For almost a decade, the garage-turned-lounge in John and Michelle Mishcon Stevens’ Tequesta home was the place where the friendly couple entertained family and friends. Neighbors were always welcome to drop in and sit down on one of the three couches if the door to the “Garage-Ma-Hall” was open, and it usually was.
It was the place where John Stevens threw a last-minute bachelor party for his son’s best friend.
It was the place where the Stevens family ate meals, watched TV and shared laughter and conversation.
And it was, bizarrely and tragically, the place where their lives ended at the hands of an apparently deranged college student named Austin Harrouff. Police say Harrouff attacked the couple while they sat in the open garage on Monday evening, knifing and bludgeoning both to death, even biting into the flesh of John Stevens’ face, and turning their cozy haven into a place of horror.
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“It wasn’t classy, but it was a gathering place — that garage always brought people together,” said John Stevens IV, Stevens’ son and Mishcon Stevens’ step-son, crying softly as he recalled joyful occasions there. The younger Stevens, who lives in Kansas, was soon going to bring his 3-month-old daughter to meet her grandfather and his wife. They had been married 19 years.
Two days after the attack, friends and family struggled to comprehend how something so unexplainable could have happened to people they described as close, warm and caring. They said the garage, equipped with cigar cases, flat-screen TV, barbecue grill, ice-maker and dart boards, reflected their unassuming, relaxed natures. Its beachy decor was a nod to their love of being out on the water, boating and fishing.
“How do you put words to something of this nature?” said Sally Heyman, a Miami-Dade commissioner and former North Miami Beach city council member who served with Mishcon Stevens’ father, Jeffrey Mishcon, when he was mayor of the city from 1989 to 2005. “It takes the wind out of you. It’s just something so unimaginable.”
The former mayor told a reporter Wednesday he was too devastated to talk about his daughter and son-in-law.
It’s not the first time tragedy has struck the Mishcon family. In 1997, Mishcon Stevens’ mother died of a heart attack doctors attributed to her use of a popular diet-drug combination known as fen-phen. Both mother and daughter died at 53.
Raymond Marin, who served on the city council with Jeffrey Mishcon for more than 15 years and succeeded him as mayor, called the second death yet another terrible blow to a close-knit family and a “dear friend.”
“The sun rose and set on his whole family,” Marin said. “He is devastated. All of us are devastated. It’s bad enough to bury your wife. Now you have to bury your child. I can’t fathom that.”
Mishcon Stevens, one of five children, grew up in North Miami Beach. She attended what is now Virginia A. Boone Highland Oaks Elementary, Highland Oaks Middle School and North Miami Beach Senior High, from where she graduated in 1981 before going on to Florida State University.
“I will never forget her freckled face and auburn hair,” said North Miami Beach council member Barbara Kramer, who went to elementary school with Mishcon Stevens. “Everyone gravitated towards her. She was very popular.”
The Mishcon house was known to her friends as the “fun house” because there was always a pantry full of “all kinds of food,” Kramer said.
At Northwestern Mutual-Striano Financial Group in Boca Raton, where Mishcon Stevens had worked for 15 years, she was “loved by everyone,” said the managing partner, Peter Striano.
“She cared deeply for everyone,” said Striano, who last spoke to his compliance officer on Monday, as he did every day. “She did her job incredibly. She was instrumental in the growth of our firm.”
In addition to “making sure every one was doing the right thing” on the job, Striano said, she was also involved in charitable causes.
Co-worker Ashley Krivoy said when her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, Mishcon Stevens helped her form a team to take part in the American Lung Association's Fight for Air Climb in downtown Miami.
“She was always there with a smile,” Krivoy said. “We were all tired, but she laughed and said, ‘We did it.’”
Michelle Mishcon met Stevens, a divorced father of two, in Miami in the late 1990s. According to his son, Michelle had worked for Stevens at Prudential Securities.
“They met there and just loved each other. Their relationship was just so solid and never in question,” Stevens IV said, adding: “Michelle loved me and my sister as if we were her own.” Stevens opened a landscaping business after marrying Michelle in 1997 but was now retired, he said.
Stevens IV, who was planning to bring his baby daughter to South Florida for her baptism, said his father was looking forward to the visit.
“He couldn’t wait to take her out on the boat,” the 28-year-old Marine veteran said. “He was 59 and at the prime of his life. He finally had worked to the point where he can completely retire and go fishing every day with his wife, who he loved.”
The elder Stevens was born and raised in South Miami-Dade and graduated from Miami Killian High School. He boxed as a hobby.
“He was an old soul, you know? He grew up reading the newspaper and still did every day,” Stevens’ son said. “He would drive around Miami and tell you about how this used to be a field or how that used to be something else. Overall, his main thing was kindness: He would always tell me ‘Whatever you do in life, if you’re kind to people you’ll be successful.’ I can tell you my dad was very successful.”
John Stevens IV said he’ll miss his dad fixing up his favorite meal — Porterhouse steak topped with crab meat and Hollandaise sauce.
“I took him for granted, like we all take our parents for granted,” he said. “I just want him to know I love him, I’m proud of him and that he was a great guy.”