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Making Sense Of Murder In 'Visiting Hours'


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Five weeks before she was set to graduate from college, Amy Butcher found herself on the periphery of a murder. She and her friend Kevin had been hanging out one night, as they often did. Hours after Kevin left Amy, he stabbed his girlfriend to death. That night would haunt Amy Butcher for years afterwards, a haunting that became a debilitating obsession. Amy Butcher has written about that experience in her debut book. It is called "Visiting Hours: A Memoir Of Friendship And Murder." She joins us from the studios of WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.

Amy, thanks so much for being with us.

AMY BUTCHER: Thank you so much for having me, Rachel.

MARTIN: Let me start off by just asking you to describe what you remember about that night because it's been several years now. What details stand out to you?

BUTCHER: In a lot of ways this is just a typical kind of college night. Kevin and I had gone out with a group of friends to the place that we always went, which was the Blue Parrot Bistro in Gettysburg, Pa. We had - I had a glass of wine. I believe Kevin had a gin and tonic. He walked me home. He said good night to me. And that was the last time that I would ever see him outside of prison.

MARTIN: Who was Kevin Schaeffer? What was he like?

BUTCHER: Kevin was someone that I met, really, immediately upon arriving at Gettysburg College. He was very driven, very intelligent. He thought before he spoke. He was not sort of one of these outlandish, kind of aggressive college freshmen. And he had a very easy presence that I found, you know, very comforting those first few weeks and into the four years of college.

MARTIN: You reveal in the book that Kevin did suffer from severe depression, had been taking medications to try to combat that. Before the night of Emily's murder, did you or any of his close friends - were you aware that he suffered from this kind of depression?

BUTCHER: You know, I was familiar with the fact that Kevin had been struggling with depression, but I didn't know that it was this bad, this severe. During our junior year of college, he did attempt to take his life. I was studying abroad that semester and when I returned, you know, I was immediately concerned. But at 20 and 21, it seemed incredible taboo. I didn't know how to address it. I assumed someone else was sort of doing that.

MARTIN: It is understandable that this would be a traumatic event for you. This is your close friend. You saw Kevin just hours before he committed this crime. But, you become consumed with this event. Can you describe what that was like, what kind of questions kept running through your mind?

BUTCHER: The way I've kind of learned to think about it is sort of a coming-of-age overnight. There was really never a moment in my life where I felt confused in the way that I did, and kind of gripped by pain and by grief. It was the only thing in my life at that moment, frankly, that kind of remained utterly unknown, and in that way became something that I felt desperately I had to sort of figure out. I had to make sense of what was really truly sort of nonsensical.

MARTIN: You graduated from Gettysburg College and you ended up getting into grad school, getting a teaching job. And all the while, you were in touch with Kevin, writing letters back and forth. What were your motivations?

BUTCHER: You know, in a lot of ways I sort of wish that after that event that I would've kind of written him off, which is what a lot of people did, and understandably so. And so I wrote him initially 12 hours after his arrest. I wrote him and I said, I trust that you're not a monster and I don't know what happened and I don't know that you know what happened, but I am going to be here and I am going to be here for you in whatever capacity you sort of need. And I saw that as companionship. Our letters - initially, he would ask for pictures of us from college. He would want, you know, this particular picture of us all drinking from these drinks with these paper umbrellas. So I'm pulling them from Facebook, cutting them out and mailing to this, you know, county prison and then later this maximum-security prison, trying to remind him and reassert that life was once normal. But over time, I began to realize that this isn't healthy. That in a lot of ways, I've become obsessed with trying to figure this out such to the point that I'm kind of traumatizing myself trying to understand what exactly happened that night, seeking out for example, you know, evidence. I wanted to understand as concretely as I could because I wasn't getting from Kevin any sort of answers. And so over time it became sort of - I just hoped desperately that he would tell me something that would help me make sense of what had happened.

MARTIN: And in the end, you write in the book that Kevin was motivated that night by a desire to take his own life and that's what precipitated the murder of his girlfriend.

BUTCHER: Yeah. And that was something that didn't reveal itself until 18 months after he was arrested. You know, initially the murder itself was incredibly graphic, it was brutal. The news stories ran this number - 27 times that he had stabbed Emily Silverstein. And that's a number that, I think, above all implies aggression and intention. And I really struggled with that. We all struggled with that. And so it wasn't until almost two years after this incident that I read - I acquired and read these public documents that after the sentencing were made available, and I learned that he had tried to take his own life. This was something that he claimed immediately after being arrested. And then there were three mental health experts who interviewed Kevin extensively. And all three attested to the fact that they had absolute faith that Kevin had never meant to hurt Emily, that in other words, he raised a knife to his neck. Emily had come over because she was concerned about him. She worried he had threatened to take his own life. And when she intervened physically, trying to remove the knife from his hand, he turned his attention to her.

MARTIN: Are you still in touch with him?

BUTCHER: I'm not. You know, it's a very strange thing. I began this book with his support. The one rule that he had was not to contact her family and not to contact his family. But over time as I begin write this book and I began to realize sort of the depth of my own obsession about this night, I felt a necessity to reach out to these people. It was never sort of this exploitative thing. I just simply wanted to write about this event and try to make sense of it. And so I reached out to both parents and both declined to be a part of the book. But when I told Kevin that, he very abruptly ended communication with me and I have not talked to him since. And that's a very strange thing because it's a book about why I wanted to be in touch with him, and by the end I'm not. That's something that I never could've foreseen.

MARTIN: The book is called "Visiting Hours: A Memoir Of Friendship And Murder." It's written by Amy Butcher. She joined us from the studios of WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.

Amy, thanks so much for talking with us.

BUTCHER: Thank you so much Rachel, for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.