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FBI, family seek clues about woman who went missing 18 years ago

Laverda Sorrell was last seen July 4, 2002

FARMINGTON – Laverda Sorrell was dropped off at the Window Rock School District No. 8 at 11:30 p.m. July 4, 2002. It was the last she was seen by anyone.

Laverda Sorrell in 2002

Sorrell, who worked at the school district in Fort Defiance, Arizona, has been missing since that day, 18 years ago. She was dropped off by her husband, according to a statement he gave to authorities.

The FBI and the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety are offering a $10,000 reward and are asking for any information on the 18th anniversary of Sorrell’s disappearance.

Sorrell was first reported missing by a family member on July 8, 2002, to the Navajo Police Department. She lived on the Navajo Nation in Navajo, New Mexico, north of Gallup.

“We are very committed to resolving this case, and we continue to seek the public’s help for any information that would be helpful to us,” said Jesse Delmar, executive director of the Navajo Nation Division of Public Safety.

It’s been almost 18 years since Sorrell went missing, and still very little is known about her disappearance.

In a statement, Sorrell’s family asked for the public’s assistance in finding out what happened to her.

“No matter the outcome, we are determined to bring her home and find closure for our family,” the statement read. “Laverda was everything to our family: a daughter, a mother, a sister and an aunt, who was such a compassionate, selfless and caring person.”

The reward of up to $10,000 is for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for Sorrell’s disappearance, according to the FBI.

“Anyone who disappears often leaves behind loved ones who will never stop looking for them, and that’s the case with Laverda,” said James Langenberg, the special agent in charge of the Albuquerque FBI division. “The FBI is committed to providing answers to her family, and we will not stop looking for her either.”

The FBI is also redistributing a missing-person’s poster of Sorrell in English and Diné, the Navajo language. It is the first time the federal agency has released a missing-person’s poster in Diné, according to the department.

The 18th anniversary of Sorrell’s disappearance comes as more attention is focused nationally on the disproportionate numbers of Native and Indigenous women who go missing each year.

In 2019 alone, about 5,600 Native American women were reported missing, according to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. But activists say the number is likely higher than those reported. It’s a number that is nearly twice the per capita rate of white Americans who go missing, according to the FBI.

A Department of Justice-funded study also found Native women living on tribal lands were murdered at more than 10 times the national average in 2008.

In November 2019, U.S. Attorney General William Barr created the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative. Barr announced $1.5 million would be used to hire missing-persons coordinators in U.S. attorneys’ offices that handle large caseloads of missing Indigenous people, including in New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma.

“We do not, for a single moment, believe that she walked away from her children who were at the heart of her being or decided not to contact family ever again,” the family said. “These are acts that would not have been possible given the strength of her character, the love in her heart and commitment to family.”

At the time of her disappearance, her youngest child was 10 years old. He now has children of his own, and the family described the difficulty of what to tell Sorrell’s grandchildren about her.

“She was the glue that kept and brought our family together because of her tender, gentle and loving grace,” Sorrell’s family said. “If you have any information that might be helpful, we implore you to contact the FBI immediately.”

The FBI is asking anyone with information about Sorrell or her disappearance to call its tip line at (505) 889-1300 or send information online at tips.fbit.gov.

lweber@durangoherald.com

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