Editor's note: If you or a loved one is in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK).
FARGO — Michelle Grecco’s feisty personality came through in whatever she did, whether it was playing hockey on a frozen pond in Wahpeton, N.D., or leading soldiers in the U.S. Army.
After 14 years in the military working as an intelligence analyst, Grecco was getting ready for life as a civilian.
She was doing just what she needed to do: making medical appointments, securing a job, planning to go back to school.
It was a transition, however, that she would not make.
Sgt. 1st Class Grecco, 35, died by suicide on July 18 in Minneapolis.
She was laid to rest near Amor, Minn., on Aug. 1, on what would have been her last day of active duty.
“We all loved her. She took care of the people she was with, and we just tried to take care of her, too,” said Amber Grecco, one of Michelle’s sisters.
Their mother, Cary Juvrud, said growing up in Wahpeton, Michelle loved school and got an award for perfect attendance.
She was considered the bossy one of her siblings, earning her the nickname “the commander."
Amber Grecco remembers bike riding and playing sports with her sister.
They were part of the first-ever girls hockey team in Wahpeton and North Dakota’s first state girls hockey tournament.
Michelle spent a lot of time in the penalty box and scored the most goals, her sister said.
“We just looked out for each other, you know? We protected each other, we were close,” she said.
After graduating from Wahpeton High School in 2004, Michelle received a scholarship to play hockey at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, where she stayed for a few years.
Then, looking for a change, she found the U.S. Army.
She enlisted in the summer of 2006, and after basic training, attended Intelligence Training at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.
As an Intelligence Analyst, she served deployments in Korea, Iraq, the United States and Germany.
“Her favorite thing was to lead soldiers,” Juvrud said.
Michelle Grecco received awards, including the Army Commendation Medal and Meritorious Service Medal.
While serving, she graduated summa cum laude from Mercy College in New York with a Bachelor of Science degree in organizational management.
In the early part of this year, Michelle was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Juvrud said there is a history of mental health issues and addiction in the family. Her daughter was suffering from anxiety and sleep deprivation before her death, and often self-medicated with alcohol, she said.
Transitioning from the highly regimented Army to civilian left Michelle trying to regain her bearings.
“She was a little bit of a tornado coming out. She didn't have that schedule,” Amber Grecco said.
As a result, everyone in the family was on “Michelle watch," but her daughter was convincing, Juvrud said.
She’d recently been hired at Brink’s Security, had appointments set up at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis and had bought a condominium along Lake Calhoun there.
She talked about getting a master’s degree in business at the University of Minnesota and going to hockey games at the Xcel Energy Center.
“She had plans. A good life,” Amber Grecco said.
Michelle’s body was found by a couple of runners the morning of July 18 along the beach of Lake Calhoun.
The loss was a gut punch. According to her sister, Michelle was an “amazing” person who truly connected with others.
“When she talked to you, she took time to look into your eyes, to look into your soul,” Amber Grecco said.
To honor their sister and daughter, the family requested that donations be made in Michelle’s memory to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, or to God’s Acres of Zion-Amor Lutheran Church.