Family seeks help to find blind Detroiter missing in Peru

Brother says no one has the slightest clue of what happened to her, "It's like she evaporated" and it's time for their family to assist in the search.

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Carla Valpeoz

The family of a blind Detroit woman who went missing in Peru last month is begging for the public's help to find her.

For years Carla Valpeoz defied expectations of the legally blind — crisscrossing the globe, sometimes solo, to explore new places.

"What’s become frustrating for my family is we’ve got all these resources and no one has the slightest clue of what happened to her," her brother, Carlos Valpeoz, told The Detroit News. "It’s like she’s evaporated."

The Detroiter set out on another adventure last month, joining a friend in Peru and trekking to the historic Macchu Pichu site in the Andes Mountains. But immediately after, the 35-year-old’s trip took a baffling turn: She failed to show up for her return flight, and no one has heard from her since mid-December.

"My father has been down there this entire time working with investigators from the state department, consulate, a few generals and the Peruvian Army while my mother and I are here," said her brother, who lives in New York. "As of now, there haven't been any updates, and we feel as a family that it's our time to implement our own search rescue resources into this active case."

Carla Valpeoz

Carlos Valpeoz started a GoFundMe campaign with the hope they could self-fund services such as a helicopter rental, mountain search and rescue specialists, and private investigators. He estimates it will cost $30,000 or more and says she's worth every cent.  

"It's a short-term goal and we believe we will need more. Every single dollar will go to the investigation and anything unused will go to a cause she worked with in Detroit," Carlos Valpeoz said. "We want answers."

The GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $28,000 of that goal as of Sunday morning.. 

Carla's last sighting

Carla Valpeoz had journeyed to the South American country for a wedding and planned to return to the United States on Dec. 15, her brother said.

She spent the first part of the trip in Lima with another Detroit resident, then ventured alone to Cusco and visited Macchu Pichu on Dec. 11, which the Peru Ministry of Culture verified through a passport check, Carlos Valpeoz said.

Carla Valpeoz, who uses a cane, initially was barred from entering due to warnings about the rough terrain but eventually passed through when another group of travelers offered to join, her brother learned.

Photos circulating online show her reaching a pinnacle, and the group “became friends and wanted to continue hanging out,” dining in another town and visiting hot springs, Carlos Valpeoz said.

She was last seen in Písac, a village in Peru, where footage was found of her at the entrance of an archaeological park, Carlos Valpeoz said. 

"Right now the question is if she entered the park, and if she did, we have no witnesses that saw her entering or leaving," he said. 

The video, obtained by the family through Písac police from a clothing store, shows her walking with her green backpack past a drug store on Bolognesi and Callo Street in Písac. The video is dated Dec. 12 at 9:33 a.m., her last known sighting.

The video provided to The Detroit News was recorded by Valpeoz's father, who said he "has no intention of leaving (Peru) without Carla."

Carlos Valpeoz said local authorities have searched the park extensively, including helicopter and drone searches to see if she became lost off the trails. Cadaver dogs, sniffing hounds and professional mountaineers searched also, hoping to find any trace of her. 

"There have been anywhere from 60-80 people actively searching for her," he said. "This is a trauma that my family has to go through and I wouldn't wish upon anyone."

News of the disappearance has worried those who crossed paths with the missing woman in Peru.

Sandi Johnson wrote on the family's GoFundMe page Thursday that she traveled with Carla Valpeoz down from the sun gate at Machu Picchu and was "amazed at her determination and also worried for her safety." 

Carla Valpeoz is shown walking along the Macchu Picchu site in the Andes Mountains in Peru in 2018 in a picture taken by a fellow traveler. Valpeoz's family estimates she went missing on or about Dec. 12, 2018.

"She told me it was difficult because of her perception problem and the steps being so uneven. Also the coloring of the stones going from white to gray to black," Johnson wrote on the GoFundMe. "She fell many times but got herself right up ... We were getting close to the bottom and twice I had to redirect her to the left or she would have gone over a boulder. I stopped talking to her so as not to confuse her. She got to the end safely. I lost her when I stopped to take pictures. I snapped one of her from behind. Praying you find her well."

Carla’s disappearance has left a noticeable impact in the community. Many organizers in Detroit and colleagues from the Arab American Museum have sought help and connections in Peru and say they will phone bank and raise funds to aid the search.

“Carla canvassed all over southwest Detroit for immigrants rights when she was a Michigan United Fellow," said friend Mayra Valle of Detroit. "Through this, she identified issues neighbors were concerned about and to make sure that they were registered to vote.

"Carla also worked with me for Global Detroit when we talked to small businesses in southwest Detroit because she could speak Spanish and Arabic. We are sad that we don’t know her whereabouts during this trip."
Twitter: @SarahRahal_