The mother of a 24-year-old woman whose body was found bound in a red suitcase on a street in an upscale Connecticut suburb Tuesday morning said her daughter was "panicked," "frightened" and "scared" when she last spoke to her.
Greenwich, Connecticut police said the body was positively identified as Valerie Reyes of New Rochelle, New York; her family was notified Wednesday night. Reyes was last seen on Jan. 29, and was reported missing on Jan. 30.
Her mother, Norma Sanchez, spoke to News 4 New York Thursday, stunned and still grasping for answers. She said the last time she spoke to her daughter, Reyes had left her New Rochelle apartment, then gone into Manhattan. Her family thought she was seeking help for her anxiety and depression.
That Monday night, Sanchez got a call from her daughter: "She was panicked. She was frightened. She was scared."
"We asked if her ex-boyfriend made her feel a certain way, and she said no. 'If anything, he made me feel safe,'" Sanchez said her daughter told her.
Reyes had taken bed sheets and towels from her New Rochelle apartment before heading into the city, where she took out money from a bank near Rockefeller Center. Days later, she took out more money at another bank.
The family thought Reyes "was strong enough to just leave and seek help in the city. We were hoping. We were hoping she was seeking therapy."
"We just went about our day, 'She's fine, she's gonna come back, they're gonna find her,'" said Sanchez. "But not this way. This is a mother's worse nightmare."
Sanchez said her daughter, whom she called Val, was vibrant and friendly. She worked at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Eastchester since it opened two and a half years ago.
"She was very hard-working, very dedicated," said Sanchez. "She didn't show up for work on Wednesday. That was something very unusual. She didn't call, so that's what made us worried even more."
Reyes was passionate about art and enjoyed drawing and painting, according to Lauren Bradford, who said she worked with Reyes at the bookstore for about 10 months before Bradford left the job to go to college a few months ago. Reyes had plans to train to become a tattoo artist, Bradford said.
"Horrified. Absolutely horrified," said Bradford, 19. "I'm just like totally shocked. She was a confidant. She really encouraged me and my aspirations. She had a really bright future. She was really excited about her art and her goals."
Emotional family members and friends lit candles and released balloons at a vigil for Reyes at Glen Island Park in New Rochelle Thursday night. Sanchez, anguished and sobbing, called her daughter "a beautiful soul" and "amazing in so many ways -- always wanting to be happy and helping others."
"He's going to pay for it," she said, crying, of her daughter's unknown killer. "Sooner or later he will get caught. I know it, I know it."
Highway workers found Reyes' body inside a full-size suitcase off of Glenville Road in Greenwich, north of Stillman Lane, around 8:15 a.m. Tuesday, police said. Reyes' hands and feet were bound inside the suitcase, according to police.
Police said it was difficult to tell how long Reyes had been dead due to the environment and fluctuating temperatures in the particular area where the victim was found. The chief medical examiner will determine a cause and manner of death.
On Thursday, Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei announced that a town public works employee who allegedly took photos of the body and crime scene has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation. He declined to name the worker.
"The victim was a daughter, a sister and a cousin of a family who is suffering a tremendous loss at this time," Tesei said. "This thoughtless and insensitive behavior by an employee is inexcusable. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Ms. Reyes' family."
Authorities urge anyone with information to call the Greenwich Police at 203-622-3333.