Theresa Flannery went to Iraq in 2004 and walked into one of the hottest firefights of the war.
She and other U.S. soldiers were trapped on the roof of a government compound at Najaf, dodging rifle fire and rocket-propelled grenades from renegade militiamen. Flannery traded gunfire with enemy snipers, shattering bones in her wrist diving for cover. A photo of Flannery, taken during the two-hour fight, circulated around the world, and the former Miss Madison County was recommended for a Bronze Star.
Back home, Flannery got a hero's welcome. But only family members and close friends knew of the price she paid, and her struggles with post traumatic stress disorder.
Last Thursday, Theresa Flannery, 32, died while on a visit in Lexington, N.C. She apparently died in her sleep.
Preliminary autopsy results were inconclusive. But her father, David Flannery, has no doubt that her death was related to the physical and emotional scars she carried from her experiences in Iraq.
"That's my gut feeling," he said. "Theresa had been dealing with some horrible problems from PTSD. She was being treated for that, and they kept changing the medication she was taking. She was on 85 percent disability from the Army. She had lost a lot of weight."
Ms. Flannery leaves behind a son, Nicholas Flannery, 5.
By all accounts, she lived life to the fullest and threw herself into everything she undertook, whether it was playing sports or soldiering. Her mother, Maggie Flannery, used to call her "a 5-foot-3 fireball."
Ms. Flannery grew up in Richmond, and she was crowned Miss Teen Madison County at age 13. She was runner-up for Miss Madison County at age 18, and she assumed the title when the winner couldn't complete her reign. She ran cross country at Madison Southern High School, graduating in 1997.
Service was expected in the Flannery family. Her father and both her brothers served the Lexington Police Department. Her brothers also served in the military, one earning a Bronze Star in Iraq. Ms. Flannery joined the Army after high school, served overseas, then she joined the Army Reserve when her enlistment ended. She returned to active duty in late 2003.
In Iraq, she was assigned to the 350th Civil Affairs Command, a unit that didn't normally go into combat. But in late March 2004, Flannery volunteered for a potentially dangerous mission, accompanying military observers at Najaf, where millions of Shiite Muslims were making an annual religious pilgrimage. A guerrilla attack was feared.
It came on the morning of April 2, 2004, when snipers opened fire on the government compound where she and her companions were on duty. A bullet headed for her struck one of her companions. She helped to care for the wounded, and their blood soaked her clothing.
She attained the rank of sergeant and ultimately received the Army Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device, and the Purple Heart. When she came home on leave in June 2004, Sgt. Flannery helped arrange for the Lexington Police Department to send 50 pieces of Kevlar body armor for soldiers to use in Iraq.
But David Flannery says his daughter's problems began soon after her Iraq tour ended at the close of 2004. She had nightmares, he said, and she went through periods of deep depression. Memories of Iraq could send her into tears. Her father said she was invited to speak at a military memorial event in Richmond a few years ago, but she became too emotional to finish her speech.
"There were a lot of ups and downs," he said. "They would put her on some drug for a few months and it would help. Then, it would stop working and they would switch to another drug. It was really hard for her, particularly trying to raise her son."
Nevertheless, Ms. Flannery kept moving forward, trying to help others.
In recent years, she had been living in Lexington, working at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
She completed a bachelor's degree from Lindsey Wilson College and was working on a master's, her father said.
He said she had hoped to become a counselor, helping other veterans.