PITTSFIELD -- A legally blind woman who disappeared on Thursday was found to be safe on Friday morning at a home next to the grocery store she visited a day earlier.
Santa Valle, 56, of Appleton Avenue, walked down the street to Dawes Avenue Variety store on Thursday morning and wasn't seen again until she knocked on the door of a nearby home at about 10 a.m. on Friday.
The woman had apparently let herself into a vacant apartment at a multi-family home on Dawes Avenue sometime on Thursday, said a resident of the home who found her. The man, who didn't wish to be identified, said the woman must have walked into the house through the enclosed porch, opened the front door, and walked up the stairs.
He heard somebody walking up and down the stairs on Thursday but assumed it was another resident.
In the morning, he heard a knock on the front door and knew exactly who she was when he saw her.
"It freaked me out," he said. He walked her to police, who were outside aiding in her search. The woman appeared healthy and safe to him, he said.
He asked her if she had left her coat upstairs, which she nodded to. "I think she just made herself at home," he said.
Police transported the woman to Berkshire Medical Center as a precaution, family member Gladys Rodriguez said. "She's fine," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez thinks Valle "must have gotten cold," and gone into the home for safety. "She was smart enough to go into someone's porch."
The woman's disappearance led to a CodeRED emergency notification alert being sent out in Pittsfield, and police were busy on Thursday and Friday morning trying to locate her.
Before she was found on Friday morning, Pittsfield Fire Department personnel took to the nearby Housatonic River in inflatable boats and cold water suits, fearing the worst.
"It was a good outcome," said Pittsfield Fire Department Deputy Chief Mike Polidaro, who minutes earlier had been coordinating the river search with other firefighters.
Rodriguez, who lives with Valle and Valle's daughter, posted a missing person flyer outside Dawes Avenue Variety store on Friday morning, worried about Valle's condition. She said that family members had searched for her until 3 a.m.
Rodriguez said that Valle used to walk to the store regularly to buy cigarettes, but had stopped about three months ago. She wasn't sure why she decided to walk to the store on Thursday. "She memorized that walk," Rodriguez said.
Valle, a native of Puerto Rico who mostly speaks Spanish, walked to Dawes Avenue Variety Store at around noon but didn't buy anything, said cashier Ann Grandbois.
"She just came in and looked around," Grandbois said. She used to buy Newport cigarettes but hadn't been in the store for a few months. "I asked her if she wanted Newport cigarettes and she said no," Grandbois said. She left the store after that, Grandbois said. Her family came by at about 2 p.m. to look for her, Grandbois said.
The family was concerned about Valle's health, due to her age, blindness, dementia and schizophrenia, Rodriguez said. "She's one of those people who are always cold, even in the house," she said.
"I can't thank the police department enough," Rodriguez said. "I can't believe the response. It was heartening. I am super relieved. I'm glad that she is OK. I started to think the worst at the end."
To reach Nathan Mayberg:
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