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Gannon a 'shining light'

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By Luis Fábregas and Jill King Greenwood,
Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009

Just before she left for her weekly dance class Tuesday night, Betsy Gannon baked a tray of stuffed peppers for her boyfriend.

"I made your favorite," Gannon told Mike Interthal of Millvale, whom she called her soul mate.

Interthal, who'd been out of town, never ate his meal when he arrived at Gannon's Green Tree house several hours later. Instead, he took frantic calls from friends trying to figure out if Gannon was at LA Fitness in Collier, where there had been a shooting.

"Of all the people in the world, I just can't believe it had to be her," said Gannon's close friend, Linda Topoleski, a classmate at Canevin High School and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. "She was so selfless."

Elizabeth Gannon, 49, died from gunshot wounds in the neck and extremities, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office. Friends said Gannon, an avid runner who worked out several times a week, did not know the shooter, George Sodini of Scott.

As they gathered at her house Wednesday, family, neighbors and friends remembered Gannon's beautiful smile, her sunny outlook and her devotion to three nieces and a nephew.

"That was her life," Topoleski said tearfully as she showed a picture of Gannon and her sister, Peggy Klions of Akron, Ohio. "They were like her kids. They were all she had."

Her sister was making funeral arrangements with William Slater Funeral Home in Scott. A funeral Mass will be held at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Margaret of Scotland Church, where Gannon was a dedicated volunteer.

Her sister's children -- Carolyn, Julie, Kevin and Laura -- called her "Super Aunt B." Gannon, an excellent seamstress, hand-made Halloween costumes and communion dresses. In June, Gannon chaperoned a group of her niece's high school band that traveled to Disney World.

"She was just a beautiful person, and she absolutely loved life," said Mary McVay-Fensel, who met Gannon several years ago in an exercise class.

McVay-Fensel said Gannon was proud of her Irish heritage and drove a green convertible.

Gannon lived in the Sheldon Avenue house that belonged to her late parents. Nearly every evening, she walked her golden Labrador retriever, Lady, through the neighborhood. When she didn't, she let Lady out the back door and chatted with her longtime neighbor, Carl Rady.

"It's like I lost a daughter," said Rady, 69, a truck driver who has three daughters and considered Gannon his fourth. Rady identified Gannon's body Tuesday night at the county morgue. "I haven't slept since yesterday."

Rady said one of his daughters works out at the club, but decided not to work out in order to pack for vacation.

"Then we get a call from Betsy's sister because she couldn't find her," he said. "It just doesn't make any sense."

Gannon's father, Martin, died from a heart attack when Gannon was 2. Her mother, Maureen, died from cancer when Gannon was 24.

Gannon worked as an X-ray technologist at Allegheny Orthopedics, the main orthopedic group at Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side. Counselors spent time with her co-workers, who reacted with shock to the news.

"I've never seen her come to work in a bad mood," said Dr. Patrick DeMeo, chairman of orthopedics at AGH. DeMeo and his wife knew Gannon for about 12 years. "She was always happy and full of life. She always had a smile on her face."

Joanne Conte, a friend for more than 20 years, recalled how Gannon watched out for her children when Conte spent five months in the hospital. Conte, a speech pathologist, met Gannon when they worked at Eye and Ear Hospital and rode a shuttle together. They called themselves "shuttle buddies."

"I cannot believe it's her," said Conte of Pleasant Hills. "I don't know what I'm going to do without her. You couldn't ask for a better friend."

Conte said Gannon and her sister were "extremely close. They only had each other."

Gannon was divorced and had no children. Friends said Gannon and Interthal were made for each other.

Interthal, too distraught to talk with reporters, worried that the meal Gannon cooked with so much love sat untouched in the refrigerator.

"I told him he should eat them," Topoleski said. "Betsy wouldn't have liked that. She would not like to be remembered as a victim. She was a bright, shining light, and that's how she should be remembered."



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