that Bryan showed me how to be. I felt like a jerk to not be able to reciprocate those feelings back to his brother because it was too hard. There’s a lot of regrets involved.
There were times when I avoided Alex. I wasn’t the person I should have been for him.
CHIP: After Bryan passed, I do remember Alex spending more time with Bryan’s friends. He never really spent time with us beforehand. He never had a reason to.
As much as he knew Bryan at home, he had no clue what Bryan was like. I’d want to know what my brother was like if I was in his situation.
MELANIE: What’s funny is what I originally thought — Bryan was just partying around, he was studying partying.
HEIDI: Melanie and I ended up going to visit him at Temple probably in our junior year. … He definitely lived a different life than I was. I was starting an internship at a psych hospital. Melanie and I, we were the straightest of the straightest.
We went out a couple times. We were all underage at the time. He knew people everywhere. He knew people at restaurants. They would always hook him up with something — alcohol, wine. I think there was an element of showing off. Us being underage — look at all the stuff he can get.
CHIP: One time I borrowed money from him to fix my car. In order to pay him back, I had to sell my guitar. He then went out and bought alligator-skin shoes. They were like a greenish color. I don’t know why he bought them.
DAVID MACFARLAN JR., 31, Bryan’s friend: He came from a very upper middle class family. He had a real transformation from high school to college, from being the goofy, outsiderish kid to, “Hey, I got all the weed, I got the drugs, come party with me.”
Bryan had a more wild edge to him. He wasn’t afraid to push the limits a little bit. We went down to Florida for spring break, and he had some Ecstasy pills on him. He didn’t tell me until we were driving down south on 95. I was pretty pissed off. I wanted him to just drop them out the window. They were a felony, a major felony. He refused. I was like, fine, you hide them. I pulled over at the next exit to a hardware store to take my truck apart to hide the pills. He wouldn’t get rid of them. He said, “I paid too much for them.”
Even though he did that stuff, he’s like a brother to me. Both of us would have done anything for each other.
A year before his death, I got very sick. I had nervous system damage. I wasn’t able to digest food. I used to stay in his apartment for a couple days when I was on disability. I was very sick. He would go to the store for me. He was always asking me how I was doing. I was stuck pretty much bedridden at my parents’ house. I’d bring my feeding tube, a bag on a pole. … He knew the deal. He never let it faze him. Bryan didn’t care.
JOEL ROBERTSON, 29, Bryan’s friend: Bryan’s place had gotten robbed before. We had just gotten done painting his apartment. … They took the time to empty all the paint cans in the room.
DAVID: There were so many people who were selling pot in the area. We didn’t think anything of it.
CHIP: When I would be over there, there would be people over there that I never met before. People who were pretty shady. It was people I just didn’t want to be around. Bryan thought he knew everything. Bryan was always sure of himself. There was never a doubt. He had confidence, let’s just say that.
The guy who was on trial for shooting Bryan — I met him once. He was asking me what kind of background I came from, how much money my parents made. It was like he was trying to get something out of me. It was like, I have to get out of here, I can’t deal with this guy.
JOEL: Bryan went to Atlantic City. He went down there with $3,000, and he came back with like $15,000. He’d been saving money to get a car so he had another five grand in savings. He had almost $20,000 to put down. He was just bragging how he was getting an Infiniti G35. What was he going to get, the black or the blue one? He would talk about it all the time — putting a huge cash deposit on it.
It was pretty well known that he had something worth taking.
ALEX: The more distance that I have from Bryan in years and life, the easier it is to build him up as this idolized thing in my head. That makes it more difficult for me to believe he’s a real person.
The more that I found out how complex he was and the flaws that he had, and realized that there were things that were not really great or responsible, it makes him a more real person for me. I can relate to his flaws. That helps me. That’s very cathartic for me.
When I heard that he was a shitty student or, you know, that he tried to fix his car with duct tape, those are endearing. … There were these flaws. Those are the things that made him human.
ALEX: I felt like I had dealt with it by the time I had gotten through high school and had went to college at Boston University. I wasn’t actively trying to grieve. I think on the surface I was OK. I had a pretty strong support group at home … and a pretty solid couple of best friends. I felt like that was still there.
I started to realize I wasn’t as OK as I thought I was. I think it was sophomore year. I had to get a single — a very, very small single away from all of my friends. I was just alone all the time. That distance and that being alone, it just drove me crazy, and it exposed all these things that I wasn’t dealing with. I had so much time to think, and that wasn’t good.
