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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Death of Santa Fe student still being investigated

When Michael Crace was about 12 years old, he grabbed an ornamental pepper and looked at his uncle. Don’t even think about putting that in your mouth, Charlie Crace told him.

“I can eat them,” Michael said.

“No, you can’t,” Charlie replied. “Them are too hot.”

“Watch me.”

Michael popped the pepper into his mouth and chewed.

“I stood there for a minute before I went and got the bread to cool his mouth off,” Charlie said Tuesday evening. “That boy had tears in his eyes.”

On the night of April 2, Michael Crace died after three pulls by his roommate’s trigger finger. He was 20 years old.

According to Gainesville Police, Jude Rizzo put a trio of bullets in Michael’s chest in self-defense. Michael pulled a pistol first, Rizzo and his brother, Joel, told officers. There were no other witnesses.

Michael worked at the Moe’s Southwest Grill at 7770 W Newberry Road. The restaurant hosted a fundraiser Tuesday, with proceeds from customers with a ticket going to the Craces to help the family pay for Michael’s funeral.

Charlie was sitting with Michael’s grandfather, Harold, and telling old stories about the boy.

But Michael’s family and co-workers share doubts about the narrative given to police.

Jude was not arrested, but the investigation is still open, said GPD spokeswoman Cpl. Angelina Valuri. Detectives await an autopsy report, and a final decision concerning Jude could take months.

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Tabitha Hardy, who worked with Michael, said Michael told her he did not get along with his roommates. He didn’t think they could pay the rent, and he said he caught the brothers stealing marijuana from him twice.

Michael wanted to fight the Rizzos, Hardy said, but he knew better. The brothers were bigger than he was.

Hardy said she and her co-workers learned Michael was dead while at Moe’s. He was supposed to show up the next morning at 9:45. He always came on time, sweaty after the four-mile bike ride from his house to work.

Somebody at Moe’s read about Michael’s death on his Facebook page. Then, Hardy thought back to the day before. He looked pale, sick, distracted. Very different from his normal demeanor.

Hardy became close with Michael because he wasn’t afraid to look foolish. He laughed at your jokes. If you liked sports, he talked sports. If you liked music, he talked music.

“He could be friends with anybody,” Hardy said. “He was the most outgoing person you could know.”

And tough. Tough enough to eat a pepper to prove a point.

Contact Tyler Jett at

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