Christine Betancourt was a self-assured, hardworking young woman who was employed at a call center. She went to school at night for five years and in 2016 graduated from the University of Phoenix, where she majored in information technology and aspired to work in the computer industry.
At 26, she lived on her own in a duplex on the city’s southeast side and remained close to her parents, Gina and David Betancourt, her two younger siblings, and extended family, including her aunt, Angela Betancourt.
Today, the Betancourts are “living in a mental fog, barely moving forward” as they struggle to face the reality that Christine was viciously beaten to death Feb. 19 at the hands of a man she had been dating for just weeks, said Angela Betancourt while she sat at the dining room table of her Rita Ranch home looking at a portrait of her niece.
They — like dozens of others — will be surrounded by loved ones Sunday as they join to pay tribute at the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims at Reid Park at 5:30 p.m. The event is open to the public.
The event is hosted by Homicide Survivors, a nonprofit organization that supports family and friends of murder victims. The organization works with families who are mostly referred by law enforcement in Pima County, including federal and state agencies. The majority of the cases are under the jurisdiction of the Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
From Jan. 1 to Sept. 18, Homicide Survivors advocated for families in 45 homicides. There were arrests in 30 of those cases, said Vanessa Helms, executive director of Homicide Survivors. In 2016, the organization was involved in 55 cases and arrests were made in 40.
For the Betancourt family, Sunday will be a day to honor Christine and remember her for the “loving, funny, caring and loyal” woman that she was, said Angela Betancourt, 39, an office manager at a pediatric dental practice.
The family is grieving, angry and has many unanswered questions. After Christine’s death, they learned the man she had just started dating, Manuel Encinas, 26, was living in her home. He was released under parole from the state prison in Florence on Jan. 12 after serving eight years, including for convictions for aggravated assault, according to prison records.
On Feb. 18, the two celebrated a belated Valentine’s Day dinner and went for drinks before returning to her home. Early the following morning, at about 1 a.m., Tucson police went to the home near East Golf Links Road and South Pantano Road where they found Christine dead with signs of blunt-force trauma.
The caller who reported the slaying was Encinas’ cousin. The cousin told police that Encinas called and told him he was going to kill Christine and then himself. However, Encinas left in Christine’s car and committed an armed robbery at a Circle K on the south side during which Encinas was fatally shot by Pima County sheriff’s deputies.
“Christine was very outspoken, very opinionated and very confident,” said Angela Betancourt. “Something happened and whatever it was escalated very quickly. We will never know why he killed her. She had been hurt so badly that we could not have a viewing,” she said in tears.
“We do not want her to be remembered as another statistic in a domestic-violence murder,” said the aunt, who has many unanswered questions about what led to her niece’s death and still wakes up at times waiting for Christine to text or call or join the family for dinner.
The Betancourts are channeling their emotions and energy into positive outcomes. Gina and David Betancourt founded the CMB Foundation, which is named after their daughter — Christine Monique Betancourt — to raise funds for Homicide Survivors and the Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse.
A fundraiser, Cruising for Christine, is set for Sept. 30 at Hotel Tucson City Center, 475 N. Granada Ave., and at American Legion Morgan McDermott Post 7, 330 W. Franklin St.
“Domestic violence is a huge epidemic that we as a society have to face,” said Angela Betancourt. “It is going on in homes everywhere. We are not talking about it enough to our kids. We need to educate our kids about coping skills, communication skills and knowing when to walk away from a bad situation.”
Through the CMB Foundation, the Betancourts want to raise funds to help women and their children living in abusive situations leave their home and relocate. They also want to raise funds so mothers can go back to school and get jobs to support their families and help pay for baby-sitting.
“Someone should not have to remain in an abusive situation because they have no place to go,” said Angela Betancourt, explaining that the foundation will accept referrals from organizations that deal with battered women who need financial and educational support.