VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — One week ago on Tuesday, 76-year-old Shu Jin Wu, a woman with a cognitive impairment who did not speak English, wandered away from her home in the 1500 block of Gallery Avenue in the Dam Neck section of Virginia Beach.
Four and half days later, a search-and-rescue team found her body in a drainage ditch behind a Food Lion grocery store about a quarter-mile from her home. Police told reporters a passerby probably would not have spotted Wu since her remains were tucked within an overgrowth of plant life.
Wu’s family has declined a request for an interview, but concerned citizens and 10 On Your Side have several questions concerning police communications with the public and the media after Wu was reported missing.
The Virginia Beach Police Department did not notify the public that Wu was missing until after
10 On Your Side issued a mobile push alert, which was followed by a tweet at 9:52 a.m. Wednesday morning.
Wu was last seen around 7 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Hours later on Wednesday, police released a statement on the city’s website that did not contain a description, photo, or last known location for the missing woman.
About 29 hours after Wu was initially reported missing, a Senior Alert was issued by Virginia State Police.
On Saturday, the day Wu was found, a police spokesperson in an interview commented on what and how information was shared with the public.
“We can’t go back at this point; We released the information. We were constantly looking for her [and] that never stopped,” said Public Information Officer Linda Kuehn.
And, the original facts-light news release was replaced with a more comprehensive release that contained a photo of Wu and more information. At the top, it’s marked “*Update* Search Efforts Continue for Missing Elderly Woman.”
The police department has not responded to two requests from 10 On Your Side for an interview with Police Chief Paul Neudigate regarding the timeline of events and communications with the news media and the public.
Resident Melissa Smith, who lives nearby and helped with the search, is critical of how police handled the initial stages of the case.
“It just shows there was a big misstep by the Virginia Beach Police Department. They failed here. If it were my loved one, I would be very upset. Being a taxpayer, I see that we could have done a lot more. The police could have done a lot more to get the word out as fast as possible. I think they misestimated the situation and I want to know what are their plans for the future,” said Smith.
Smith told 10 On Your side she never received the Senior Alert for Wu’s case. Others on the social media site Nextdoor have shared similar concerns.
One user wrote: “There needs to be a better senior/silver alert system. This is not acceptable.”
Another concerned resident is reminding families to use the Project Lifesaver system if they have a child or adult in the family with special needs who could possibly wander away from home.
Foul play is not suspected in Wu’s disappearance, however, police say her death will be investigated. The medical examiner’s office told 10 On Your Side Wu’s cause and manner of death are pending.