Wilkinsburg robbery may have led to death

'No matter her struggles that she went through with school or money ... she never stopped.'

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Shirley Proviano had been trying to reach her daughter by phone Wednesday, but she wasn't picking up. Her calls went straight to voice mail.

Later, as always, she turned on the 10 o'clock news and heard that police were asking for help identifying a woman who was shot to death early that morning in Wilkinsburg. The woman's face was so damaged in the apparent robbery that police were having trouble identifying her.

Then came a description -- one that matched Ms. Proviano's 28-year-old daughter, Monica, who was 4 feet, 10 inches tall and about 300 pounds.

"My heart dropped," Ms. Proviano said. "I knew that she was my daughter."

She called Wilkinsburg police, and Allegheny County detectives came to interview her. Those few hours after the newscast were agonizing -- she couldn't sit still and pressed her hand to her chest, fearing a heart attack.

"I tried to calm myself down mentally, but physically it wasn't stopping," she said.

About 2 a.m., she went to the Allegheny County medical examiner's office. It was Monica.

Wilkinsburg police found Monica Proviano dead on South Trenton Avenue early Wednesday with a gunshot wound to her head, said Lt. Andrew Schurman of the county homicide unit.

"We are definitely looking at robbery as a motive," Lt. Schurman said. "She was targeted for robbery because she was a jitney driver and not necessarily targeted because of who she was."

Police on Monday told officers to be on the lookout for two 19-year-old men wanted for questioning.

About this time last year, Monica Proviano of Wilkinsburg returned to driving a jitney, an unregistered taxi, to make ends meet. The money was good, even though the job itself could be chancy.

Days weren't so bad, but Shirley Proviano worried when her daughter started working nights. "Where we lived, and everything that was going on, it scared me," Shirley Proviano said.

"She said, 'Mom, I don't want to do it, but I have to do what I have to do to pay bills.' "

About 2 a.m. Wednesday, a call came into the jitney station, requesting no driver in particular. Monica Proviano responded to an address on South Trenton, according to a friend who works at the station, Shirley Proviano said.

Someone placed a 911 call about 2:42 a.m. She was pronounced dead 18 minutes later.

"We lost someone who was not done living her life," said Andrew Mckinney, Monica Proviano's best friend for 15 years.

About a year ago, the Wilkinsburg High School graduate had been studying communications at Carlow University before she withdrew in spring 2012, school records show.

Shirley Proviano said her daughter, whom she adopted at age 5 with Monica's sister Whitney, needed to work to get back on her feet and pay off some school loans.

Carlow communications professor Michael Balmert said while it has been more than a year since Monica Proviano took one of his classes, he still remembers her warmth and her "infectious" laugh, which he often heard from down the hall.

When a colleague shared the news last week, he was stunned.

"I just looked at him and tears started rolling down my face," Mr. Balmert said, his voice breaking. "It's devastating. She was a sweet kid."

Shirley Proviano said things had been tough for her daughter last year.

After she dropped out of Carlow, she worked as a patient care technician at LifeCare Hospitals of Pittsburgh in Monroeville but left after about a month because getting around without a car proved too difficult, and renting one for that job was too costly, Shirley Proviano said. She turned back to driving a jitney, which she had done before, using a rented vehicle.

In December, Monica Proviano wed a man named Audley V. Savage, which came as a surprise even to those closest to her. He could not be reached for comment.

Friends, still in shock, remembered Monica Proviano as a caring soul and a sharp, ambitious student, even when faced with life's travails.

"No matter her struggles that she went through with school or money or doors closing in her face," said longtime friend LaTosha Monroe, "she never stopped."


Molly Born: mborn@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1944 or on Twitter @borntolede.


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