DETROIT – To classmates at Beaver Area High School in the hills of western Pennsylvania, Suzanne Pagella was a celebrity.
"She made it big in Detroit. She was born for that," Tom Dowlin said. "That's just how we thought about her. She was the first to go out and do what she said she would do."
As a married Suzanne Wangler, she appeared to have it all: a career as a popular television news anchor, a husband who was a former college quarterback, four children.
But at some point, Wangler's life went into free fall, with a divorce, debt and several arrests, including one last week on an embezzlement charge. It ended with a crash last weekend when Wangler's mother found her hanging from a beam in the basement of her Royal Oak home, just north of Detroit.
Wangler's defense attorney, Carl Marlinga, said he was concerned when they spoke at her arraignment.
"I said 'Are you depressed? Are you suicidal?"' Marlinga said. "She just kind of laughed it off and said 'Don't be silly."'
But Wangler's life was nothing to make light of. Court and other documents reveal nearly $166,000 in financial judgments against her, multiple traffic citations and driver's license suspensions.
On Feb. 20, she was arraigned on charges that she embezzled more than $149,000 over four months from a man she briefly dated. The 43-year-old also was charged with larceny by conversion.
The charges stemmed from checks cashed in 2006 at a check-cashing business. If convicted, Wangler faced 10 years in prison on each charge.
Police said it was 32 degrees inside her home when she was arrested. The house was in foreclosure.
"When I read about all of the bad, it's so sad because people don't know her. She had such a huge heart," former classmate Jenni Wilson said. "She was fantastic, absolutely the life of the party. She was so full of joy, funny and smart and so ambitious, one of those people who was going to make it in life."
Suzanne Pagella was a member of the cheer squad and wrote for the high school newspaper. She graduated in 1982 and left the small community about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh for Ohio State University.
Wangler became a familiar face in the Detroit area in the 1990s at UPN 50 and WDIV-TV.
She married former University of Michigan quarterback John Wangler and compiled a cookbook, "A-Maize-Ing Tailgating: Wolverine Cuisine."
"She told me her world came apart on Dec. 9, 1999, when she knew there was likely to be a divorce," said Marlinga, who had known Suzanne Wangler from her early days as a reporter. "She told me she never really got over it."
Wangler left WDIV-TV in 2000 and eventually began selling annuities.
Her divorce became final in 2001, and about five years later she was arrested on allegations of trying to leave a market with a cart of food. Wangler completed a court-ordered diversion program and the charge later was dismissed, said Edward Cibor, warrants division chief for the Oakland County prosecutor's office.
She also was arrested last summer on a charge of operating under the influence with a minor in her vehicle, Cibor said. Wangler pleaded no contest and had been on probation at the time of her death, he said.
She returned to TV news in September when she became a news anchor at WLAJ-TV in Lansing, using the on-air name Suzanne Page. But the embezzlement charges forced her to resign.
"She was making a comeback," Marlinga said. "She was getting her foot in the door."
Marlinga said he last spoke with Wangler on the night of Feb. 22.
"She said she was going to a job fair on Saturday and that she would give me a call," he said. "I thought that was great news and I took it as a hopeful sign.
"I told her to draw on her Catholic faith. `Forgive yourself and you'll come out of this feeling great.' That was the last pep talk I gave her."