11/15/2007 (www.suntimes.com) Chicago Sun-Times

“Stacy's sweetheart speaks out” (Ralph Chira, HS Sweetheart)



Stacy's sweetheart speaks out

3-YEAR ROMANCE | 'She was so heartfelt with everything. She was really concerned'

November 15, 2007

BY KARA SPAK Staff Reporter/kspak@suntimes.com

Stacy Peterson wasn't the type to date around.

With the exception of her husband, whom she met when she was 17 and married when she was the 19-year-old mother of his fifth child, she only had one serious boyfriend as a Romeoville High School student.

That boyfriend, Ralph Chira, talked about her Wednesday. He discussed his surprise when she started dating Drew Peterson, a man 30 years her senior, how Peterson proposed to Stacy two years before they married, and how Chira's experiences with Stacy don't jibe with Drew Peterson's statements on the "Today" show.

Drew Peterson reiterated Wednesday his wife left him for another man. State Police are calling Drew Peterson a suspect in a possible homicide investigation.

A high school psychology teacher paired Chira with Stacy for a class assignment that involved her walking him around the school blindfolded. He bumped into a railing on a second-floor balcony. She grabbed his arm, nervous he would fall.

"She was about to cry," said Chira, now 26 and the manager of a Meijer meat department. "She was so heartfelt with everything she does. She was just really concerned."

The chance encounter spurred a three-year romance that included two proms, dinners out and the first serious romantic relationship for both.

Chira said while he knew he wouldn't go to college, Stacy started at Joliet Junior College right after graduating from high school. She was studying nursing there before disappearing Oct. 28.

Though he said they were both falling in love for the first time, the pair never discussed starting a family. The only discussions involving children were how not to have them, he said.

In 2001, Chira and Stacy broke up after he said he started spending more time with his friends. Weeks later, she told him she met Drew Peterson.

"She told me he was older, a Bolingbrook police officer," Chira said. "She worked overnight [at a hotel], and I guess he would come in there and make her feel safe."

Soon thereafter, Chira said she told him Drew Peterson had asked her to marry him, though he was married to Kathleen Savio. Stacy told Chira she said yes. She never mentioned Savio, who divorced Peterson in 2003 and was found dead in a bathtub in 2004. Stacy and Drew Peterson married after his divorce in 2003 and the birth of their son.

Chira said he saw Stacy frequently shopping at Meijer. He said he saw no outward signs of the depression or moodiness Drew Peterson spoke of on "Today." Nor did he remember any unusual behavior associated with her menstrual cycle. Peterson claimed Wednesday she would ask him for a divorce when she got her period.

"She seemed happy," Chira said of the last time he saw her, about six weeks ago. Unlike Drew Peterson, he has participated in searches for her.