Lauren "Bernice" Reed's life was shattered on her 29th birthday Monday when she learned her sister, three young nephews and a 2-year-old niece were slain in Medford.
Reed, of Phoenix, Ariz., fought back tears as she described how Tabasha Paige-Criado, whom she called "Basha," was her best friend. Paige-Criado had left a message Saturday wondering whether they could somehow see each other to celebrate Reed's birthday.
She texted Reed photos because she was going out to a Ying Yang Twins concert at the Venue Civic Center in Medford and had dressed for the occasion.
"She called me, and I never even called her back," said Reed, who couldn't afford to travel to Medford. "I didn't even get to leave my niece a message."
Paige-Criado and her children, Elijah, 7, Isaac, 6, Andrew, 5, and Aurora, 2, died from a combination of stab wounds and smoke inhalation Monday morning after being pulled from their burning west Medford home.
Police suspect the father, Jordan Criado, stabbed his family then set the house on fire.
Criado is recovering from smoke inhalation and is in critical condition at Rogue Valley Medical Center.
Reed said she blames herself for not recognizing how troubled her sister's relationship with Jordan Criado had become.
"There are so many gaps," she said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I ask myself, 'If you were the closest to me, why didn't I know all this?'"
Paige-Criado's family members are grappling with the loss of their sister, niece and nephews as Jackson County reels from the worst mass killing in its history. Paige-Criado has five brothers and sisters who share the same mother, but have different fathers.
Reed and other family members said the Criados had been overwhelmed by financial problems and a growing rift between husband and wife. Paige-Criado, whom relatives described as a devoted mother, had been looking for a way to get out of her marriage, they said.
Relatives portrayed Paige-Criado as outgoing and a "class clown" who had a penchant for crafts and a flair for making music. Her musical idol was Prince.
They said the Criado children were outgoing and occasionally rambunctious, but well-mannered and loving. The oldest, Elijah, had a problem with hyperactivity, a trait that runs in Paige-Criado's side of the family, they said.
Their picture of Jordan Criado is less clear. They said he had been adopted and had an accent that was difficult to understand. He was generally quiet but occasionally would flare up with anger, they said.
The couple had been trying to get their lives together, but suffered a series of financial setbacks, family members said. The Criados lost their home in Central Point to foreclosure in April 2010, county records show. They were both unemployed, family members said.
What triggered Monday's violence remains a mystery for family members, who hope police investigations shed some light on the motives behind the deaths.
"Everybody's going stir-crazy trying to figure this out," said Heidi Adams, 29, Paige-Criado's sister-in-law.
Adams, who is married to Paige-Criado's brother Jesse Adams, said the Criados had plenty of problems, but there was no inkling that the troubles would turn so tragic.
"They had a lot of problems in their marriage, and he wouldn't let her go out," Heidi Adams said.
"I know that she was unhappy. She was actually making plans on trying to leave."
Paige-Criado was well aware that her husband had spent time in prison for a sexual relationship with a girl under the age of 14 in 1989, but Adams said that didn't seem to bother her because it was so long ago.
Paige-Criado's Facebook posts offer glimpses into her emotional state. Often posting in the early morning hours, she occasionally cursed her husband or expressed frustrations as a mother. But family members said these Facebook posts shouldn't be taken too seriously.
"Tabasha was very out of the box," said Adams. "Her posts were kind of weird. I could see how someone could read that and take that the wrong way."
Her outgoing personality was infectious, family members said, and Paige-Criado made friends easily.
"She was really open, fun-loving and witty," said Adams.
Adams said her sister-in-law doted on her children. "Her kids were her world," she said.
Paige-Criado had a troubled childhood and would occasionally run away from home with Reed. After high school, Reed lost track of her sister for seven years as they both struggled in their early adult life.
They finally got reunited and ended up together on the TV show "Classmates."
"We were both pregnant at the same time," Reed said. "It was so beautiful. We were both trying to look each other up at the same time. I missed Tabasha."
When Reed received a call from her sister, they would often write lyrics for songs together. Paige-Criado listened to a variety of musical genres, composed her own music and recorded herself singing.
"She was a very beautiful woman," Reed said. "She was so smart."
They had kept in touch ever since, but she'd noticed that since Criado became unemployed, her sister stopped talking nicely about him. "She asked me how I left my husband," Reed said, describing an abusive relationship that she broke free from.
Criado-Paige began expressing increasing frustration about her husband.
"She would say, 'It's either his way or the highway,'" Reed said.
Jesse Adams, the first born, is also filled with regrets that he didn't recognize something was seriously wrong with his sister.
"I do nothing but blame myself," said the 32-year-old Phoenix, Ariz., resident. "If I just came up and said, 'Let's go,' I could have saved her."
Adams said he had never seen violent tendencies in Jordan Criado.
"I'm surprised," he said. "He was always quiet, except eight months ago. She was on the phone saying she was leaving him and saying she was getting a divorce. He was yelling at her. I just chalked it up to marital problems. 'He's all bark and no bite,' she used to tell me."
Adams said he is not going to denounce Criado, even though he may have taken the lives of innocent children.
"As bad as it is, I have to forgive him," said Adams, who refers to himself as a minister. "God only knows why it happened. I have to forgive him to feel forgiveness. I have to pray to understand that over all those years, he had to have some kind of love and some kind of compassion."
In the midst of their grief, Paige-Criado's family members are struggling financially themselves. They hope to travel to Medford to hold a memorial service and bring the bodies of their sister and her children back with them.
Adams said he will drive up in a rental car to Medford in the next few days.
He said he plans to set up a fund at Wells Fargo Bank in Medford for his family. In the meantime, he said people who need to reach him can call 480-529-4560, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"At the end of the day, I don't have time to grieve," he said. "I've got to do her justice. I've got to make sure she's buried right. I'm hurt, I'm upset and I do have moments of weakness."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail email@example.com.