SAN JOSE — Responding to criticism by the family of a Utah tech executive who was reported missing last week and found dead in her rental car on Saturday, San Jose police on Tuesday described in detail the steps they had taken to try to find the woman.
The family of Erin Valenti, 33, have raised questions about whether she could have been found sooner, or perhaps even alive, if police had acted more aggressively.
After Valenti was found on a quiet residential street in Almaden, her father told this news organization that he was frustrated with the initial police response to her disappearance, calling it a “charade.”
“We were on this case. We didn’t ignore this case,” Garcia said. “We’re going to look at everything we did and see if there are ways to improve.”
But, he added, “We could have done everything perfectly, and a grieving family and friends are always going to think you could have done more. That’s a perfectly understandable feeling to have.”
Valenti’s family members did not immediately respond on Tuesday to requests for further comment.
Valenti, chief executive of the Utah-based app development company Tinker Ventures, was reported missing the night of Oct. 7 after she missed her return flight from San Jose to Salt Lake City. She had been in Southern California for a workshop and Monterey for a tech conference before driving to the Bay Area to visit friends and former colleagues.
Valenti’s husband, Harrison Weinstein, called San Jose police after she missed her flight, and Valenti’s parents said that in their conversations with her earlier that afternoon, she sounded strange. They described her thoughts as “disconnected” and said she “talked a mile a minute.”
Police said on Tuesday that about 10 p.m. that night, at the family’s request, they called Valenti on her cell phone and she answered. She “indicated she was with friends,” police said. Weinstein, however, said over the weekend that an officer told the family that “she wasn’t making any sense” on the call.
The police search that followed is not in dispute. Weinstein had called Verizon Wireless and was told that the last location of Valenti’s cell phone that yielded a signal was on Menlo Drive north of Almaden Expressway. Officers searched the area, as well as local hospitals,”over the course of several hours” but did not find her or her rented Nissan Murano, according to police. Police said they also searched streets further north, where Valenti’s phone pinged a few more times before shutting off.
The next day, Oct. 8, Weinstein traveled to San Jose and met with SJPD officers in the area where her phone last sent a signal. Police said they filed a missing-persons report, entering Valenti and her rental car information into a national database, and also broadcast an alert to patrol units in the city.
On Oct. 9, Valenti’s 34th birthday, police said, detectives from the agency’s missing-persons unit were assigned to the case, and they sent electronic bulletins to police agencies around the greater Bay Area, extending as far as Monterey. Police said they also re-canvassed local hospitals, and interviewed Valenti’s friends and other associates for clues on where she might be.
Meanwhile, her parents and her husband, who had flown to the Bay Area, set up a “Help Find Erin Valenti” Facebook page, and received an outpouring of love, support and offers from Bay Area locals to help with the search. One of those volunteers found Valenti’s rented Nissan SUV parked in the 6500 block of Bose Lane — about a half-mile south of where her phone last registered — saw her body in the back seat, and called police.
How Valenti died is still unknown, pending the results of an autopsy and toxicology tests conducted by the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office. The time of her death is also unclear, so how long she might have been in the vehicle where she was found remains a mystery.
San Jose police said the case is being treated as a death investigation, and that there were no obvious signs of foul play. Valenti’s husband said she had no history of mental illness. SJPD files an average of 100 adult missing-persons reports a month, and twice that rate for minors, according to department figures.