Family Seeks to Break Stigma After Air Force Vet, Nurse Die by Suicide - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Family Seeks to Break Stigma After Air Force Vet, Nurse Die by Suicide

"She was just caught by the devil," one victim's sister said of her lifelong battle with addiction.

Family Seeks to Break Stigma After Air Force Vet, Nurse Die by Suicide
Morgan Zalot - NBC10 / Inset: Family Photo
Kristina Reed (inset, left) and Mary Elizabeth Bettino, who went by Marybeth, embrace in a photo. The couple, parents to two children, died by suicide in a Philadelphia hotel on Sunday.

Cindy Thomas knew that someday, the disease of addiction her sister spent most of her life battling would likely take her away. It was a question of when.

That day came on Sunday, when Thomas’ older sister, Kristina Ruth Reed, 33, died in a Northeast Philadelphia hotel room, alongside her longtime companion, 39-year-old Mary Elizabeth Bettino. Hotel staff at the Roosevelt Inn, on Roosevelt Boulevard near Napfle Street in Rhawnhurst, found Reed and Bettino dead in their second-floor room Sunday. The Medical Examiner hasn’t ruled on their cause of death, but both women had plastic bags over their heads and had apparently used drugs in the room and then suffocated themselves.

“I knew someday Kris would succumb to her addiction,” Thomas, 31, told NBC10 on Wednesday. “Just not like this. I can’t believe the way they did it.”

Thomas said that coming from a family of several people who have struggled with addiction – and being in recovery herself – compelled her to speak out about her sister’s tragic death. She said she wants to combat the stigma attached to addiction and mental-health problems so people begin to understand that they are illnesses.

“I just want to raise awareness about mental health and suicide. This stuff kills,” Thomas said. “They’re sick. And they were sick.”

Thomas said her sister’s tragic death marks the end of a lifetime of struggle with depression, bipolar disorder and substance abuse. She recalled her sister, who is an Air Force veteran and worked as a surgical tech, attempting suicide as early as her high school days, when she and her five siblings were growing up together in the small town of Jamestown, just east of the Ohio border.

Family members say both Reed and Bettino grappled with addiction.
Photo credit: Family Photo / Cindy Thomas

Each time before, Reed survived. She would do better. She dipped into and out of rehabs and Anonymous groups and therapy, but nothing seemed to be a long-term fix. Now, her family is left to piece together what happened in the months and days leading up to her and Bettino’s deaths.

What is known is that Reed and Bettino checked into the Roosevelt Inn Saturday night. The hotel’s manager, Y. Patel, said they arrived in a car – which was still in the hotel’s lot as of Wednesday – and checked in under Bettino’s name, using her ID to purchase the room. Surveillance video shows the couple, Bettino with her long, dark hair and Reed with her close-cropped hair, leaving the room together about 5:30 a.m. Sunday for a brief time, and then returning.

The next time anyone saw them, they were both gone. Patel said a hotel desk manager broke the latch on the room and found the women after noon on Sunday, after the couple failed to check out at 11 a.m. and didn’t answer knocks at the door. He said they were quiet and didn’t appear to have contact with anybody aside from checking into their room.

“I don’t know why they chose here,” Patel said as he sat in the hotel’s beige office Wednesday morning, watching screens from dozens of security cameras throughout the 108-room building.  

Reed and Bettino left behind two children, a boy and a girl, from Bettino’s previous marriage to a man. Thomas said her sister, the second oldest sibling, had been estranged from the family for some time, and that she and her siblings and mother are struggling to piece together everything that transpired over the last several months that put her and Bettino into a downward spiral.

She said so far, the family has learned that Reed and Bettino apparently lost their home in Weirton, West Virginia sometime last year. They decided to move to Pennsylvania in search of a better life, and to move the kids closer to their father.

Reed updated her Google+ profile sometime in 2015 with news of the family’s plan to move. “I hope we are making the right and healthy decision for our family. Marybeth starts her new RN job in Hershey June 15th as well! I am truly excited to start a new life in Philly!” she wrote.

But Thomas said it seemed that things didn’t go that way for the women, who had been together for more than half a decade. She said she learned after her sister’s death that the couple had been living in a car in Philadelphia. She doesn’t know where the children are, she said. The last time she spoke with Bettino, she said, Bettino told her they were with their father for the summer.

Bettino’s mother declined to speak with NBC10, except to say that her daughter, too, had battled addiction, and that she was concerned for her grandchildren. Public records show that Bettino’s nursing license expired in April 2015. It’s unclear if she ever took the job in Hershey that Reed referred to in her post.

Thomas said she and her family are trying to raise money on a GoFundMe page to bring her sister’s body home and have her cremated. A family friend of Bettino contacted NBC10 on Thursday to say that her family did claim the body, and her funeral expenses are covered.

Though her sister was not legally a parent to Bettino's children, Thomas said both women cared deeply for the kids despite their own struggles.

“They loved these kids. There is no doubt in that,” Thomas said. “It’s the evil addiction.” She said her family has tried to reach out to Bettino's relatives, but they've had difficulty getting in touch with them.

“[We want] to say we understand your feelings. We have them, too,” Thomas said. “But she’s still a human being. She’s still our blood.”

Robin Sasse, a former teacher in Reed’s hometown who knew her since she was in 7th grade, said Reed, who goes by Kris, called her on three or four separate occasions over the last decade when thoughts of suicide overcame her. This time, there was no phone call.

“We would talk, I would help her make arrangements to get help, wherever she was,” Sasse said. “It breaks my heart, and makes me cry, that she didn’t call this time. I would have happily talked to her, tried to get her help in Philly, tried to save her life. I would have done anything I could have to make this story have a different ending for Kris and for Marybeth.”

Happier times: Reed and Bettino paint together.
Photo credit: Family Photo / Robin Sasse

Thomas said a friend of her sister and Bettino said she received a text message from one of the women about a week prior to their deaths saying they planned to kill themselves. The friend called police, Reed said, but it’s unclear what happened from there. They did not leave a note in the hotel room that Thomas knows of.

Sasse begged others who face mental health crises, addiction and suicidal thoughts to reach out to someone.

“Please don’t be the person who leaves behind children, family and friends who will never get answers as to why you chose to leave them. Please do those things so no one else has to sit at home, staring at the phone, wondering, ‘Why didn’t you call me, just one more time?’”

She said beneath her tough exterior, Reed was a kind-hearted and compassionate woman. Thomas said the addiction and depression swallowed her sister up until on Sunday, she couldn’t take it anymore.

Talking through tears on Wednesday over the phone, Thomas said she finds some small comfort in knowing her sister is no longer suffering. Instead, her family is left behind to bear the weight of the suffering she ended, trying to put together the story of her last days.

“It’s a puzzle, and we’re missing a lot of the pieces,” Thomas said.

“She was just caught by the devil. It kills. I just hate it. I hate addiction,” she said. “But they’re not suffering anymore. They’re not caught in the grips of addiction, and I can find peace with that.”

In lieu of flowers, Reed’s family asks that donations be made to addiction treatment and suicide prevention organizations in her sister and Bettino’s names. You can donate to the family here.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Learn more about addiction and local resources for help here.