Saturday, January 28, 2012

No Miracles Yet


The Sofia Juarez Case
by Robert A. Waters

It’s been nine years since four-year-old Sofia Juarez disappeared from her Kennewick, Washington home. Clues have been few and far between.

Sofia, who would have turned five the following day, lived in a small bungalow with her mother, Maria, her stepfather, four brothers, and two sisters. At about 9:30 p.m., on February 4, 2003, Sofia vanished. Maria told authorities that Sofia wanted to go to a nearby store with her grandmother’s boyfriend, Jose Torres. He had already left the house, but Maria gave her daughter a dollar and the child ran outside to catch up with him. Her ten-year-old brother said he saw her walking down the driveway with a man dressed in dark clothing. Sofia was never seen again.

Torres returned to the house 45 minutes later and claimed he hadn’t seen her.

Police swarmed the neighborhood, searching homes and questioning those who lived nearby. The Kennewick Police Department issued an Amber Alert while divers scoured rivers, streams, and ponds in the area. A National Guard helicopter with thermal imaging sensors hovered over woooded lots and nearby forests, without success. Three weeks after Sofia vanished, the national crime-fighting show, “America’s Most Wanted,” publicized the case.

As the days and weeks wore on with no clues, other law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, became involved. Searches in Mexico, where Sofia had relatives, turned up nothing. One rumor persisted for years: Sofia had been struck by a car, then taken to a remote area and buried. No evidence was found to substantiate the story.

In 2009, Maria died of an unknown illness, never knowing what happened to her daughter.

Even years after the disappearance, authorities never felt like they knew exactly what occurred that evening. Kennewick Police Detective Craig Hanson said, “It's been very frustrating. One, we don't know originally what happened to Sofia. We've had various accounts coming through the...years of what's happened to her. They've ranged from familial abductions to stranger abductions and so on."

On the night she vanished, Sofia wore blue overalls, a red shirt, violet socks, and white Converse shoes. She also had on gold hoop earrings.

Police reported that they've eliminated all family members as suspects. Investigators also cleared Jose Torres.

What happened to Sofia? Unless some stranger randomly appeared and took her, the answer must lie within the family or neighborhood. My guess is that someone who lived nearby has the answer.

There are few miracles like that of Elizabeth Smart of Shawn Hornbeck, but here's hoping for one in this case.

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