Tiffany Valiante was an eighteen-year-old girl with her whole life in front of her. She had just gained a volleyball scholarship to Mercy College in New York. She was planning to pursue a career in criminal justice or the armed forces.
She came out as gay in 2015 and although she recently split from her girlfriend, the split was amicable and she had started dating someone else. She lived with her family and two older half-sisters. On the surface, everything was going well for her.
Sadly, in 2015, she was killed in Mays Landing, New Jersey, when hit by an oncoming train. Officials took just one day to rule this de*ath as a su*icide. However, the family will argue that this is not the case. Tiffany was not depressed. They believe she was mur*dered.
Although Tiffany came from a loving home, as with any teenager, there were times when things were not positive. Friends state that Tiffany did self-harm but was not su*icidal. It is a common misconception in mental health that self-injuring turns to su*icide.
Like any mother-and-daughter relationship, there were times when the two clashed. Reports state that during one incident, child protective services visited the home in 2014.
There were other reports of teenage behaviour, such as smoking cannabis and using her parent’s debit cards, but nothing so severe that would cause her to take her own life.
The missing debit card
On 12th July 2015, Tiffany attended a graduation party with her parents across from their house. She left the party at 915 pm. Shortly after this, Dianne, her mother, received a phone call from one of Tiffany’s friends asking to speak to her.
The couple left and walked across the road to their house, where the friend accused Tiffany of using her debit card. For ten minutes, Tiffany denied this. Finally, her friend left, and as she did, Tiffany admitted to her mum she had been using the card.
Dianne went into the house to get her husband, Steve, to talk about the event. When the couple came back out of the house, Tiffany was missing. The parents looked up and down the road but could not see her.
They later stated that the street was full of cars, and someone would have seen her if she had walked away. Tiffany was very easy to identify at 6’2”. She was also scared of the dark, so she was unlikely to walk away from the house.
What happened to Tiffany Valiante from that point? Unfortunately, no one knows as she was never seen alive again.
The night of the incident
Steve had the idea to look on their deer cam to see if they could see the direction that Tiffany went. She was caught on the cam, walking purposely down the drive; car lights are seen on the camera, which may point to the fact that she was picked up by car.
The next discovery was Tiffany’s cell phone, discarded on the side of the road as if it had been dropped out of a car window. The couple called their extended family to help join the search for her. They called the police at 1130 pm.
One of those searching for Tiffany was her Uncle on her father’s side. He was stopped at a railroad accident as he drove over the neighbourhood looking for his niece. He asked the police if they had seen a 6’2” girl who was missing. The police informed him that she fitted the description of their victim and could he identify her formally.
Eighteen minutes before the family called the police, New Jersey Transit train 4673, travelling 80 miles per hour, had hit Tiffany four miles from her house.
She was barefoot and wearing just her underwear; despite this, the police were already working on the assumption that the de*ath was a su*icide.
Twenty-four hours later, the official cause of de*ath was ruled as su*icide. There had been no investigation into the strange occurrences of her d*eath. The Transit police were not equipped to investigate a mu*rder.
Both train engineers said they had not seen her until it was too late; she had jumped in front of the train. However, under oath, both considerably changed their story and only the trainee engineer admitted to seeing the victim.
Louise Houseman, the medical examiner, states that the stress of the incident would mean that the engineer, who was in shock, may not have been able to identify what happened correctly. Therefore, she concluded that no one could conclusively say that Tiffany jumped in front of the train.
Problems with the investigation
The black box on the train stated that the time between seeing the person, applying the brakes and sounding the horn was 4.3 seconds, not enough to get a complete picture of what happened by a witness.
The scene of Tiffany’s de*ath was not treated as a crime scene and much of the collected evidence was contaminated. The crime scene was also not cleaned properly, with her Uncle finding her bracelet days later lying in the dirt. Tiffany’s shirt was held in a plastic bag and went moldy before it could be tested.
There was no autopsy carried out on her body. No DNA was collected and a rape kit was not performed. Toxicology also showed that there was no alcohol or drugs in her system, which is considered unusual for a s*uicide. There was never a psychological autopsy performed to ascertain whether she was sui*cidal.
The injuries that she sustained were clean cuts through her arms and legs. This could also point to the fact that she had been laid on the tracks before the train hit.
The mystery deepened when Dianne was walking the route her daughter may have taken a few weeks after the incident and found her shoes near a tree; on closer inspection, she also found her missing headband. They were more than a mile from the crash site.
Examination of the crime photos shows no marks on the bottom of her feet, to say she walked a mile without shoes. The railroad track, like many, is littered with stones and glass. Yet if sui*cide is to be believed, Tiffany walked there without sustaining any damage to her feet.
More questions than answers?
The family, desperate for answers, hired a family lawyer, Paul D’Amato. He initially said he took the case to convince the family it was a su*icide and help them get over their grief. However, on an investigation, he could see the glaring problems with their theory of su*icide.
Using private investigators, the lawyer uncovered a local store manager who came forward to say that his teenage employees had been sharing stories about how Valiante had been abducted and forced onto the train tracks. They stated that the friend, who had her debit card used, was part of the abduction.
However, when the police interviewed them, they recanted their story, claiming they had never said anything to that effect and it was a su*icide. But the questions remain, why did she walk that distance to throw herself in front of the train? There were places closer to home.
Why did she commit sui*cide after taking her clothes and shoes off? The shorts that she wore have never been recovered. How did she disappear from her house as fast as she did and more importantly, why would a girl who had never mentioned su*icidal thoughts suddenly jump in front of a train?
While we strongly believe Valiante was m*urdered, the complaint allows for the possibility that the co-conspirators did not intend to kill her, but that their violent actions still resulted in her dea*th — Paul D’Amato
Officially, Tiffany’s d*eath remains listed as a suic*ide, despite a review of the case in 2016.
As her mother had her cremated, the lack of a body has stopped further investigations. The New Jersey Transit claims that she stepped out onto the track would avoid any accusations of negligence.
The case, initially, was never investigated thoroughly, but this is to be expected as the Transit police did not have experience in investigating mu*rder cases. Had the case been investigated thoroughly and still seen as a s*uicide, the family could rest.
Looking through all the research, I believe there is much more to this story. Many questions seem to point in the direction that Tiffany was killed. Two scenarios would be possible in this case, the first, that her body was placed on the tracks to hide the mur*der, and the second, that the train was used as the murd*er weapon.
However, in contrast, a small part of me wonders whether Tiffany took her own life. Teenagers rarely tell you everything. So are the parents holding on to the mur*der theory to reduce their grief?
Tiffany’s father, in the documentary, states that it is hard to continue without his daughter. The only thing keeping him alive is bringing her mur*derer to justice.
Whatever the truth, this is a sad story of an eighteen-year-old girl with everything to live for. We can only hope the parents one day get the closure they deserve and have their questions answered.