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Aftershock: shooting-suicide shakes veterinary practice


Murfreesboro, Tenn. - The news media evaporated, the caution tape torn down, but for those close to Susan Rizzo, the 29-year-old's violent death remains fresh in their minds.

MURFREESBORO, TENN. — The news media evaporated, the caution tape torn down, but for those close to Susan Rizzo, the 29-year-old's violent death remains fresh in their minds.

In the early morning hours of Aug. 29, Rizzo's estranged husband gunned down the part-time receptionist as she worked at Veterinary Associates of Murfreesboro before killing himself, according to police reports. The incident played out in front of two coworkers.

The death was brutal. The police report describes 40-year-old Joseph Rizzo's attack in grisly detail, starting with ordering coworkers into a back room before chasing down his wife, shooting her and committing suicide in the clinic's hallway. The former military police office with the U.S. Army allegedly had made death threats before the act unfolded, family members say.

Solo practice owner Dr. Randy Richetts, who arrived on scene after the incident, describes the events as "devastating."

"Our lives all changed in less than three minutes," he says. "This in no way reflects on veterinary medicine. This was a planned event by a distraught husband who took the life of a wonderful person."

Remembering Susan

To maintain the tragedy's focus, Richetts dodges attention, quickly reminding those who ask that the spotlight should be on the young, vibrant woman who "was always upbeat with a smile on her face." The veterinarian even refuses to have his photo taken.

"Sue only worked here six weeks; she was still going through training, and the clients loved her," he says. "Most of the people who attended the funeral were clients of the clinic. They outnumbered her family members five to one."

Trudging ahead

Cards, gifts and phone calls have flooded in, attempting to ease the sorrows of fellow staff members. Clients in the upscale, secure Nashville suburb, still shocked, are like family, Richetts says.

Yet while Richetts supports his team with in-house counseling and workers' compensation claims, he sits on edge, suspicious of the public, weary of unusual activity and contemplating arming his clinic.

"Any loud noise or strange car in the parking lot makes you wonder," he says. "I'd always thought I'd be a victim of a drug-related issue, if anything. I could never have imagined this."

Workplace violence

Experts say domestic violence is "disturbingly common" in the United States. Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace, and women are more likely to be attacked by someone they know rather than a stranger, reports the American Institute on Domestic Violence. In 2000, 50 percent of all female homicide victims were killed with a firearm, and of those, 75 percent were killed with a handgun, statistics say.

Still, Richetts considers the slaying a random event: "I don't know what was going on in that young man's mind. It is really disturbing."

For that reason, he refuses to let the incident permanently dampen his practice.

"Veterinarians are tough individuals; you have no choice but to move forward. No small business is safe from violence. This could have happened to anyone," he says.

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