The news hit Stephen Joseph Schap's family and friends like a bomb: Stephen, the fresh-faced, kind and considerate kid they'd watched grow up in Gardenville was in a military prison in Germany, charged with commiting a murder.
Longtime family friend Mike Cozzubo heard the news from Stephen's mother, Marianne.
Stephen, a 26-year-old Army sergeant stationed in Germany, allegedly decapitated a man he suspected of sleeping with his wife.
"The alleged deed that occurred, I just cannot think that Stephen is a part of it," said Mr. Cozzubo of Towson. "It's just so totally removed from the young man that I know.
"I said, 'Marianne, I can't believe that your son did this alleged act.' I'm saying, 'Not Stephen.' "
Military police say that on Tuesday, Dec. 7, Sergeant Schap armed himself with a machete, sought out fellow soldier Gregory W. Glover, 21, and cut off his head. He is accused of wrapping the bloody head in a plastic bag and presenting it to his wife, who was in a hospital receiving care for a difficult pregnancy.
Diane Christine Schap, 26, screamed in horror and had to be sedated.
Sergeant Schap was quickly arrested. Specialist Glover's headless body was found at Sickles Army Air Field, where both men worked as mechanics.
What led to the killing is unclear. Military authorities have said little, except to say murder charges have been filed against Sergeant Schap and he faces a court martial.
A conviction on the charges carries a penalty of life in prison or the death sentence, according to William E. Cassara, a former military attorney retained by John Schap and Marianne Schap, the sergeant's divorced parents.
Until the slaying, no one who knew Stephen Schap would have suspected he would ever be in this kind of trouble.
He grew up in Gardenville, was the oldest of six children and attended St. Anthony's Catholic primary school on Frankford Avenue. He was a good student, interested in art and once painted a mural on the faculty lounge, his parents said.
He was named student of the year when he graduated from St. Anthony. At Loyola High School, he won a Law Day essay contest. His mother, a secretary, remembers the pride she felt listening as her son read his winning essay on the steps of the County Courts Building in Towson.
His intellect was bright in these years. He spent several summers in a gifted-and-talented program at Goucher College.
"He had perfect attendance through grade school and high school, so he had perfect attendance for 12 years," Ms. Schap said.
Sergeant Schap majored in English at Loyola College, graduating in 1989.
"He was a good student," said John Schap, 49, who operates the family steel business in Dundalk. "He worked hard [in school]. He burned the midnight oils many a night."
After graduating, he worked with his father, helping to put together steel fences and security screens, and going out on estimating jobs. That lasted a year before he joined the Army.
"It's relatively unusual for people to enlist after they graduate from college," Mr. Cassara said.
Mr. Schap said, "It's something he came to realize he wanted to do after he graduated from college."
Although he had offers to pursue Officers Training School, Sergeant Schap chose to enlist as a private, preferring to work his way up from the bottom, his father said.
After basic training, he learned to repair Army helicopters and was doing well. He became a sergeant in September.
"He appears to be, by all accounts, a bright, hard-charging soldier," Mr. Cassara said.
Then Specialist Glover was slain.
Little is known about Diane Schap, except that she is not from Baltimore and that she married Sergeant Schap in the fall of 1989.
On Mr. Cassara's advice, Sergeant Schap's parents declined to say anything about his wife. The lawyer said information on her will play a big part in Sergeant Schap's trial defense.
"You don't need to be a lawyer to see that there will be issues of sanity in this case," Mr. Cassara said.
Two attorneys -- a military public defender and a private U.S. attorney -- will represent Sergeant Schap at his trial.
Though the shock of the charges against their son is fresh, the Schaps worry about the way the military conducts criminal trials. They think the deck may be stacked against their son, and that military prosecutors may seek the death penalty.
Mr. Cassara, who spent six years in the Army as a prosecutor and defense attorney, said, "I can tell you that the military justice system is woefully ill-equipped to handle a case of this magnitude."
In a civilian criminal trial, the defense plays a major role in selecting a jury. Not so in a court martial. The unit's commanding general picks the jury, the judge, the prosecutor, even the psychiatrist who evaluates defendants, Mr. Cassara said. "It's a system that allows the general to exact an incredible amount of influence over something he should not exact any influence over," he said.
Meanwhile, as Sergeant Schap awaits his day in a military court, his family and friends struggle to resume their normal lives.
"We try to go about our regular life, but you hurt inside," Mr. Schap said. "You feel for your son inside."