A witness may have seen someone approach Sofia Juarez on a Kennewick street 18 years ago and lead the crying toddler away.
Around the same time, an occupied van with no side windows also was seen stopped on a nearby side street.
And recently, a TikTok video surfaced with a young woman whose face is strikingly similar to Sofia’s, both as a child and in age-progression photos. The woman says she’s in Mexico and that she’s a kidnap victim.
Those are just three of the new leads that Kennewick police have been checking into in the month since they launched a website to find Sofia.
She was one day shy of her 5th birthday when she apparently tried to follow a family member’s boyfriend to the store. The girl was never seen again.
Police say she was walking west on 15th Avenue toward South Washington Street when she was taken sometime between 8 p.m. and 9:15 p.m.
Meanwhile, the face of the smiling girl with a flower hat has been featured on the side of a NASCAR race car, on “America’s Most Wanted” TV show, in New York’s Times Square and on semi-truck trailers that crisscross the country.
With the 18th anniversary of her disappearance, the Kennewick Police Department has been making a push to find her, including starting a new website and new trailers in the Homeward Bound program.
Between those efforts and increased media attention, police have been sifting through more than 75 new tips, and have a better idea what happened when Sofia left her home.
“Previously unknown names and information have been provided,” Lt. Aaron Clem said in a news release.
Among the tips, people pointed to a 37-second TikTok video where a social media personality in Mexico interviewed a woman who claimed to have been kidnapped when she was a young child. The woman is looking to find her family.
Police are currently investigating whether she could be Sofia, who would now be 23.
“The truth is, I don’t know where I’m from,” said the woman in Spanish. She says she’s 22 but admits she doesn’t know for sure how old she is, according to a copy of the video sent to the Tri-City Herald by a reader.
Possible suspect and a van
They’ve also identified “a highly credible witness” who saw a young girl who looked like Sofia walking on the sidewalk on Washington near 15th at the time she would have arrived in the area.
The witness saw someone approach the girl and lead her away as she cried. Police have a detailed description of that person but are not releasing it at this point “for investigative purposes.”
Detectives are also trying to find a light blue, silver or gray van that was occupied and sitting on a nearby street. The older 1970s to 1980s full-sized panel van looked like a work van with no side windows, but does not imply that it belonged to a contractor or painter, police cautioned.
Police are asking people to call police if they spotted a van like this between 8 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. on Feb. 4, 2003, near the intersection of South Washington and East 15th.
“We are also seeking information from the public on anybody who may have operated a similar type van and either lived nearby, would have passed through the area at that time, or driven by as part of their regular route or routine,” according to a release from Clem.
Anyone with information is asked to visit the the website, www.go2kennewick.com/1368/What-Happened-to-Sofia.
They also can contact Special Investigator Al Wehner at (509) 582-1331 or firstname.lastname@example.org, in addition to calling non-emergency dispatch at (509) 628-0333.
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.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.