Liz Cannon had finally ended her troubled relationship.
Friends say the aspiring kindergarten teacher broke up with her boyfriend, Andrew Sheets, a month ago and slept on the couch until moving out of their Stowe house Saturday.
But for some reason -- whether it was to visit her two dogs or the man she once loved -- the 21-year-old returned Wednesday and was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head in an upstairs bedroom.
Her former boyfriend was found in the kitchen of the Broadway Avenue house, unconscious from inhaling gas fumes emitted by a stove.
The Allegheny County medical examiner Thursday ruled Ms. Cannon's death a homicide.
County police are investigating the possibility that Mr. Sheets, 25, killed her and then tried to take his own life. He was rushed to a local hospital, where he was in stable condition after a third roommate found him unresponsive in the home around 2:30 p.m.
"She had a hard life but was always smiling," said Teresa Yakubik, 53, whose Stowe home Ms. Cannon moved into Saturday. "She found the bright side of everything."
"Even him," added Lynne Deliman, 45, another close friend.
James Lonsogni, 23, a friend since sixth grade, described Ms. Cannon as his personal therapist, a naive and caring young woman who participated in theater at Sto-Rox High School and loved to bake.
He said she didn't have much family support growing up and viewed Mr. Sheets as saving her from a bad situation at home when they began dating four years ago.
Over time he became increasingly domineering -- dictating who she could hang out with and when -- and controlled how they spent the money she earned as a cashier at Rite Aid, Mr. Lonsogni said.
"He wouldn't put his hands on her, that's why we're all shocked over this," he said. "But emotionally, he messed with her."
Friends said their relationship was rocky, characterized by a string of break ups and make ups and one called off engagement. Ms. Yakubik said Ms. Cannon had nowhere else to live and kept going back to him with a sense of obligation.
"She felt she owed him and she paid with her life, unfortunately," said Ms. Deliman, of Kennedy. "Nobody's worth that."
Her kind nature, friends say, allowed people to take advantage of her both emotionally and financially. So the last time the couple broke up, friends took her under their wing.
Ms. Yakubik's 23-year-old son gave up his room and Ms. Cannon moved in for a transitional period Saturday. Ms. Deliman's family prepared an apartment that she would live in.
She didn't have much, they said, and treasured a Coach purse she nicknamed "Coachie," which Ms. Deliman bought her, and the two dogs she couldn't wait to get back.
The women were confident this break-up would last.
Ms. Yakubik's husband said Ms. Cannon was at their home when he went to bed at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. They don't know what time she left for the Broadway house or why, and police have not released those details.
She often snuck over to visit the dogs when she knew Mr. Sheets was gone. He had recently lost his job at Subway, and friends wondered if she went over to console him.
Ms. Yakubik called the police when Ms. Cannon didn't show up for her 2 p.m. shift and calls to her cell went unanswered.
"She was a good kid and people used that," said Ms. Deliman. "She would do anything for anybody."
Taryn Luna: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1985.