Hugo couple's deaths a mystery for now

[Pioneer Press, Jan. 20, 2010] Sarah Mitzuk was a grief counselor who recently helped write a workbook for grieving children. Her husband, Michael, owned Mitzy's Tattoo Studio in White Bear Lake.

They lived in Hugo with their 4-year-old son, Michael Mathias, and friends believed they were expecting a second child.

But Tuesday, the couple were found shot to death in their town house — an apparent murder-suicide. Their son was in his bedroom.

The Washington County sheriff's office said it is "not looking for other persons of interest relating to this incident. The crime scene was contained to the residence."

About 7:40 a.m. Tuesday, a family member arrived at the home at 13435 Europa Court N., Unit 8, to baby-sit the boy and found the bodies of Michael Mitzuk, 34, and Sarah Mitzuk, 32, said Sheriff Bill Hutton. The boy was not injured and was being cared for by relatives, Hutton said.

"It's a very troubling and very sad story," the sheriff said.

Hutton said one body was found in the upper bathroom and the other in an upper bedroom. But he said he could not release details about the shootings until the Ramsey County medical examiner's office completes the autopsies.

A spokesman from the medical examiner's office said the autopsies would be done today.

Hutton said deputies had been called to the town house a few times for "minor calls" and that none of those calls involved domestic incidents.

Next-door neighbor Ellen Witzel told KSTP-TV she heard two loud but muffled shots about 2 a.m.

Sarah Mitzuk was a grief counselor with Allina Home and Community Services in St. Paul. She had been working in Allina's hospice program for three years, said Tim Burke, a spokesman for Allina Hospital and Clinics. She started as an intern and they "liked her so much, they hired her," he said.

Mitzuk had a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Minnesota-Duluth and a master's degree in counseling psychology from St. Mary's University in Minneapolis.

"She was extremely well-liked. She was their bright-idea person, their get-things-done person," Burke said. "If we needed something done, she got it done."

Mitzuk and a co-worker had recently written a workbook, as yet unpublished, for grieving children. Its working title is "My Grief Journey," Burke said.

Mitzuk also was a featured speaker last fall at the "Growing Through Loss" conference at St. Bridget of Sweden Catholic Church in Lindstrom.

Allison Peper, a former neighbor, said the Mitzuks were "very friendly" and often attended and hosted neighborhood gatherings.

The Mitzuks' town home is in the Creekview development, which overlooks Clearwater Creek in a part of Hugo that has largely been developed since 2003.

On Tuesday afternoon, a vase of flowers decorated with two butterflies had been placed on the ground outside Mitzy's Tattoo Studio.

Michael Mitzuk opened the shop in December 2002, according to the shop's Web site. He was a popular tenant, said Donna Whitman, the building's landlord and the owner of White Bear Locksmith, which is a few doors down from Mitzy's. When Mitzuk moved into the shop across U.S. 61 from White Bear Lake City Hall, he brought cases of Krispy Kreme doughnuts for everyone in the building "to get off on the right foot," she said.

Whitman added that Mitzuk had bulletproof vests delivered to troops overseas.

White Bear Lake Police Chief Lynne Bankes said Mitzuk gave several weapons to the department in 2005 and 2006, including a shotgun, two rifles and several pistols, as well as night-vision goggles, throwing hatchets, knives and ammunition.

Bankes said they were "things you'd have if you had a shooting hobby. He said he didn't want them around anymore, but he didn't want them on the street."

The chief said the department had the weapons destroyed.

Michael Mitzuk was charged in Ramsey County in 2004 with carrying a gun in a public place while under the influence of a controlled substance. He was put on probation for a year, and after a year the charge was dismissed, court records show.

In 2005 in White Bear Lake, he was cited for fourth-degree DWI, but that offense was amended to careless driving and he pleaded guilty.

Sarah Mitzuk had no criminal record, according to state court records.

Michael Mitzuk previously worked for Ramsey County and the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center, he wrote in a court statement filed in Ramsey County in 2004. "I worked very hard for everything I have," he wrote.

The statement was in support of applications for harassment restraining orders against two men whom Mitzuk described as a childhood friend and the friend's father. Mitzuk alleged harassment related to payment for tattoo work he had done for the friend. A judge granted the restraining orders, but the parties could not be located and they were never served.

Mitzuk also wrote in the statement that he was concerned for the safety of his mother. His father died of cancer in September 2003, and he wrote that he was "still dealing with the stress" and in mourning.

One of his customers recalled her experiences with him.

After a May 2008 tornado destroyed several Hugo homes, Jodie Guareschi, a volunteer firefighter and Hugo's utility billing manager, got a tattoo of a tornado from Mitzuk's shop.

"It was something I never wanted to forget, so I got the tattoo," Guareschi said. "He was excellent. Some of the works and designs he has in his books are just beyond anything I've seen."

Guareschi added: "You just never know what's going on with people. It's devastating."

John Brewer, Mara H. Gottfried and Megan Boldt contributed to this report.

Posted on January 20, 2010 in Allina Health Home HealthnewspapersPioneer Press

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