I would pace or I would sit on the computer or I would play guitar. I would occasionally, maybe, go out for a walk.
It was definitely one of the first experiences of trying to avoid people. I lived there for a year, and I didn’t meet or talk to a single person in that building. I would wait and listen at the door before I would go out to see if anybody was there, so that I could avoid meeting somebody.
It wasn’t like a fear. … It was just pure irrational anxiety.
TODD SIFF, 24, Alex’s junior-year roommate: A lot of times Alex would be extremely secluded. … I know the first time I really learned a lot about him was when I went back to his place in Doylestown. He showed me Bryan’s room, pictures of him, books that he’s read. … The room looked like Bryan had just moved out of the house. He had kid sheets still on the bed.
I ended up sleeping there for, like, four nights — in Bryan’s room. … It was like an invitation into the family in a way.
STEPHEN ELROD, 24, Alex’s senior-year roommate, whom Alex only recently told about the circumstances of Bryan’s death: Alex was shocked. He was certain that I was one of those people he shared that with. I always guessed privately that it was a car crash or a sudden illness.
Alex and I were close. We had lived together for a year. I was kind of amazed that I was not aware of this huge thing. But at the same time, a lot of things made sense, a lot of things were put in perspective. It made sense really clearly for the first time that Alex’s being distant or shut-off was related to his brother’s death.
ALEX: There was a girl who I was absolutely in love with, and I finally after, like, two years of just crushing on her, I managed to kiss her. Things were great for about two weeks. And then I remember I just got super clingy, and I remember telling her about what happened to Bryan, and it came out like, “Well, I don’t want to dampen the mood or anything.” I remember saying that. That phrase has haunted me for years. “I don’t want to dampen the mood or anything.” And then saying what happened.
In total honesty, if I’m completely honest with myself, I was using it. I was using the experience as a way of trying to get her to not go, which is the most fucked-up thing I think you can possibly do with something that’s happened to you, is use it as a crutch. … I can see you pulling away. Maybe if I drop this bomb, like, you know, you won’t be able to go.
She left for summer vacation, and when she came back, we hardly spoke and it was very awkward.
STEVEN SCHNEPS, 59, father of Alex and Connor: I was extremely worried about Alex’s ability to forge relationships. As a child, he had inherent difficulties in making long-lasting relationships. He latched onto one or two kids who became his friends. He found comforts in those friendships if those friendships were reciprocated. As is true with many kids, there were often times of indifference or cruelty, which indeed had real impacts.
Alex’s difficulty in relationships was profoundly affected by his loss of Bryan. With Bryan, real or not, Alex believed in Bryan’s complete understanding, universal and unconditional commitment, honesty and love. The standard set in this relationship proves to be unrealistic in just about any other relationship at any level.
ALEX: My dad travels a lot for his work, and he was traveling so much to New Hampshire that he ended up buying a condo there. His place in New Hampshire was only an hour away from where I was in Boston, so he would come in, like, once a month or once every two months for dinner.
There was only so much that we could talk about academically. I think he just, he needed to talk to somebody. He needed to open up. And I was sort of emotionally available.
He would start coming more regularly. It became a thing of going. There was sort of an anticipation to the dinners every time because I knew that it was going to be sort of a talk about these big, huge things — life and death. It allowed us to build a dialogue, because we had never really spoken before then. There wasn’t a lot that we discussed during high school.
I think he really genuinely wanted a relationship, whereas before I think he did want to, but he didn’t know how to approach it, he didn’t know how to approach us, he didn’t know how to approach me.
I remember probably one of the first times. We had dinner. We had talked for, like, two hours at dinner. Then we got in the car, and we still kept talking. We probably talked for, like, four hours. Every time, everything continued to come back to Bryan. No matter what we were talking about, that’s always where we ended up.
STEVEN: These conversations were a collection of all possible ways in which two people, a father and his son, could cement a relationship. … I loved our dinners because we could go anywhere. The restaurants were only a place to eat and drink.
ALEX: It was about coping. And it was about, how do you approach siblings? How do I approach my mom, and how do I approach my younger brother? Things that were difficult for him too. He didn’t know how to approach my younger brother. And sometimes it was hard for him and my mom to communicate because my mom would be dealing with it in a completely different way than he was. I mean, they were so personal. That was what was shocking to me — my dad was being so open and personal.
