WAPAKONETA – They grew up 20 minutes apart in northwest Ohio, Michelle from a town of 1,750, her dad a postal worker, her mom a shirt embroiderer.
Andy lived just outside this city of 9,400 known for hometown hero Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon. His dad sells farm supplies – vaccines, pet food, pond chemicals. His mom is a secretary at a nursing home.
Andy and Michelle, so close that he drove 436 miles round trip in a weekend to visit her in college.
Yet for reasons no one can explain, Andy shot Michelle to death outside his apartment June 3, 2006. He fired 16 shots at his girlfriend of three years, then walked back inside his apartment, knelt on the living room floor, placed his Glock 9 mm semiautomatic in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
“Two good kids,” said Dan Brown, Andy`s father. “We don`t know what happened.”
Another murder-suicide, another wrenching headline. Yet this time two families were brought together, not torn apart.
Two families mourned two victims.
“We didn`t just lose a daughter,” said Michelle`s mom, Becky Mielecki. “We also lost a son.”
In high school, Michelle and Andy were just friends. Their gang of nine girls and three guys hung out almost every weekend, painting their faces for football games, grabbing Mexican food at El Azteca, a restaurant just off Interstate 75.
At Wapakoneta High School, Michelle ran cross country, Andy played basketball and both were members of the Octagon Club, a service group that cleaned up the stadium after football games, painted fire hydrants and visited nursing homes.
Silly and funny and caring, always telling jokes to make you laugh, said Cary Fell, a friend who still chatted with Michelle almost every day in college.
Family came first. Andy spent hours with his grandfather. Michelle took her sister Jenny, two years younger, along whenever she headed out with friends.
On Sept. 11, 2001, his 17th birthday, Andy turned down a dinner out to watch what was happening on TV. From that day on he wanted to be in law enforcement.
He rode with Wapakoneta police officers. He bought a Mag-Lite flashlight, the kind police carried, and a scanner and walkie-talkies.
Right after turning 21 he bought the Glock, a common gun in police departments.
They started dating the summer after graduating from high school.
Michelle spent a semester at Ohio University in southern Ohio but didn`t like being so far away and transferred to the University of Toledo, where Andy was studying criminal justice and accounting.
She studied sports marketing and dreamed of handling public relations for the Cleveland Indians. A lifelong fan, she`d gone to a game on her birthday every year since she was a little girl.
At his apartment Andy had a poster of a model holding a Glock in a “Charlie`s Angels” pose over his bed.
He kept his black-colored gun in the top drawer of a three-drawer plastic file cabinet by his bed. His MySpace username was “glockamb.”
“Being alone,” he wrote on his MySpace page, as his greatest fear.
“Saving someone`s life,” he wrote under “How do you want to die?”
Michelle revealed her biggest fear on her own page. “Dying or someone I love or close to me dying.”
Andy was devastated when his grandfather died in an accidental fire in March 2006. Michelle saw how emotional he`d become. Different from before.
The week after Memorial Day, Andy called his sister
sister Lindsey, upset that Michelle had broken a date to spend time with a friend.
On Friday, June 2, police say Michelle told a co-worker at a Bed, Bath and Beyond store that she was going to break up with Andy that night.
That evening Michelle and Lindsey – her roommate – left a party and headed for the Distillery, a popular Toledo bar. Michelle called Andy at work to tell him to meet them there.
“I`ll see you tomorrow night,” Andy told co-workers as he left.
Meeting at about 11 p.m., they had a few beers. Andy and Michelle were close, holding hands. Then they were gone. It seemed unusual.
About 2 a.m. June 3, neighbors on the third floor of Andy`s apartment building heard loud arguing. “Help me,” one couple heard. “No, Andrew,” someone else heard.
As the neighbors ran into the hall they saw Michelle pull her wrist free from Andy`s grip at the door of his apartment.
Andy stepped into the hall, raised his Glock and began shooting. At least two bullets struck Michelle in the torso. The rest hit a stairway wall.
Finished, Andy went back into his apartment, No. 58, not bothering to shut the door. He called Lindsey on her cell phone but disconnected the call before she answered.
He killed himself with his final bullet.
Police found Michelle`s flip flops and her left hoop earring in the hallway. On Andy`s desk was a picture of his grandfather in his Army uniform.
Coroner`s tests showed Andy`s blood-alcohol content was 0.10 percent, legally drunk in Ohio. Michelle`s level was 0.16.
Family members say they don`t believe alcohol played a role. Police say it can`t be ruled out.
They were both 21 years old.
Andy`s father, Dan, calls the hour and a half drive to Toledo that morning the longest of his life. Later that day, he and Andy`s mom, Dorothy – everyone calls her Dort – took another long drive to a house just 20 minutes away in Cridersville.
Dort told Dan she had no idea how the Mieleckis felt toward them but knew they had to go.
“Don`t hate Andy and don`t hate us,” she said to Michelle`s parents.
The Mieleckis decided the day of the shooting that anger wasn`t the answer.
“It`s not that I`m real religious but I do believe in God and I believe in forgiveness and you`re not supposed to hate,” Becky says.
The Browns went to Michelle`s viewing and funeral; the Mieleckis to Andy`s.
Over the next year the couples stopped by each other`s homes to visit. They went to the Dairy Stand for ice cream. Not long ago they went to dinner together at the Inn Between. Dort, 54, and Becky, 47, talked on the phone. Still do.
“Friends Say Boyfriend Was Jealous Type,” said one headline after the shooting. But family and friends say that what happened was out of character.
The shooting “was probably the only thing wrong the kid ever did in his life,” Tom Mielecki says.
As the one-year anniversary approached, Dort suggested a cookout to honor the couple`s memory. They had grilled burgers, bratwurst cooked in beer, strawberry-rhubarb whip and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Friends came from around the country. They talked and laughed for hours.
The Mieleckis showed up first and left last, as darkness fell.
“Two good kids,” Tom Mielecki, 51, says. “I wish we knew why, but we don`t.”
Jenny and Lindsey see each other often. What`s the sense in being angry, says Jenny, 20. Lindsey needs her as much as she needs Lindsey.
Andy`s other sister, Stacey Jutte, was pregnant as the anniversary approached. She and her husband, Rick, hit upon the name for the baby as they visited Andy`s grave.
“You tell me first,” Stacey said to her husband. She wept at his reply. “It was the exact same name.”