MURFREESBORO, TENN. — She was no stranger to major life change.
In a matter of weeks, Susan Marie Baskit Rizzo left a marriage, moved in with her parents and landed a job in the front office of a veterinary practice. Bright and upbeat, coworkers knew little of the 29-year-old nursing student's personal tribulations.
They were shocked by her untimely death.Yet the tight-knit Baskit clan, wrought with sorrow and disbelief, grieves for more than Susan's magnetism and sanguine character. The promising student carried their hopes and dreams. The mother-daughter bond was so tight — described more like a friendship — parents Frank and Vera Baskit packed up their Pennsylvania home to relocate near their daughter. "They said she needed them," older brother Michael Baskit says.
With every sentence, his heartache is apparent. "Susan was like electricity," he says. And in an emotional portrayal of his only daughter, Frank Baskit echoes that sentiment.
"When Susan walked into a room, you could feel the glow. She was a very good person who always had friends. She was our sunshine," he says.
Crossing the line
Looking back, Frank Baskit says he never saw his daughter's slaying coming, despite estranged husband Joseph Rizzo's alleged threats aimed at the entire family. Erratic behavior prompted Susan to apply for a protection from abuse order, family members say.
"She was going to get a divorce. She said he was going to kill her, but we never saw that side of Joe. I don't know what happened to him," Frank Baskit says.
Those who knew Joseph Rizzo might never fully understand. On Aug. 29, the 40-year-old former military police officer culminated what Michael Baskit refers to as a "week of terror" when he allegedly entered Veterinary Associates of Murfreesboro and shot his wife before killing himself.
According to family members, Susan refused to live her life in fear. Envisioning Joseph Rizzo as a killer seemed implausible, even after the death threats, says Michael Baskit, still struggling with disbelief.
"A lot of guys talk about stuff like that, but it's another thing to cross that line," he says. "I would like to believe that the person who committed this crime wasn't the same person I knew. I won't believe that it is. This is such a blow to us. It's a betrayal."
Reflecting on a life cut short
Instead of focusing on that pain, Baskit chooses to reflect on his sister's life. An 11-year age difference distanced the siblings early on, but in recent years, they'd grown close. Yet memories of his last vacation to Tennessee only add to the gravity of her death.
"If I'd known in June, I would have hugged her a lot longer," he says. "A lot of this is unfathomable. None of us can believe her time was this short."
Although the couple's marriage woes went unnoticed during Michael Baskit's visit, he reconfirmed his sister's passion for life. Growing up on 24 acres in Pennsylvania instilled in Susan a love of animals and nature. So when she told her brother about plans to work at a veterinary practice, he wasn't surprised. She even tinkered with the idea of applying to veterinary school, he says.
"She'd only worked a short time, but she loved her job and was happiest at the veterinary clinic," he says. "She was very excited to work with animals, and clearly, that carried into her work. I was really surprised at her wake how many clients came to pay their respects to her."