On the 4th February 2003, in Kennewick, Washington, Sofia was playing in her bedroom with her brother between 8:15 and 9:15 p.m. Her fifth birthday was the very next day. She left the bedroom where she was playing with her brother and told her Mother, Maria Juarez, that she was going to the shop, which was five blocks away from their home.
Her Grandmother’s boyfriend Jose Lopez Torres was meant to go with Sofia, so Maria gave her four-year-old daughter a dollar to spend with the assumption that she was going to catch a ride with Jose. However, that wasn’t the case.
Sofia didn’t get in the car with Jose, and he left without her. No one saw Sofia leave the house and when Jose got back home from the shop at 9:45 p.m. he told the family that Sofia hadn’t gone with him. This instantly panicked Maria, who phoned the police and alerted them about her daughter’s disappearance.
The little girls disappearance was treated as abduction immediately and an amber alert was issued. This was then cancelled after she wasn’t located within the first thirty-six hours. But the police still believed that she had been abducted
The police got in contact with Sofia’s dad and they said he cooperated and was ruled out as a suspect. Which made is plausible by the fact that he had never actually met Sofia. The police also ruled out Jose as a suspect.
A ten-year-old member of Sofia’s family who lived in her home said that he saw Sofia walking down the driveway at about the time she went missing. He said that she wasn’t alone, he saw her with a man dressed in a black sweatshirt, black pants and black shoes. His sighting however, was never confirmed.
One week had passed since the little girl went missing and police announced they had an interest in a thirty-five year old neighbor of Sofia’s. Kevin L. Ireland, who had a record for minor sex crimes. He had allegedly made a suspicious comment about Sofia’s disappearance on the phone to someone.
He took a polygraph about Sofia and her disappearance and the police served a warrant to search his house. They were interested in not only his house, but his car too. It was a white Ford Tempo panel van. A similar van was spotted a few blocks from Sofia’s home at around the time she went missing.
The police arrested Ireland on a traffic warrant, unrelated to Sofia’s case, and whilst in jail, he was charged with telephone harassment in relation to the comments that he had made about Sofia’s case. He was considered a person of interest, but he wasn’t a strong suspect in her abduction.
In May 2003, police announced that they were still looking for the van, but they were also looking for a mid-nineties model full-sized faded orange van with a license plate, which had a double J in the number.
The owner or at least the driver of the van was a white male with a thick blond beard, between 35-40 years old. There was a witness that recalled seeing the van in the area, around about the same time Sofia went missing. Whether the van is connected to the case or not, the police are still unsure.
Extensive searches had produced little to nothing of value towards the case. People who helped in the search found a pair of overalls in Columbia Park and a pair of little girl’s shoes at Fishhook Park, but neither of them belonged to Sofia. Nothing else was ever located.
Police were going house to house, asking questions, doing searches. They came across a woman’s home at 109 E. 14th Ave. The police won’t say what, but something prompted them to get a Benton County judge to authorize a search of the house. The woman agreed to talk at first, but then changed her mind, saying she was instructed not to talk.
The police went to a Burbank home at 641 Ringhoff Loop Road, which was occupied by a woman named Katie Vargas. Police haven’t confirmed it, but apparently three of the families homes that they had searched, all believed to be related to Jeremy Vargas Sagastegui, who was a confessed triple murderer from Kennewick. He was lethally injected in October 1998 and Vargas was apparently his Mother.
The court had sealed all documentation of the searches, Washington law allows search warrants to be issued and then sealed if there is a concern by police that making the documents public could jeopardize the investigation.
It had been six weeks since Sofia went missing and Maria; Sofia’s Mother was giving up hope that she would ever see her daughter again. Then fifteen-year-old Elizabeth Smart, who had been missing for nine months and held at knifepoint from Salt Lake City, came home, and this gave Maria some hope.
Investigators from the Benton County coroner’s office and a forensic anthropologist from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, joined detectives and police from Kennewick in a search of a farm near Prosser. They were searching for five year old Sofia, who was the first child in Washington state that had been issued an amber alert.
Police didn’t state why they went to a 43-acre farm north of Prosser in Benton County. But there were sources that said an informant held on a drug investigation told them that Sofia’s body could be found in a silage area behind homes on that property. Police let five cadaver dogs search the site. The forensic anthropologist joined the search and scooped up some of the first from the silage area, and then the detectives carefully raked the dirt.
They searched the area for eight hours and said they had found no evidence, but gave hope saying that it didn’t mean there wasn’t any there, they may have just not found it yet. They spent a total of eight days searching, but came up with no evidence.
People described Sofia as being loving and vivacious. She loved playing with her Barbie dolls and putting makeup on. Her favorite food was hamburgers from Burger King. Her Mother, Maria said that she was shy and would never have gone with a stranger without making a fuss. Maria believed Sofia’s kidnapper(s) were someone Sofia would have known and trusted.
The search didn’t stay in Washington, it was extended to Mexico and the case got a fair amount of media coverage, but Sofia remains missing and her case is yet to be solved.
Sofia’s Mother, Maria died of natural causes in January 2009 at the young age of twenty-six. Some say it was grief that killed her in the end. Sofia has been missing for sixteen years and her Mother died no knowing what happened to her daughter.
If you think you know the whereabouts of Sofia Juarez, please contact the Kennewick Police Department: 1-509-585-4208 or 1-509-628-0333
California Department of Justice at 1-800-22-FIND or (916) 210-3119
NCMEC Case Number: 954908
NamUs Case Number: MP4006
Agency Case Number: 03-03751