Iola Mae Struck wore a Minnesota Vikings sweatshirt given to her by her son, Bret, as she spoke in his memory in a Hennepin County courtroom Dec. 11.
“He was an avid fan of the Vikings,” Iola said, tearfully.
Just a few feet behind her in the courtroom was Rochelle Inselman, awaiting a 40-year sentence for Bret Struck’s murder. Inselman, 39 of Eden Valley, is convicted of second-degree murder and pleaded guilty on Dec. 7.
Bret Struck was shot and killed by Inselman at his Brooklyn Center home on Feb. 12. He was 41. Struck dated Inselman until 2004. After they broke up, Inselman was stalking Struck and sent defamatory messages about him to his family. She tried to open credit cards in Struck’s name and drove from Eden Valley to Brooklyn Center several times in the week before his death to see if they were in the mailbox.
During the Brooklyn Center Police Department’s months of investigation about Inselman, whom his family said was a suspect from the beginning, they even learned she had been outside Iola Struck’s home in Edina and tried to call her, according to Iola.
They learned of restraining orders and incidents of domestic abuse by Inselman toward her ex-husband and his new girlfriend. At one point several members of Struck’s family received a fake letter appearing to be from Inselman’s sister stating that she took her own life because of a child custody issue, Iola Struck said.
But, she said in the courtroom, their family wants to try to put all of that in the past.
“As Bret used to say, ‘you’re not worth it,’” Iola said, addressing Inselman, though she could not look at her.
Iola Struck said she couldn’t even bring herself to say Inselman’s name, only calling her the “Eden Valley killer,” or “the evil one.”
“I don’t know why she had to do this. I’ve never seen such an evil family in my life,” Iola said. “I don’t understand why this lady has to be alive and my son is dead. But I won out because I have the most wonderful family.”
A friend to anyone
Bret Struck was born the youngest of seven brothers and sisters and grew up in Richfield.
His older siblings often were babysitters for Bret when Iola had to go back to work, she said.
She recalled the copper color of Bret’s hair when he was born and how one day he wanted to have his own family with the same appearance
When he grew up, Iola and Bret’s siblings and friends described him as someone who would help anyone in need and who had close bonds with all his nieces and nephews.
“He would do anything for anybody,” said David Harrison, a longtime friend of Bret and the Struck family. “He was a good guy.”
“He was a real strong family man and beloved by all his nieces and nephews,” Harrison said.
Once Struck even helped a mutual friend they had by providing a place to stay while he recovered from alcoholism, Harrison described.
“Bret couldn’t … turn his back on a friend,” Harrison said.
In his spare time, Bret Struck enjoyed camping, reading and movies.
He was ecstatic to be a homeowner after saving money to recover from the damage Inselman caused to his credit, Iola said.
When he did buy a home, Bret enjoyed cooking and having a dog, a rottweiler named Bing.
Iola said the blueberry cobbler, chicken, and macaroni and cheese recipes were some of her son’s best.
“He turned out to be one of the best cooks,” she said.
Bret always remembered Mother’s Day, one year building a flowerbed in Iola’s yard and another simply bringing her some tulips.
His death has kept Iola awake at night, especially before court hearings, she said.
The day Bret died was close to Iola’s birthday. On that day his family worked together to clean out his house, Iola said.
Through the difficult time, Bret Struck’s family had strong support from the Brooklyn Center Police Department and his former coworkers and friends.
On the day of Bret’s memorial, his former employer, the Merril Corporation, rented a bus to ensure there was room for everyone to attend.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Therese Galatowitsch, who prosecuted Inselman, read a victim impact statement on behalf of Bret’s sister, Toni Pelletier, and many of his other family members.
“We expected Bret would outlive us all,” Galatowitsch read. “Instead of planning Bret’s wedding, we planned his memorial. It impacts our daily life, work and school. We will suffer every day for the rest of our lives because of one evil act.”
The family’s victim advocate also read a statement on behalf of Bret’s girlfriend, Aela, who was not at the hearing.
“I have struggled every single day without his love, humor and guidance,” Aela wrote in her statement.
Three of Bret’s older brothers also spoke during the hearing.
“My brother Bret is my hero,” Donald Paul Struck said. “Even though we all referred to him as our little brother, we are all proud of the man he came to be,” he said.
Robert Struck added that Bret’s death was a loss to their family and society.
“Bret always looked on the positive side and tried to help people. He always tried to make somebody happy,” Robert said.
Michael Struck recalled how he lived with Bret during his divorce and the support his brother provided.
“Even though he was 11 years younger, he acted like an older brother,” Michael said.
A difficult moment
Before the sentencing for Inselman, Bret Struck’s family showed a DVD of his pictures. Inselman did not appear to look at the screen.
Hennepin County District Court Judge Marilyn Kaman asked Inselman if she had a statement, but the defendant did not respond.
“There is really nothing to say except for you to remember and reflect on the statements you’ve heard today,” Kaman said, addressing Inselman.
“This moment for any court is a difficult one because we’ve lost a life whose value … and joy cannot be replaced,” Kaman said.