The horror of Valerie Reyes‘ last minutes — before she was bound at the hands and feet, her body was jammed into a red suitcase and abandoned in a wooded area of Greenwich, Conn. — is unimaginable to the 24-year-old’s family and friends who remembered her as a “sweetheart” and gentle soul.
The young woman from New Rochelle, N.Y., was known as a bookworm who had a dedicated work ethic and a “homebody” who had a deep love for family.
Norma Sanchez, Reyes’ mother, was devastated when authorities discovered the 24-year-old’s remains roughly six days after she mysteriously vanished. She recalled Reyes, who battled anxiety and depression, acting paranoid and even predicting her own homicide before she went missing.
Those close to Reyes, who worked at a Barnes & Noble in Eastchester, N.Y, with a goal to follow in her brother’s footsteps as a tattoo artist, are tirelessly trying to figure out how Reyes’ life came to such a grisly close — even hiring a private investigator to help retrace her last steps.
Sanchez and her three brothers recalled the last time they saw Reyes on Jan. 27, telling The Journal News they typically spent Sundays together as a family.
“She was a confidant. …She had a really bright future. She was really excited about her art and her goals.”
“We played board games, or she played hide-and-seek with her younger brothers. We were always being silly. Sometimes we got a bite to eat or went to the park. Anything, really. It was just family time,” Sanchez told the New York newspaper.
Brenda DeGiacomo, who lived across the street from Reyes, described her neighbor as a “sweetheart.”
“She was the sweetest most gentle girl, like I can’t see anyone harming her,” a teary-eyed DeGiacomo told the Greenwich Time. “It’s disgusting. And to put her in a suitcase? And just think about her last minutes, her last breaths.”
The entire neighborhood is “horrified” by the news, DeGiacomo told the paper.
“This is the first time something happened close to home,” she added. “My kids are prisoners now because I don’t know where this happened and until I know where this happened, I don’t feel safe letting my kids out on my own block where I live. Not even in front of my house, which is scary.”
Reyes was passionate about art and enjoyed drawing and painting, according to Lauren Bradford, who said she worked with Reyes at Barnes & Noble for about 10 months before Bradford left the job to go to college a few months ago.
“Horrified. Absolutely horrified,” Bradford, 19, told The Associated Press. “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.”
Sal Reyes, who identified himself as the victim’s father in a Facebook posting, said a candlelight vigil was held at Glen Island Park in New Rochelle on Thursday.
I really pray to God they find out who done this,” DeGiacomo told the Greenwich Time.
The chief medical examiner’s office has completed an autopsy but has not yet released the cause and manner of Reyes’ death. No arrests have been announced.
Fox News’ Kathleen Joyce and The Associated Press contributed to this report.