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Morning news anchor, former USF women's basketball player dies at 27

Neena Pacholke died over the weekend in Wisconsin, her news station reported. Friends and family are remembering her for her smile and kindness.

WAUSAU, Wis. — The sister of Neena Pacholke, a beloved morning news anchor in the Midwest who had ties to the Tampa Bay area, wants people to know how much love she had for others.

"I want people to know how loved she was, how much she loved other people," Kaitlynn Pacholke wrote. "The world needs more Neenas."

Neena Pacholke died Saturday in Wisconsin, according to her news station WAOW-TV. A colleague confirmed with 10 Tampa Bay she died by suicide.

She was 27 years old.

"The entire team here at News 9 are absolutely devastated by the loss as we know so many others are as well," the news outlet said in a statement. "Neena loved this community and the people who lived here. She was a kind person with a big heart and a contagious smile and we will miss her greatly." 

Neena Pacholke was reportedly engaged to be married.

“Sometimes you just don’t know what people are going through, no matter how much you think you know someone," Kaitlynn Pacholke told the Tampa Bay Times. "... My sister had access to every resource you could imagine. She was loved by everybody. She was so good at her job.”

The Times reported Neena Pacholke grew up in Tampa and in 2013 helped lead the Freedom High basketball team to its only state tournament berth. 

She would later play for the University of South Florida's women's basketball team, lettering in three seasons as a point guard, the Times reported. 

Neena Pacholke loved cats, her family and basketball, according to her former USF basketball teammate, Micah Kroll.

"Neena and I grew up playing basketball together. Maybe for the last ten years or longer," she said. 

USF women's basketball head coach Jose Fernandez said he knew Neena Pacholke well because their families were close friends.

"It's been a tough couple of days as you know we lost a former student-athlete, Neena Pacholke over the weekend," Fernandez said.

Neena Pacholke's mom was also a basketball coach at Freedom High School. Her daughter went through tough times while on the team. In 2013, she lost her high school sweetheart to brain cancer, and her mom also battled cancer. 

"She’s always been a fighter and a warrior, which is why something like this is so surprising because she’s always overcome so much hurt and tragedy," Fernandez said. 

As far as Kroll and Fernandez knew, they weren’t aware of any warning signs before Neena Pacholke took her own life on Saturday. 

"We don’t have all the details, we do know the cause of death, what lead to her taking her life, I’m sure we’ll find out," Fernandez said. 

As loved ones search for the why, they said they will remember Neena Pacholke for her big heart. 

"Her love for everything. She just truly deeply loved with her whole heart," Kroll stated. 

According to a Facebook post in May, Neena Pacholke had been with News 9 since 2017. One of the many tributes to Neena Pacholke's memory came from her morning news co-anchor, Brendan Mackey. 

"I have never met anyone in my entire life that is more loved than this girl. Everyday [sic] she made people smile, whether that was through a tv screen or just being an incredible friend. She was so happy and so full of life and a role model," Mackey wrote, in part, on Facebook. 

"Let’s remember Neena Pacholke for the beautiful person she was. The brightest light in the room. The biggest smile and the funniest laugh," Mackey's post continued.

If you need help or know someone who does, you can call or text 988, which is the 24/7 national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Here in Florida, you can call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 211. For more information, you can also contact the Substance Abuse and mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) by calling 1-800-662-4357 or by clicking here.

RELATED: Suicide calls tripled with launch of 988; Crisis Center waiting on funding to hire more staff

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