A Life Interrupted: At home, taking stock, preparing to grieve

Chapter Four / The Home Front

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Bill Wade, Post-Gazette
Maryann and Carmen Proviano at their Baldwin Borough home last month -- To the parents, it just didn't add up
By Steve Levin, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Carmen and Maryann Proviano knew from the start something was wrong. It was completely out of character for their only son, Anthony, not to be home for Christmas, not to call, not to answer the tearful pleading messages left on his Cincinnati phone by his sisters.

The trip to their son's Cincinnati apartment on Dec. 26 with a Baldwin Borough cop had only increased their dread.

The apartment was messy, but that wasn't unusual for a 29-year-old single medical school student. His school books were open to material that he wouldn't be tested on until February. His laundry bag was by the back door -- a sure sign to them that he planned to return to school.

The awful discovery of their son's body on Dec. 28 near a hotel in St. Clairsville, Ohio, had been made worse by the pronouncement of the Belmont County coroner that not only had Anthony shot himself, but "probably after he got drunk enough he probably had the courage to do the job."

To the Provianos, it just didn't add up. Not just that Anthony had paid for a room for one night at the St. Clairsville Days Inn on Dec. 23 when he was only 70 minutes from home. He didn't sleep in the bed or even use the bathroom. The nearly empty liter bottle of Crown Royal Canadian whiskey and box of .25-caliber shells found among his belongings in the room? That wasn't any proof of suicide.

The trunk of his 1995 Camaro, found in the hotel parking lot, contained wrapped Christmas gifts addressed to them. Clearly, the Provianos reasoned, their son was headed home.

Now he was coming home dead.

He was their little boy, the boy they named for St. Anthony, the one who performed magic tricks and loved reading, who joked with his sisters, went hunting and scuba diving, and helped pay his way through college at Penn State-Behrend and the main campus, where he made dean's list, the young man with the big smile who always volunteered, who always helped.

Full of life, is how they described him. But sometimes he made bad decisions; he could be naive, too trusting. He didn't have street smarts, his father said.

Although an engineering major, he decided his junior year on medical school. "I want a job I can be successful at and be fulfilled in," he said, pointing to his father's three-decade career as a vocational teacher and coach in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Since Anthony didn't have the money to pay for medical school, he worked alternate semesters at General Motors' Delphi Packard Electric Systems plant in Warren, Ohio. After graduation, he continued working at the plant, but also attended night classes at nearby Youngstown State University to earn necessary credits for medical school.

He applied to several schools but chose the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and had done well, ranking 21st of 150. At first he wanted to be a pediatrician but that recently had morphed into becoming a trauma doctor.

Those details were memories now, as the Proviano family, gathered in the small living room of their home on Tush Drive, struggled to make sense of the impossible.

Maryann had thought this would be the best Christmas. For the first time she could remember, all her cooking and preparations had been completed by Dec. 23. The house was spotless. Anthony's 4-month-old niece, Guiliana, was home for the first time, along with his two sisters and brother-in-law. They were eager to hear about his medical school life.

Without Anthony, though, the heavily decorated tree was just a reminder of his absence. The living room was filled with TV crews and reporters. The phone rang constantly. Police from both the borough and Belmont County had visited. Maryann and Carmen couldn't stop crying. No one had slept for days.

And somehow the days passed. Dr. Cyril H. Wecht's office conducted a private autopsy on Anthony. Funeral arrangements were made. A letter arrived unexpectedly from the Belmont County commissioners apologizing "on behalf of the people of Belmont County for the coroner's actions" in ruling that Anthony's death was a suicide. The commissioners enclosed a check for $1,835.50 to pay for Dr. Wecht's autopsy. The good intentions only made the family's pain worse.

They passed New Year's Eve with the knowledge that for them, the first day of 1998 would be spent at the visitation for Anthony at the John F. Slater Funeral Home.

Gallery of key figures
Index to the serial
Listen in

Carmen Proviano, father of Anthony Proviano, discusses why he did not believe his son committed suicide.
"Knowing Anthony ... he loved life."

Tomorrow: A New Year


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