A vibrant, young startup founder went on a work trip to Silicon Valley. One week later, she was found dead in the back seat of her car. What happened remains a mystery.
On the night of her wedding anniversary, Agnes Valenti pushed roasted cauliflower around her plate at the restaurant while her husband talked on the phone. Their daughter, Erin Valenti, was calling from 2,900 miles away, in Palo Alto, California, where she had just left a friend and couldn't find her rental car.
The couple called her back after dinner. The 33-year-old entrepreneur from Salt Lake City who was traveling on business, had finally located the gray Nissan Murano and began the short drive to San Jose International Airport. She talked fast and erratically. And she wasn't making much sense.
"It's all a game, it's a thought experiment, we're in the Matrix," she said at one point.
And "I'm going to miss my flight."
Five days later, Valenti was found dead in the back seat of her rental car on a residential street in San Jose. According to the family, there were no clear signs of physical harm.
The mystery of how a tech founder went missing and died in Silicon Valley has left a family, her friends, and a group of entrepreneurs in Utah's rising tech hub stunned and searching for answers.
To some, the easy explanation would be suicide, that her story was among the many stories of a founder's quiet battle with depression, exacerbated by the stress of starting a company and trying to change the world.
But her family does not believe she killed herself. That just wasn't Valenti, whose nickname was "Armageddon Erin" because of her boisterous energy and a proclivity for being places when natural disasters hit.
Valenti, the chief executive of Tinker Ventures, a web-development shop, had gone to California to be inspired. She arrived in Orange County in early October for a professional-development workshop and then flew to the Bay Area to visit former colleagues and friends. Some who met her for dinner said she talked excitedly about a new business venture.
Her family and friends agree on a few things. Valenti had no history of mental-health disorders or substance abuse. She surrounded herself with friends and was not the type to bottle her feelings.
And there are some things that remain murky, such as her confused ramblings on the day she went missing.
"When you don't know everything you start thinking about everything," Chris Valenti, Erin's youngest brother, said.
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