High school volleyball star, Tiffany Valiante, was afraid of the dark… did she go on a strange 4-mile barefoot walk through an unlit forest to commit suicide by train or have her killers gotten away with murder?
Saturday, July 12th is a balmy East Coast early summer evening in small-town Mays Landing, New Jersey. A large gathering of family and friends celebrate two high school graduations. One of the graduating teens, Tiffany Valiante (18), is relaxing with relatives by the pool, snapping selfies, and making plans for decorating her new college dorm room.
As a smart, friendly, hard-working, high school star athlete, with a full scholarship to Mercy college, Tiffany, at 6’3”, is widely admired for her prowess on the volleyball court. She dreams of playing volleyball in the U.S. Olympics and possibly joining the Air Force or law enforcement.
At around 9:30pm, after an argument with her parents, a security camera in the Valiante’s front yard captures Tiffany walking down her driveway into the dark. But everyone knows that Tiffany hates the dark. It’s not long before her parents realize that nobody knows where Tiffany is. They call and text her cell phone, but she doesn’t answer. Then, Tiffany’s cell phone is spotted lying in the grass in front of her home. And everyone knows Tiffany never goes anywhere without her phone.
At 2:30am, police arrive at the Valiante’s house to deliver the tragic news. Tiffany’s partially clothed, barefoot, mangled body has been found four miles away on a lonely, dark stretch of railroad track. Within hours, New Jersey authorities rule Tiffany’s death a suicide, but that ruling makes no sense to her parents. The family thinks it must be a reporter’s mistake.
But the New Jersey Transit Police, along with the Medical Examiner’s office, quickly confirm that Tiffany committed suicide by throwing herself in front of an unscheduled oncoming passenger train after walking barefoot for four miles through unlit, remote woods, along a rocky train track. Their reasoning for suicide is that she was struggling with her sexual identity.
But Tiffany’s family and a team of passionate experts working pro bono to solve this case have discovered troubling gaps in the investigation and believe the suicide ruling is not only unfounded, but absurd.
Tiffany’s had a myriad of short term and long term plans in her future: a trip to a Great Adventure park the next day, picking up a kitten for her mom’s birthday at the end of the month, a graduation going-away party and the beginning of an exciting college experience. This is not the profile of someone who planned to take her own life.
Tiffany’s family question the investigation into Tiffany’s mysterious death: no family members were interviewed, no psychological autopsy was conducted to bolster or refute a suicide theory, no rape kit was done and evidence from the scene was either left behind or stored in a reckless manner that caused it to mold and become unusable for DNA testing.
Tiffany’s family hopes the state of New Jersey will change the manner of death from “suicide” to “unexplained.” After that, they are hoping to identify the person they believe killed her and left her body on the tracks. There is now a $40,000 reward for information that helps solve the mystery of Tiffany’s death.