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Just one day before her fifth birthday, Sofia Juarez was kidnapped off the streets of Kennewick, Washington.
Now, 18 years later, the investigation into her disappearance has taken a strange twist after a viral TikTok video of a man interviewing people on the streets in Sinaloa, Mexico showed a woman with a striking resembling to Juarez.
Kennewick Police special investigator Al Wehner told People the woman in the video claimed she didn’t like birthdays because of a “traumatic event” that had happened to her when she was young. She also said she had been kidnapped at a young age and was now was hoping to be reunited with her family.
The video quickly turned viral with numerous tipsters believing the woman—who said she was 22 years old—could be Juarez.
Kennewick Police have received dozens of tips about the TikTok video and are now working to try to track down the woman to determine whether she could be girl who disappeared nearly two decades ago.
“There are some similarities, I think, if you were to look at Sofia, you know when she was younger, and just the age progression and stuff,” Kennewick Police Lt. Aaron Clem told Oxygen.com. “There is enough there that we need to try to make sure that we do our due diligence and just confirm whether it’s her or not and that’s what we are trying to do now.”
The women not only has a resemblance to Juarez, but they would both be similar in age and have the same Mexican heritage.
Clem said police are now working with the producer of the TikTok video to try to positively identify the woman, who is said to be homeless.
“The producer of the video has been in contact with several people down there in the city, in that area, and they say that they see her frequently,” Clem said. “He’s down there looking for her and now he’s got some other people down there in the city helping look for her as well.”
Police are hoping the woman would voluntarily provide a DNA sample that would help determine her identity.
“She claims that she wants to be reunited with her family, so let’s get a DNA sample and let’s see if it’s Sofia,” Clem said. “We already had a sample for Sofia, so we can just match the two of them and figure out whether or not it’s her.”
But not everyone believes the woman could be connected to the case. The producer of the TikTok video has also received calls from people claiming to be the woman’s family, saying that she is not Sofia and asking him to stop publicizing the video.
Clem told Oxygen.com that police are also working to confirm whether the callers are really the woman’s family.
“We need to confirm whether or not those people are actually family members or not and then we just need to work with everybody down there to try to locate her,” he said.
Sofia disappeared on Feb. 4, 2003 sometime between 8 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. while walking westbound in the 100 block of E. 15th Avenue toward S. Washington Street in Kennewick, according to a website established by investigators to aid in the case.
She was living with her mother, grandmother and several aunts and uncles not far from where she disappeared and was described as a “typical young girl” who loved cartoons, Barbie dolls and coloring.
“She was shy by nature, and not prone to wander off by herself,” according to the website.
The case struck a chord with the community and launched a “tremendous” search with the help of other law enforcement agencies, first responders and community members, but the young girl was never found.
“This is one of those cases that everybody remembers where they were when it happened, you know, we’re not a huge city,” Clem said.
Nearly two decades later, the newly surfaced TikTok video may not be the only new clue in the case. After receiving over 75 tips in the case in the last month, authorities have also found a “highly credible witness” who reported seeing a young girl matching Sofia’s description walking along the sidewalk on S. Washington Street around the time that Sofia disappeared.
The witness saw a person approach the girl and “led her away as she cried,” police said in a Facebook post last week.
The person allegedly led her to an occupied van—described as a light blue, silver or gray late 1970s to early 1980s full-sized panel van with no side windows—that had been stopped on a nearby side street.
Police have a “high degree of interest” in identifying the van and have asked anyone that might have known someone who drove a similar van at the time to contact police.
“There’s people out there that know somebody back in 2003 that owned a van like that that matches that description and so we need those people that are familiar with, you know, family members, or friends or coworkers, that had a van that matched that description to come forward give us a tip,” Clem said.
Sofia’s mother went to her grave without ever knowing what happened to her young daughter, but police are determined to find answers in the case.
“We’ve continued to work this investigation for 18 years now and we are not going to stop until we bring her home,” Clem said.
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