On the evening of February 4, 2003, Sofia Juarez was very happy. The next day was her fifth birthday, and she couldn’t wait to open her presents. She stayed in her room most of the night and played with her Barbie dolls. Around 8 p.m., she heard Jose Torres, her grandmother’s boyfriend, say he had to run to a nearby convenience store, so she came out. Sofia liked going out, so she asked Maria, her mother, if she could go with Jose. Maria told her she could go and gave her a dollar to buy a treat for herself. She hugged Sofia, helped her tie her white Converse, and told her to have fun. Sofia happily skipped out the door with her dollar bill in her hand. Maria would never see her daughter again.
Two years ago, Maria and Sofia moved in with Ignacia, Maria’s mother. Six of Maria’s siblings and Jose Torres also lived with Ignacia on East 15th Street in Kennewick, Washington. It was a crowded house, but they were a close family, and Sofia loved having so many relatives around. Sofia was quiet and shy around people she didn’t know well, but she was happy and lively around her family. Even though she didn’t talk to her real father, she thought of Jose as family and liked going on adventures with him.
Most of the time, Jose was happy to have the little girl tag along with him. But that night, he didn’t know that Sofia had planned to come with him, so he left without her. Sofia went outside, but his car had already left the driveway. What happened next isn’t entirely clear, but police think Sofia chose to walk the five blocks to the store and meet Jose there. She never got to the store, and no one ever saw her again.
Maria didn’t know Jose had left without Sofia; she didn’t figure out there was a problem until he got home 45 minutes later. When she found out Sofia wasn’t with him, she called her family together and they started looking for the girl around the neighborhood. After looking for something for 15 minutes and not finding it, Maria called the police.
The Kennewick Police Department took the case very seriously from the start. Sofia was only dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and overalls because it was below freezing now. She didn’t wear a coat because she thought they were only going to take a short car ride. The police knew they had to find her quickly if she got lost in the neighborhood. With the help of volunteers, the police started looking for Sofia right away. They went door-to-door to all the homes she would have passed on her way to the store. The police searched every side street, under porches, in parked cars, and in trash cans.
Police were worried that someone had taken Sofia when a 10-year-old neighbor said he saw her walk down her driveway and talk to a man who was dressed all in black. The Washington Office of Emergency Management sent out the first statewide Amber Alert for Sofia, and her mother, Maria, begged everyone to find her. The FBI was asked to help with the investigation, and agents showed up to help with the search.
Sofia was still missing in the morning. On the little girl’s birthday, her family helped look for her and prayed that she would be found. A huge group of police officers, firefighters, and volunteers walked side by side through fields and rural farmland, looking for any sign of Sofia. Divers were sent into the Columbia River, which is not far from the Juarez house. A helicopter from the Army National Guard used thermal imaging gear to fly over large areas, and search dogs were used to try to find Sofia’s scent. There was no sign that Sofia was still in the area.
Detectives kept going around the neighborhood asking people who saw anything fishy to come forward. They took Jose’s car and told him to come to the station to be questioned. He agreed to take a polygraph test, which he passed. This meant that he was no longer a suspect. Andres Abragan, Sofia’s dad, was found and questioned by police. He told the police that he had never met Sofia and wasn’t even sure if he was her father, but he agreed to take a lie detector test anyway. He also passed, so no one thought he was a suspect. Police were able to rule out one by one that Sofia’s close family members had nothing to do with her disappearance.
A few people said they saw a white van in the area the night Sofia went missing. This led police to question a registered sex offender who lived in the area and had access to a van like Sofia’s. The police took the man’s van and searched his house, but they didn’t find anything that was relevant to the investigation. After a lot of questioning, the man was ruled out when he passed a polygraph test and police found no evidence that he had ever met Sofia.
Over 200 tips about the case were sent to the police by the end of the first week, and each one was carefully looked into. All of them led nowhere. The Kennewick Police Department put every officer on the case in the hopes of finding new clues, but they didn’t. Even though the police were looking for the child very hard, the news media didn’t pay much attention to the case, and tips started to dry up.
Because Maria didn’t think Sofia would have gone anywhere with someone she didn’t know, detectives looked into the possibility that a family member had taken Sofia and taken her to Mexico. It was a rumor that kept going around about the case, so Maria and Ignacia decided to look into it more. In March, they took a plane to Guadalajara and then went to Puebla to see family. They looked for people for days in Mexico, but they were sure when they got back to the US that Sofia had not been taken there.
The search area for the Columbia Basin Dive Rescue team was made bigger by adding three miles of water and shoreline to the river. Before they left, they were sure that Sofia would not be found in the water, but they would search the coast every so often just to be sure.
Detectives really wanted to find Sofia, but after following all of their leads to no avail, they admitted that they still did not have any suspects in her disappearance. The case slowly went cold, and people who weren’t in the child’s immediate neighborhood seemed to have forgotten all about it. The national news never covered her case. Many people thought this was because Sofia came from a poor family and was raised by a single mother. The case sat in the “cold case” files for two years, for whatever reason.
Police had questioned over 1,200 people, given over 20 polygraph tests, and searched several homes and vehicles in 2005 in search of Sofia-related evidence. A search was done on farmland near Prosser in King County after a tip from a confidential source. The informant said that Sofia had been run over by a car and her body had been buried behind some homes on the property. The informant was being held on drug charges and probably wanted to make a deal with the police. The police searched the farm for a week with cadaver dogs and then backhoes but couldn’t find anything that supported the tip.
In 2007, Maria moved back to California, but she kept calling the Kennewick Police Department to find out what was going on with her daughter’s case. By the time she died in 2009, she had been married and had a 6-month-old son. She had had problems with a medical procedure. She thought Sofia was still alive somewhere even though she was only 26 years old. She was laid to rest in Kennewick, and her ashes were taken to the church from the spot where her daughter was last seen, on the corner of 15th Avenue and Washington Street. It was an emotional tribute, and the family used it to let everyone know that they would keep looking for Sofia even though they had lost Maria.
The police in Kennewick have never forgotten about Sofia, and at least one detective is always working on her case. The case file had more than 20,000 pages of information by 2020. In February 2021, Kennewick Police and Washington State Police worked with a transportation company to bring attention back to the case. Sofia’s picture and information about the case will be put on the sides of two trucks. The trucks also have the number to call with information about the case, making them like moving billboards. Because Sofia would have been 23 years old in 2021, her family was glad that the case would get some attention and is still hopeful that they will one day find out what happened to her.
Sophia Juarez was 4 years old when she didn’t come home in 2003. She was 3 feet tall, weighed 30 pounds, and was missing four front top teeth when she went missing. She has black hair and brown eyes. Her ears are pierced, and she used to wear gold hoops. She has a mole under one eye. She wore a red long-sleeved shirt, blue overalls, violet socks, and white Converse the last time she was seen. Please call the Kennewick Police Department at 509-585-4208 if you know anything about Sofia.