Written by Michael Wilson
It was late on Jan. 28 when Valerie Reyes, 24, called her mother in a panic from her nearby apartment in New Rochelle, New York, where she lived alone.
“She was going on about how frightened she was in that apartment,” her mother, Norma Sanchez, said Thursday. “She was hearing about all these murders of women. ‘I just can’t get it out of my head.’”
There was no one in particular threatening her, Reyes said, but she could not shake her fear. She told her mother: “I feel like somebody’s going to murder me.”
The next day, she did not show up for work as a clerk at Barnes & Noble in Scarsdale. On Tuesday, eight days after that phone call, her body was found in a suitcase on the side of a quiet, residential road in Greenwich, Connecticut, about 14 miles from her apartment. She had been bound at the wrists and ankles, police said.
The Greenwich police, leading an investigation that involves at least three police departments, did not announce any leads or suspects Thursday. The medical examiner’s office said the cause of death had not been determined and could take weeks.
A basic timeline of Reyes’ final days offered few apparent clues. Her family last saw her on Sunday, Jan. 27.
“We just went about our day, having fun,” Sanchez said. “She went to work on Monday and she was her normal self, according to co-workers.”
She had worked there for 2 1/2 years, the company said in a statement: “The entire Barnes & Noble community is grieving the loss of our beloved employee Valerie Reyes.”
On Monday, after her frightened call to her mother, she promised to calm down and said good night with a text message, saying she had gotten something to eat.
“She said, ‘I’m feeling better, Momma,’” Sanchez said.
After she did not report to work on Tuesday morning, Jan. 29, a friend on Twitter said she had last been seen near the New Rochelle train station. She did not respond to text messages, and calls to her cellphone went directly to voicemail, suggesting it was turned off, her mother said.
On Wednesday, she was in New York City. Detectives in New Rochelle, working on her disappearance, showed her mother a photo from surveillance video of a woman in a Chase Bank branch near Radio City Music Hall at 6:30 a.m. on Jan. 30, Sanchez said. The woman was Reyes.
“We were hoping that maybe she just wanted to isolate herself and be alone,” Sanchez said.
The New York Police Department’s Midtown North precinct tweeted a picture of Reyes on Jan. 31, asking if anyone had seen her. “Suffers from anxiety and depression,” the tweet read. Friends and relatives of Reyes also posted about the missing woman on social media, but no one reported having seen her, Sanchez said.
On Tuesday morning, highway workers in Greenwich found a suitcase off the shoulder of Glenville Road, near Stillman Lane, and called the police. One worker, with the town’s Department of Public Works, was caught taking photos of the body and the crime scene and was placed on paid administrative leave.
“The victim was a daughter, a sister and a cousin of a family who is suffering a tremendous loss at this time,” First Selectman Peter J. Tesei said Thursday in a statement, criticizing the worker who took pictures. “This thoughtless and insensitive behavior by an employee is inexcusable.”
On Wednesday night, the body was identified as Reyes.
“Amazing, amazing human being, amazing girl,” Sanchez said. “No matter how close we think we are to our kids, we really need to look further in. We were very close as a family. She was really loved.”
Reyes did not look for trouble, her mother said.
“She was not a club-type of person at all,” Sanchez said. “She just ended up in evil hands.”
She broke down sobbing.
“Whoever did this needs to pay,” Sanchez said. “My baby is gone. They found her in the luggage. Such a nightmare.”