TAMARA: My husband walks around with a lot of guilt, a lot of guilt that he felt like he sent Bryan to Temple because he pushed him to go to the architectural program. … He walks around with a lot of guilt to this day.
He goes to the cemetery every single Saturday.
CONNOR: It was on Christmas Day I think two years ago now. I told my mom that I was going out, and I had asked her for directions to get to the cemetery where Bryan was buried. The drive was petrifying. Time was kind of slowing down. I didn’t know how I was going to come to terms with all this emotion and grief I still had pent up.
I turned in to the cemetery. I went to the block where he was buried in. It was a really cold and gloomy day. … There’s a little bench that’s right in front of his headstone, and I sat down and the first thing I did was I just looked at the stone. I sat there and welled up with emotions.
I started talking to him.
“Hey, Bryan, it’s Connor. I know it’s been way too long. … I’m finally glad I have the stones to come here and sit by myself and talk.”
I talked to him about what my plans were for my life, what I wanted to do. That I had gotten a tattoo for him. That Bryan was the sole purpose for everything that I wanted to do. From there I couldn’t really talk anymore.
I was just overcome by my emptiness, my sadness, my grief. Then my mom called.
TAMARA: I was in the grocery store parking lot, and something told me to call Connor. I called, and he picked up the phone. He was at the cemetery, and he was hysterically crying. I told him he did the right thing, I was proud of him.
It was a major breakthrough. He let some of his emotions come through. He let himself be raw.
ALEX: My dad would ask me about how I feel about what had gone on with Bryan and how do I cope with things — really seeking genuine advice from me. That was terrifying. I had to give answers as honest as I could. I couldn’t hide from him anymore.
I would constantly say, “God, I wish I could just have this moment with Bryan.”
A month after Bryan’s death, police caught up with the alleged shooter inside a Motel 6 more than an hour outside Philadelphia. A year later, discrepancy in a witness’s testimony about the man’s height stirred up enough reasonable doubt in the jury for a not-guilty verdict. Police never arrested the accomplice or anyone else for the murder.
The events of that weekend in June have replayed endlessly in Alex’s mind: how he found out that Bryan had been shot, his brother’s last breaths, the thumbs up as he went into surgery. The story became sacred. But eight years later, while being interviewed for this article, Alex discovered that those memories were, in fact, faulty.
ALEX: I was talking to my mom over Skype. … I told her about the details of the day as I remembered it. After I told her, she said, “Well, that’s not really how it happened.”
I was like, “Well, what do you mean?”
She said, “Well, for starters, it certainly wasn’t on TV.” This whole thing about this kid having seen it on the news was not necessarily possible.
The thumbs up — I had thought that was something that my mom said to me. There’s a chance that she did say that, maybe just as a comforting white lie to me. Maybe I am just completely making it up. She said that didn’t happen.
It was just so undramatic. They were just like the events of the day. It happened to be raining that day. There’s nothing particularly dramatic about that. My mom was at the salon getting her hair done. There’s nothing interesting about that. I was at school. It was a talent show. There’s nothing interesting about a high-school talent show. These are everyday events. There’s nothing out of the ordinary.
I had a bit of a mini-meltdown. I felt like there was a chance that everything I said was false. All the memories that I had, the whole way of perceiving the event. I kind of freaked out a little bit.
I don’t try anymore to be precious about memories. I try not to hold onto things anymore. What creates the anxiety that I felt for so long was holding onto these things that I thought were so steadfast and real and true. Really they were just a glorified version of the truth.
TAMARA: We didn’t get to see Bryan when he went in for surgery. They couldn’t wait. They kept on calling me and calling me, and I said, “Enough of the bullshit. I’m a nurse. Tell me, did he get shot in the foot, or are we going to lose him?”
“No, he didn’t get shot in the foot. We can’t wait.”
They grabbed us as soon as we got to the hospital. They let Bryan come around slightly. “I’m here,“ I said. ”Squeeze my hand if you understand what I’m saying.” And he did, and that was that. My voice was the last he heard.
This was before the boys came in. This was before we told them everything.
Note: Bryan's legal name was Bryan Yeshion. After consulting with his family, we have chosen to use the name he used, Bryan Yeshion Schneps.