Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Day 29° Partly Cloudy

‘A new hope’: Missing girl’s family still hurting 18 years after she disappeared

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 5, 2021

By Cameron Probert Tri-City Herald

KENNEWICK – Sofia Juarez’s disappearance left a hole in her family’s life that’s still apparent 18 years later.

“We plead with anybody that knows anything …. Please just come forward and let that light shine in that dark area because this family needs closure,” her aunt Victoria Juarez said through tears Thursday.

“It’s been very hard just witnessing the ache and the suffering and the pain that it has taken in this family…. We want to know what happened,” she said.

Sofia was one day shy of her 5th birthday when she apparently tried to follow her mother’s boyfriend to a store. The Kennewick girl was never seen again.

Her aunt and four relatives spoke Thursday afternoon outside the Kennewick police station as the Washington State Patrol unveiled new photos of what Sofia might look like at 23.

The missing poster semi-truck trailers are part of the WSP’s Homeward Bound Program that will travel across the states.

The unveiling was on the 18th anniversary of the day the little girl walked away from her 15th Avenue home with a dollar to spend.

When her mom’s boyfriend returned without Sofia, her family learned she was never with him. They began searching and called police.

What started as a search of the house and yard, soon involved hundreds of Tri-Cities officers and firefighters to knock on doors in a 3-mile radius of the east Kennewick home.

On Thursday, Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg said the search is not over.

“It’s been a long 18 years since Sofia was taken from her home and family,” he said. “The Kennewick Police Department has never forgotten Sofia, nor will we.”

“We will continue to work the case for as long as it takes to determine what happened to her,” he said.

Sofia’s family members said they are grateful for Kam-Way trucking’s help.

In other cases, the program has succeeded in generating new leads, said Carri Gordon, the missing person unit program manager.

“It means a lot to us,” Victoria Juarez said. “It’s a very big blessing for our family because it’s been so many years, and it’s good to see that our community hasn’t lost hope.”

They keep Sofia’s memory alive through sharing photos of her with their children and through the toys she had that her cousins now play with.

Sofia’s mother, Maria, died in 2009 in Sacramento from medical complications. But Ignacia Prado, Sofia’s grandmother, described the little girl as a loving, beautiful, playful and happy child, and she wants her to know that her family hasn’t given up hope of finding her.

“We have a new hope,” she said in Spanish. “We hope that people will say something and that if they know something they’ll tell us.”

Sofia’s family hopes she can come home and meet her nieces, nephews and cousins. Victoria said they can see the little girl reflected in their faces.

The family is looking for some closure to this painful chapter.

“We always reflect on the good things, and it is very hard to talk about Sofia without the emotions,” Victoria Juarez said.

18-year search still ongoing

While Sofia’s case has been reviewed many times through the years, Hohenberg said another effort started in early December.

“Tips on Sofia’s disappearance are still being reported to police,” he said. “The Sofia Juarez missing person case has always been and continues to be a priority case for the Kennewick Police Department.”

Her disappearance has been featured on TV on America’s Most Wanted, on the side of a NASCAR race car, in Times Square in New York, on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and as the state’s first Amber Alert.

Investigators have chased leads that Sofia was abducted by someone she knew and is living in Mexico, or that she was taken by a stranger and killed or is being held against her will, or that she was accidentally hit by a van and buried in Kennewick.

Kennewick special investigator Al Wehner, a retired Richland police captain, started reviewing the more than 20,000 pages of documents and is interviewing people again.

He is looking to talk with anyone who lived in the area between South Washington Street and South Cedar Street and between 13th and 16th avenues between December 2002 and March 2003.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.