The Wisconsin news anchor who died by apparent suicide previously experienced a tragic heartbreak — when her high school boyfriend died from a rare form of brain cancer in 2016.
Neena Pacholke, who was set to be married in less than two months, had lost her first love Jordan Harris when he was 18.
Harris had been diagnosed with primitive neuroectodermal tumors in 2011, and after two separate bouts battling the cancer, he succumbed to the disease shortly before the two were about to start their freshman year at the University of South Florida.
The WAOW anchor, who died Saturday and was remembered by family and colleagues for her infectious smile and positive spirit, spoke about losing her first love in an interview shared by Moffitt Cancer Center in 2016, three years after Harris died.
“I just remember sitting there, all of us around him. I remember holding his hand as he passed away. I knew it was going to be hard but I always told him I’d be there through it all,’ Pacholke said.
Pacholke and Harris had met their freshman year of high school in Biology class, and were friends before they began to date, Pacholke said in the video.
Pacholke also wrote about her boyfriend and her hopes for greater funding for childhood cancer in a blog she wrote at the time, titled “Kids Get Cancer Too.”
“It has been thirteen months and eighteen days since the love of my life gained his angel wings from a rare form of brain cancer. He is the main reason behind my blog topic and will continue to be the driving force behind everything that I do in life,” she wrote in one post.
Even after his death, Pacholke continued fundraising and volunteering with cancer research, according to an article published by The Oracle, University of South Florida’s student-run newspaper.
Speaking with the paper her freshman year, shortly after losing her boyfriend, Pacholke said she was able to maintain her positive outlook by remembering Harris.
“You still have your bad days, but in the end they say everything happens for a reason,” she said at the time. “Part of me questions that, but it will still make you a stronger person. It sucks you don’t have that person to text all day, but I still have his morals to carry with me.”
Pacholke, a longtime basketball player, was helped through her grief by her university’s head coach as she started her freshman year on the women’s basketball team.
“Neena and Jordan had a special bond and a lot of people don’t understand that relationship, especially as young adults and the love that they had for one another in high school,’ Jose Fernandez, the head coach of USF’s women’s basketball team, said in 2016.
Pacholke graduated from the University of South Florida, where she lettered three seasons as a point guard — in 2017 and soon after took on a role as a reporter with News 9.
She was later promoted to anchor in February 2019, according to her website.
Pacholke’s former coach said the team was “devastated” over the young journalist’s sudden death.
“Our prayers are with the Pacholke family during this extremely difficult time. Please keep them in your thoughts,’ Fernandez said in a statement posted to Twitter.
Pacholke’s colleagues at News 9 echoed those sentiments.
“Neena Pacholke, our beloved morning anchor passed away suddenly Saturday,” 9 WAOW said in a statement. “The entire team here at News 9 are absolutely devastated by the loss as we know so many others are as well.”
Her co-anchor said Pacholke, with her warm personality and smile, was always happy, full of life and acted as a positive role model to many.
“Being your co-anchor Neena was an honor. You were batman and I was robin. When I joined WAOW you made it clear we were going to work hard and compete with the best,” her co-anchor Brendan Mackey said in a Facebook post. “Let’s remember Neena Pacholke for the beautiful person she was. The brightest light in the room. The biggest smile and the funniest laugh.”
Pacholke was expected to be married in less than two months at the time of her death, her older sister Kaitlynn Pacholke told the Tampa Bay Times. An online wedding registry for Neena Pacholke and Kyle Haase lists an October 12 wedding date.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are experiencing a mental health crisis and live in New York City, you can call 1-888-NYC-WELL for free and confidential crisis counseling. If you live outside the five boroughs, you can dial the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.