Fundraiser to boost search for missing Detroiter in Peru

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

More than 100 days have passed since Carla Valpeoz vanished while exploring Peru, and the Detroit resident’s relatives are no closer to finding answers or closure.

To keep the case alive and reinvigorate search efforts, supporters plan a fundraiser Saturday night at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn.

The event comes after Valpeoz’s brother met this week with elected officials seeking their help in calling for U.S. assistance in the South American probe.

“My family and I are preparing for the long haul,” Carlos Valpeoz told The Detroit News on Friday. “We have no idea how much longer this is going to go on for. … I’m making the biggest effort that I can to help resolve this and bring Carla home.”

Carla Valpeoz

Loved ones have been seeking clues since Carla Valpeoz was last seen Dec. 12, days after her 35th birthday. The globe-trotting Texas native and activist had journeyed to Peru with a Detroit friend, Alicia Steele, then ventured off alone to reach Macchu Pichu as well as other sites.

Valpeoz was visually impaired and relied on a cane but relished exploring independently, family and friends recall. She was last seen in Písac, a village, where video footage showed the woman at the entrance of an archaeological park, her younger sibling said.

Since then, local authorities have scoured the area extensively with a helicopter, drones, cadaver dogs, sniffing hounds and professional mountaineers. Her 70-year-old father has also remained in the region for months and daily speaks with investigators, Carlos Valpeoz said. “He wakes up at 5 in the morning, goes down to the police station and talks about any updates. He’s developed relationships with a lot of people. He’s just been scouring the area for information and clues.”

At least one Peruvian official has publicly speculated that Carla may have succumbed to injuries in an accidental fall or become a crime victim, but “there is a huge lack of evidence surrounding my sister’s case and there are a lot of possibilities,” her brother said.

Despite an increased reward for tips from locals, few concrete leads have materialized, Carlos Valpeoz said. A GoFundMe campaign aiming to add more search, rescue and investigative personnel has so far raised more than $37,000, but the family has raised the goal to $50,000 to bolster the initiative.

“We need every dollar to keep this investigation alive,” Carlos Valpeoz said.

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.

To help that campaign, supporters are coordinating the fundraiser from 7-11 p.m. Saturday at the museum, where Carla once gave tours as a docent.

The event includes a raffle, live music, a photo booth, massages and more, Steele said.
“There’s going to be a lot going on but all of it is just out of a deep love everybody has for Carla,” she said. “It’s been in our thoughts since the beginning because Carla has a big community of people who want to help. … Private investigators are expensive. We really want to find Carla, so we need those funds to be able to do that.”

Ahead of the function, Carlos Valpeoz said he met with U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib as well as staff from the offices of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow to learn “what kind of pressure can be applied to the Peruvian government to allow intervention” from American authorities in the search.

Tlaib intends to help the cause, her spokesman, Denzel McCampbell, said in an email.

Representatives of Whitmer and Stabenow could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

For now, those who know the missing woman best cling to hope t her case does not fade from the spotlight.

“It’s traumatic for everyone,” Steele said. "She’s someone so many people look to for motivation to make the world better. She’s an incredibly special human being.”