Details of Disappearance
Sofia was last known to be playing with her brother in her bedroom between 8:15 and 9:15 p.m. on February 4, 2003, the day before her fifth birthday. She left the bedroom and told her mother, Maria Juarez, that she was going to the store five blocks away.
She was supposed to be accompanied by her grandmother's boyfriend. Maria gave Sofia a dollar to spend at the store and assumed she caught a ride with the boyfriend. Sofia did not get into the car, however, and he left without her. No one saw her leave the house. When her grandmother's boyfriend returned from the store at 9:45 p.m. and said Sofia had not gone with him, Maria alerted the authorities.
Sofia's disappearance was treated as an abduction from the outset and an Amber Alert was issued. It was canceled after she was not located within 36 hours. Police continue to believe she was abducted.
They have contacted Sofia's father and say he was cooperative and is not a suspect in the case. Her father has never met her. Her grandmother's boyfriend has also been ruled out as a suspect in Sofia's disappearance. A ten-year-old relative of Sofia's who lived in her home said he saw her walking down the driveway at about the time she disappeared, accompanied by a man dressed in a black sweatshirt, black pants, and black shoes. This sighting has not been confirmed.
Authorities, in May 2003, announced they were looking for a mid-nineties model full-sized faded orange van with a license plate which had a double J in the number. The van's driver was a Caucasian male with a thick blond beard, between 35 and 40 years old. A witness recalled seeing the van in the area around the time of Sofia's disappearance. Police do not know if the van is connected to her case.
In 2021, investigators said a "highly credible" witness saw a girl matching Sofia's description walking down the sidewalk on south Washington Street near east 15th Avenue between 8:00 and 9:15 the day she disappeared. The witness stated a person led the little girl away. An occupied van was stopped on a nearby side street; it was a light blue, silver or gray late 1970s or early 1980s full-sized panel van with no side windows. It appeared to be a work-type van of the type used by painters or contractors.
Investigators later released a description of the possible suspect in Sofia's abduction, and shockingly, the suspect was apparently another child. He appeared to be between 11 and 14 years old in 2003. A witness described the boy as Hispanic, about five feet tall with short, wavy dark-colored hair, a "baby face" and large hands. He took Sofia by the hand and led her away towards the van, laughing as she cried.
Extensive searches have produced little of evidentiary value in Sofia's case. Searchers found a pair of overalls and a pair of little girl's shoes in the area, but neither belonged to her. Nothing else was ever located.
Sofia is described as a loving and vivacious child. Her mother stated she was shy and wouldn't have gone with a stranger without a fuss. Maria believed Sofia's kidnapper was someone the child knew and trusted. She enjoyed playing with Barbie dolls and putting on makeup at the time of her disappearance, and her favorite food is hamburgers from the fast food restaurant chain Burger King.
Despite a search which extended to Mexico and fairly extensive media coverage, Sofia remains missing and her case is unsolved. Her mother died of natural causes in January 2009, aged twenty-six.