MEDFORD, Ore. – As Medford Police Sgt. Brent Mak walked down a hallway of the police headquarters just moments after completing a major operation, he ran into Chief Tim George.
Without saying anything, George held out his fist. Mak gave it a bump. And both men let out deep breaths and wore looks of exhaustion and relief. They had got their man.
After three days of searching for a murder suspect, police received an anonymous tip Wednesday morning about the location of Jose Valencia-Gaona. Dozens of officers swarmed the railroad tracks near Clark Street at 11:30 a.m. and arrested him. Valencia-Gaona was booked into the Jackson County Jail, charged with murder for allegedly stabbing and killing Maria Rodriguez, 38, at her Medford apartment Sunday. His bail was set at $1 million.
“It’s certainly a positive thing for the community and for us that this subject is now in custody, because this is a dangerous individual,” George said at a press conference.
Since the killing Sunday, Valencia-Gaona had eluded police. Officers had been following tips and leads on his location every day, but always seemed to be a step behind.
“We kept hearing information that he was still around,” George said. “We kept getting bits and pieces of information that he was here, that he was there, that we just missed him.”
Since releasing Valencia-Gaona’s name and picture to the public on Tuesday, officers had received more than a dozen tips. Some were credible, some turned out to be wrong, but above all, George said it kept the trail from going cold.
“A lot of folks were turning over rocks and looking in places and concentrating on efforts where those tips were coming in from,” George said.
An anonymous tip led police to the railroad tracks Wednesday. George said officers arrived on scene in about a minute. The department had a larger number of officers available to respond, thanks to a SWAT team training that had already been scheduled.
“We converted those folks from a training day to a search team,” he said.
George said officers are still looking into where Valencia-Gaona had been hiding for the past three days. Officers had been investigating several homes in west Medford, but had not been able to track him down until Wednesday’s tip.
George said it was the combined effort of days of work from his officers, and the constant flow of information from the public that helped them nab their suspect.
“We can have the coolest equipment, we can have the best training, we can hire the best people, but if people don’t talk to us, nothing happens,” George said. “We’re fortunate to live in a community where people talk to us, and that’s what happened today.”