Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Capt. Justin Diez frequently leads outreach efforts in response to community issues.
But a call to The Signal on Friday afternoon was not the garden variety “lock-it-or-lose-it”-type messaging that those who follow the station on social media might expect to hear from the area’s top cop.
The alarms started from rumors that have been drummed up on social media after a string of bodies have been reported as being found in public, he said. Conclusions are drawn and shared usually before the full story is available.
In response to concerns Diez says were brought to him in a handful of random conversations with people “from different walks of life,” he wanted to allay worries:
“We do not have a serial murderer,” Diez said in a phone interview Friday. “We don’t have a serial incidence of homicide in Santa Clarita. If we ever did, we would certainly notify the public.”
A handful of calls that deputies have responded to in public places over the past several weeks highlight a grim statistical reality that’s part of deputies’ daily duties, he said.
To demonstrate his point, he said for the last two years, the SCV Sheriff’s Station receives one call every two days regarding a body found in a business or a residence — any deaths that did not happen at the hospital.
“Certainly, they don’t all happen inside a private business or a private residence,” he added. “And when they happen in public, such as in a parking lot or in a car, or at a place of business, it makes media headlines, and for good reason, because that’s something that people don’t typically see.”
And lately, there seemingly have been more than whatever “normal” is for reporting on dead bodies in public places.
However, none of the circumstances surrounding a handful of incidents in January were deemed to be suspicious, Diez reiterated.
The day after New Year’s, a 45-year-old woman named Shaniesha Green was found in the shopping center parking lot for a Big 5 Sporting Goods store, according to SCV Sheriff’s Station officials. Her cause of death has not been determined yet.
The same is true for a man who was found deceased on a bike trail Jan. 19, according to station officials.
A dead body was found in a vehicle near the Target in Canyon Country five days later on Jan. 24, and three days after that, the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station received a report of a body found at The Oaks Club at Valencia.
Deputies also responded to a report of a body found in the southbound Interstate 5 truck route tunnel of the Newhall Pass just after 10 a.m. Jan. 29. The decedent was identified as 42-year-old Manuel Venegas, whose death was reported as a suicide.
The causes of death usually take months to determine, as medical examiners often have to await toxicology reports in order to make an official call.
But in the meantime, Diez said, even when there are no suspicious circumstances, the reports of public deaths become grist for the rumor mill.
“So then what will happen is, something will get posted online, either by our media or on social media,” he said, “and people will say, ‘Geez, I think this just happened a couple of weeks ago, or a few weeks prior to that.’ And that’s how the rumors start.’”