After five years as a key player in the Drew Peterson saga, the Rev. Neil Schori ’97 is looking to turn his surreal experience as a murder-trial witness into a new mission – stopping domestic violence.
Schori testified this summer during Peterson’s murder trial, recounting a 2007 meeting over coffee with a distressed member of his church whom he was counseling, Stacy Peterson, who went missing months later. Schori told authorities that Stacy Peterson implicated her husband, Drew, in the 2004 death of his third wife, Kathleen Savio. Schori’s hearsay evidence became a centerpiece of the prosecution’s successful conviction of Peterson in September.
Stacy Peterson has never been found, but the pastor says she has been his inspiration for pivoting from Drew’s case toward domestic violence awareness. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“My entrance started with Stacy. She was the catalyst for all of it,” Schori said.
Schori, now 37, is a Bloomington-Normal native who graduated from University High School before studying political science at Illinois State. He became a Christian during his senior year, right in the middle of his leadership role in his fraternity, Delta Sigma Phi.
“It’s not where a lot of people find God, but I did,” Schori said.
A new path was clear, and it didn’t involve law school. After getting his master’s degree in counseling from Lincoln Christian University, Schori spent time as a fitness center manager and hospice chaplain before finding his way to the Chicago suburbs. He met Stacy and Drew Peterson while pastor at Westbrook Christian Church in Bolingbrook. He’s now been pastor at Naperville Christian Church for five years.
Schori said he started praying for direction after Stacy disappeared, and was eventually contacted via Facebook by Susan Murphy-Milano, a leading advocate for victims of domestic violence. She told Schori that churches could play a bigger role in stopping domestic violence but were not equipped to do so.
“That (conversation) was very clearly to me an answered prayer,” Schori said.
Today, Schori is focused on two missions. The first is to train other pastors on something called the Evidentiary Affidavit of Abuse, a tool that Murphy-Milano created so that victims can privately document their abuse on a notarized document and video. Thousands of women across the country have completed the Evidentiary Affidavit of Abuse already, and all of them are still alive, Schori said.
“It eliminates the hearsay (issue) that came up with me,” Schori said.
His other goal is to break down the domestic violence issue into digestible points that people can understand. About 1.3 million women are abused every year, he said, and if each and every American church (about 260,000) designated five “safe families” to give victims temporary shelters, “we could literally rescue every single woman who would be abused this year,” Schori explained.
It’s been a whirlwind five years for Schori since Stacy disappeared. At times, Schori says national media outlets would camp out outside his home, knocking on his family’s door at all hours of the night. Around the time Stacy went missing, Schori was starting his new job at the Naperville church, and his wife, Brandi (Wilson) Schori ’01, had just given birth to their twin daughters.
“It was very challenging for my family,” Schori said. “It was also challenging because, throughout all this, I was learning the horrible truth about domestic violence, and just how frequent it is, right in our midst.”
For more information about Schori’s mission, check out his website, NeilSchori.com.
Ryan Denham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.