Friends and family described Karissa Kunco as upbeat and spunky, a petite young woman whose sunny disposition cheered up everyone around her.
"She always tried to see the bright side of people and believe the good in people," said Peggy Gillespie of Murrysville, her aunt.
They say it was that optimism that kept her with her often volatile boyfriend, 22-year-old Jordan Clemons, a troubled young man who had numerous run-ins with the law.
Ms. Kunco was found stabbed to death on the side of a road in Washington County less than a month after filing assault charges against Mr. Clemons, who police said beat her up and threatened to kill her. Family, concerned because of her history with Mr. Clemons, had reported her missing Wednesday evening.
Though no charges have been filed in her death, Mr. Clemons has been named a person of interest in the case and surrendered to state police Thursday after being sought for questioning.
He remained jailed on $250,000 bond Friday on charges he broke into a Canonsburg woman's house and robbed her at knifepoint on Sunday. Canonsburg police filed additional charges against him for jumping out a second-story window and running away from officers attempting to serve the assault warrant on him early Monday morning, Detective Alexander Coghill said.
As state police attempt to piece together what happened between when Ms. Kunco disappeared Wednesday and when she was found Thursday, family and friends were struck with grief.
"She was my everything," said her father, Paul Kunco, of Baldwin Borough. "I pretty much live for [my daughters]."
Ms. Kunco, 21, was raised in Brookline, attending Brookline Regional Catholic School, South Hills Middle School and Brashear High School.
An athletic girl, she played softball and basketball. She was one of just two girls who made Brashear's varsity basketball team as a freshman, even though she was just 5 feet tall, according to rosters.
"She was a short one ... but she was good," said Ms. Gillespie. "But she had spirit. Sometimes the spirit propels you more than the height does."
She quit basketball at some point during high school to work part-time in retail and at Armstrong's Restaurant in Whitehall.
After she graduated, she continued living with her father and eventually moved with him to Baldwin. She continued to play basketball recreationally until she blew her knee out in 2009.
Her best friend and high school classmate Jamie Brown said she dreamed of being a pharmacist and took classes sporadically at Community College of Allegheny County. She was enrolled in a women's psychology and nutrition course this term. She hoped to transfer to a four-year college.
Growing up, Ms. Kunco split her time between her father and her mother, Kathy. Most recently, she lived with her father and her older sister Kayla. Her father doted on her and she reciprocated in graciousness, boasting on her Facebook page of how kind he was.
But Mr. Kunco said he was not privy to much of what happened between Ms. Kunco and Mr. Clemons. He believes she kept things from him because she didn't want him to worry.
"One of the things both my daughters have done ... if they think something's going to upset me, or worry me, they'll shelter me from it," he said.
Ms. Brown said their relationship was always volatile. On almost every occasion she hung out with the two, Mr. Clemons blew up about something, his rages often fueled by alcohol. She never saw him hit her, but he threatened to, she said.
Ms. Kunco had ended things with Mr. Clemons before because of his numerous run-ins with the law, Ms. Brown said, but he was a "sweet talker," and they got back together.
Mr. Kunco said the young man was always polite in his presence and that his daughter believed she could change him. In 2010, when their relationship grew more serious, Mr. Clemons joined her family for Thanksgiving. Mr. Kunco said he even accompanied the family to the hospital to visit his ailing mother on Christmas and that they gave him presents.
After Mr. Clemons' brother committed suicide in the spring, he became depressed, his cousin, Perry Ivery, said.
Ms. Kunco had been staying with him at his home on Boggs Avenue in Mount Washington, said Ms. Brown. On the night of Dec. 18, he called her names and attacked her, she told Ms. Brown.
She went to St. Clair Hospital, where she was treated for a concussion and bruises that covered her body. Ms. Kunco filed for a protection from abuse order following the attack, but Baldwin Borough police Chief Michael Scott said police had difficulty finding him to serve him with the notice.
Visitation is scheduled for Sunday and Monday from 1 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. at John F. Slater Funeral Home, 4201 Brownsville Road, Brentwood. Church services will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday in St. Sylvester Parish, 3754 Brownsville Road, Brentwood.
Moriah Balingit: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.