One week before she died, Brittany Kittrell spoke with her sister and mother on a video call.

“She really didn’t talk,” her sister Terraye Morris told the INDY. “She just stared at us. She always stared at us. But this was a different kind of stare.”

Kittrell, 34, had struggled since her late twenties with a heroin addiction. She was convicted in 2011 for the felony obtaining of property by false pretenses, but that was the only previous offense listed on her state criminal record.

But on January 15, she was charged with a battery of serious offenses; breaking and entering to terrorize or injure, robbery with a dangerous weapon, common law false imprisonment and felony possession of cocaine, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office reported.

Despite the seriousness of the charges, she was held in lieu of only a $5,000 bail.

Four days after being booked into the Durham County jail, the sheriff’s office reported that Kittrell was transported to Duke Hospital, where she later died. The sheriff’s office said Kittrell’s official cause of death is still being determined and will be later released by the state medical examiner.

But the family is concerned.

“How did she die?” Morris, 28, asked. “We just want an autopsy. She died in jail. Anything could have happened. No one is telling us the cause.”

The Durham County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement to the INDY on Tuesday afternoon that Kittrell’s cause of death is still being determined and will be released by the state medical examiner.

Morris said the family was told they would have to “wait until her case is over because she was in jail, and we have to wait until her blood [tests] come back.” 

“But I don’t understand that,” he sister said.

Morris said that her family has been calling the state medical examiner’s office in Raleigh, but officials there haven’t returned their calls.

She added that prior to her sister’s body being transported to Raleigh, Kittrell was inspected by a Durham examiner who described herself to the INDY as a contractor with the state medical examiner’s office.

“The lady said she had very serious concerns about not knowing the reason why Brittany died,” Morris said. “The unusual thing was [Brittany] had internal bleeding. She sent the body to Raleigh, but first took blood and sent it over.”

The local examiner declined comment and referred the INDY to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

State DHHS spokesperson Kelly Haight Connor said in an email to the INDY that “every death investigation conducted by the [Office of the Chief Medical Examiner]  has its own unique set of facts and circumstances, and the length of time to complete a case can vary based on a number of factors.”

Connor didn’t comment further on the case, but the INDY is following Connor’s direction to file a more formal document request.

Kittrell grew up in Washington, D.C., the oldest of two daughters.

Before her struggles with heroin, she studied nursing in New York and moved to Durham, where she worked for IBM at the Research Triangle Park.

Kittrell moved around a lot.

“She didn’t like to sit still,” Morris said.

After Kittrell became addicted to heroin, her family begged her to go into treatment, but she wasn’t willing, her sister said.

Instead, she frequented the area near the Food Lion on Fayetteville Street, and kept her family at a distance.

“She kept a lot of stuff from us,” Morris said. “I guess she was doing things she knew we wouldn’t approve of. The main thing we want to know now is how she died.”

This is what the family has learned from the county: Kittrell collapsed while going into a pod at the detention center. She was rushed to Duke Hospital and went into cardiac arrest. Medical officials spent two hours trying to resuscitate her.

“She didn’t come back,” Morris said.

Kittrell is survived by three children, ages 3, 5 and 8.

Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to

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