TRAVERSE CITY — Carly Lewis' family reached out to Robert Jensen Schwander and offered the homeless teen a place to stay.
Schwander, 17, had been banished from his own home since December and spent weeks bouncing from home to home, couch to couch.
He stayed for a time with a family on Huron Street, then drifted to the Lewis' house on Webster Street, welcomed there by fellow Traverse City Central High classmate Mitchell Lewis, Carly's older brother.
Family members described Mitchell as a trusting and compassionate young man who holds strong religious convictions. Mitchell hoped he could influence Schwander to join his church.
In late winter the Lewis family opened its home to Schwander. He slept in the basement and promised to help with household chores.
"There's a boy I cared for and brought into my home," said Susie Lewis, Carly's mother. "He had nowhere to go."
About three weeks ago, Schwander suddenly packed up his few belongings and moved out.
"He just took off," Susie Lewis said. "I don't even know where he went."
'I'm so sorry, Susie'
Schwander resurfaced in a way Lewis couldn't have imagined. Police believe he killed Lewis' daughter, Carly, 16, about 7 p.m. on June 2, shortly after meeting her outside a grocery store off East Eighth Street.
Authorities said Schwander confessed to killing Carly in a shack off Beitner Street he'd fashioned into a makeshift home. Her body lay there two days before police said Schwander moved her to Traverse City's public works yard off Barlow Street and buried her in a pile of sand.
"I brought him into my home, and that's why it hurts so much," Susie Lewis said. "It's hard to fathom that somebody you know could do that. This isn't easy."
She spoke with Schwander on the phone moments before he took a polygraph examination Tuesday afternoon at a Michigan State Police crime lab in Grayling.
"He tried to comfort me," she said. "It was something to the effect of, 'I'm so sorry, Susie.' I was decent, but I was confused, too. It's so surreal."
Dozens of Carly's friends and family members visited the Lewis' home Tuesday night, the eve of her 17th birthday. Susie Lewis waited outside her home Wednesday in a lawn chair as more people stopped by to express their condolences. But Carly's death had yet to sink in, she said.
"This morning, I checked her bed," she said. "I just woke up sobbing. I had to pinch myself this morning because I thought it was all a dream."
Behaved like a gentleman
To Sharon and Rick Carmean, Schwander always behaved like a true gentleman.
Schwander lived with the Carmeans in their Traverse City home for about four weeks in February and March, and he was never anything short of polite and friendly, they said.
"He was shy, and very respectful," Sharon said. "He made his bed every day, helped around the kitchen."
Schwander left home in December after a "mutual disagreement" with his father, a Grand Traverse County sheriff's deputy, the Carmeans said. Schwander was helping Sharon's mother around the house when Sharon discovered he was homeless, so she invited him to live with her and Rick.
"He was a homeless kid. We were just trying to help him out," Sharon said.
He continued to attend Central while living with the Carmeans, they said, and at times helped out around the Eighth Street consignment shop they own. Their son, Drew, was away at Central Michigan University, so they had a bedroom to spare.
Schwander often played a Native American pipe, an instrument with which he showed tremendous skill.
"He's really good at that," Sharon said. "Really good."
The Carmeans eventually discovered drug paraphernalia in Schwander's room and asked him to leave their home, but said they stayed in touch with him. He moved on to live with Carly's family.
Sharon and Rick were upset to hear that Schwander is suspected of slaying Carly.
"I'm devastated, and when I first heard about it I was devastated," Rick said. "It's so out of character for him to do anything like that."
"It's shocking. We've never known him to be violent ... he never even raised his voice," Sharon said. "Even the night we asked him to leave, all he said was, 'I respect your decision.'"
The Carmeans weren't aware of any contact between Carly and Schwander during the time Schwander lived with them.
Schwander is the son of sheriff's Deputy Scott Schwander, a 19-year department veteran. Sheriff Tom Bensley said Scott Schwander is on paid administrative leave.
"This tragic event has taken from this community a family member and friend of many people. Our condolences, thoughts and prayers are with the Lewis family," Bensley said. "This is especially difficult for the sheriff's office because of the relationship of the suspect in this case with one of our officers and because of the business we are in. The department as a whole is supportive in whatever way possible to the family of the officer."
Scott Schwander declined comment when a reporter contacted him at his home.
Robert Schwander mentioned troubles with his father, Sharon said, but didn't have bad things to say about him.
"He spoke fondly of his father, after all he'd been through," she said.