The race to find a Westchester County woman suddenly turned from a missing persons case to a murder investigation in a matter of days.
The body of Valerie Reyes, 24, of New Rochelle, N.Y., was discovered Tuesday. She was bound, stuffed in a suitcase and dumped on the side of a Greenwich road.
Family members reported Reyes missing on Jan. 30. In the days after she disappeared, family and friends posted information about her on Facebook. New Rochelle police circulated flyers on social media.
Reyes was also entered into the Missing Persons Clearinghouse maintained by the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, a spokeswoman for the agency said.
The system is far different — and less organized — in Connecticut, where 6,000 to 7,000 people are reported missing each year.
While most of them re-emerge on their own unharmed, according to data supplied by the State Police Crime Analysis Unit, others can easily slip through the cracks.
Unlike New York, which by law has a well-defined clearinghouse system that has data available to the public, Connecticut relies on a patchwork of alerts from local and state police, and the database from the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, called NamUs.
“The State Police are sort of the clearinghouse,” Connecticut Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said. “There is no clearinghouse, but state and local police have protocols they’ve worked on and POST (Police Officer Standards and Training Council) has a well-established protocol.”
Local Connecticut police departments can request assistance from the State Police to send out alerts for missing children, adults over the age of 65 or adults over 18 who are cognitively or otherwise impaired, Trooper First Class Tanya Compagnone said.
“Right now, we have the missing persons clearinghouse, but not everybody is on it,” she said.
The State Police database includes all the Amber and Silver alerts and the cases they are investigating, Compagnone said.
But there is no central location for Connecticut information unless the local agency supplies NamUs with the data on the missing person. NamUs has about 200 Connecticut missing persons cases dating back decades, including a 10-year-old Bridgeport girl who hasn’t been seen since leaving school with a man in 2001.
NamUs can be searched by name, state, gender or a variety of other categories. Each profile usually has a short summary of the disappearance, a description of the person and contact information for the investigating agency.
“NamUs is a great tool,” Compagnone said. “But the system is as good as what is put into it. The information is supposed to be supplied within 24 hours of receiving a missing persons report. It’s up to the individual towns to do that.”
The reality is the number of missing persons is fluid, since many are teen runaways who return home after a few hours. It’s also up to the local police departments to cancel Amber or Silver alerts when a person is found, Compagnone said.
“The number of missing persons will never be exact, because some people return but their information isn’t canceled,” she said.
The State Police Crime Analysis Unit obtains its information from the State Police Bureau of Identification, which relies on a number of sources, including the National Crime Information Center and reporting by local departments, to determine the number of missing persons each year.
In 2017, there were 6,359 people reported missing and 6,289 missing persons reports canceled or closed in Connecticut, according to State Police data.
The investigations vary, depending on where the person was reported missing, Compagnone said. Missing persons cases in Connecticut are typically investigated by the agency where the report was filed. Some cases are escalated to the Major Crimes Unit. Local police investigate and publicize their own missing persons cases based on a protocol revamped by POST in 2010.
Compagnone was a member of the State Police Missing Persons Unit formed in 2012. The work of the unit, however, has been mostly focused on special cases for the past few years, she said.
“The medical examiner had many unidentified bodies and we were able to clear a lot of those,” she said.
Members of the team have since assisted on critical missing persons cases, but otherwise no longer work as a unit.
In New York, cases are also investigated by the agency where the report was filed. But each agency is required by law to submit the information to the Missing Persons Clearinghouse, which also transmits the information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and NamUs, said Janine Kava, director of public information for the New York Division of Criminal Justice Services, which maintains the clearinghouse.
The clearinghouse provides alerts for missing children, missing college students, the elderly and cognitively impaired adults over 18, Kava said. The agency also provides posters and support to law enforcement agencies and the families of missing persons, she said.
Todd Matthews, director of case management and communications for NamUs, said states — particularly those like Connecticut without a clearinghouse — can use his company for their database.
"Until we all use this, it's not going to be effective," Matthews said. "I encourage families, if your loved one is not on NamUs, we can change that."
Lisa Backus is a freelance reporter. She can be reached at email@example.com.