A year and a half after her body was found at the base of a cliff on the Marin Headlands, Aaryn Goldberg’s parents are still pressing for answers in the 24-year-old’s mysterious death.
They now want the U.S. Park Service to turn over more than 800 pages of documents to learn more about what happened the blustery full moon night she died in June 2015.
Linda Kuckuk of Eureka remembers her daughter as a soft-spoken but determined animation student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
She says her daughter was never without her green beanie. She had a playful side, even as she was studious and intent on building her career.
“That’s what she wanted to do with her animation -- make people smile. She made people smile her whole life.”
That windy and cold evening of June 2, 2015, Goldberg called a cab to her student dorm in San Francisco, the investigation report showed.
She did not seem agitated, the driver told investigators, and even let him stop to take pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge.
She had her own camera, he said, and he figured she was on some class project. Her mother later checked and found her daughter had gone online to research the park service’s monthly guided full moon walk to the Point Bonita lighthouse, with its panoramic views of the Golden Gate.
“Aaryn loved the full moon,” Kuckuk said. “She loved the Golden Gate Bridge. What a great opportunity to take photos, and be in a safe environment because it’s a national park event."
Still, the cab driver told authorities in a taped interview that he was concerned about leaving her there.
“It didn’t seem right to me, but I didn’t ask any question or anything like that,” the driver said. “But to be out there in that - once it got dark - it didn’t seem right.”
The family phone bills show she checked her voicemail at 8 pm., 20 minutes after the walk began. At 9:18 p.m., she texted “Good night, mama lama” to her mother.
No one heard from her after that.
When the worried driver came back at 9:30, she was gone.
A day and a half later, a jogger spotted her body on a remote beach, nearly 300 feet below the lighthouse.
Investigators searched late but never found her purse, glasses or camera.
Park investigators told the cab driver early on that they were “in the dark.”
“We’re desperately searching for an answer as to why,” investigator Ben Zahn told the driver, according to the tape of the interview we obtained from the family.
“Why would a young girl alone who appears to be speaking very quietly and is rather meek in appearance, what would she be doing going all the way up there by herself um, so…I dunno…”
Goldberg’s mother told us the investigators suggested her daughter had taken her own life.
They also urged her not to go to the media. Park officials say that’s standard procedure when there’s no apparent evidence of foul play.
But Kuckuk now wishes she had not kept silent.
“I thought they were going to handle the case at that time,” she said, adding that she considers that was a “grievous error on my part…but I had no idea.”
The investigation turned up little as to what happened, based on documents the family provided us.
It remains unclear whether Goldberg even went on the walk. Investigators went through a list of 17 people who signed up for the 90-minute walk and ended up talking to three people out of the 50 there that night.
Only one remembered seeing Goldberg before the tour started. The walk’s coordinator told investigator she saw the cab, and a lone man “wandering around” the parking area near the gathering point of the walk.
Records show that most of the interviews were done within eight days and by phone.
The investigation hit one roadblock when an apparent records glitch left investigators without phone data, which may have included the data needed to show when her phone shut down.
By November, the park service closed out the probe without finding what led to her death.
“At this point in the investigation, no suspects have been identified,” the case suspension report of November 2015 concludes. “There were no witnesses to the incident.”
The report says no one knew of her plans that night, but:
“No evidence has been found to indicate a crime was committed or attempted. No motive has been identified to kill or otherwise injure her.”
The autopsy concluded she suffered blunt force trauma from an apparent fall, but the circumstances were undetermined.
Still, the report discounted suicide given there were no prior signs and no drugs or alcohol were involved.
Goldberg’s mother said the investigation left many questions unanswered.
“The whole thing was a joke,” she said, adding that the family wants some 800 more pages now being withheld to delve further into the mystery.
Park officials cite privacy concerns in withholding them. “And they are fighting us tooth and nail over releasing information that shouldn’t be difficult to release,” Kuckuk said. “Why?"
In a statement, the park service told us the agency had already turned over everything possible under the law and privacy protections.
They say their “thorough and comprehensive” investigation suggests Goldberg’s death was an accident.
“No evidence of foul play ever surfaced and it is considered to be the least likely scenario,” they said in the statement.
Her roommate of two years, Maggie Bassler says the case should never have been closed in the first place, as that leaves friends in the family without closure.
“It just doesn’t make sense.”
Linda Kuckuk says she wants to learn more to make sure no one else is at risk. “It’s important that we get answers…answers that we should have had…a year and a half ago.”