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FBI shines light on missing and murdered Indigenous women cases

A family's 20 year search for answers
Billboard of Laverda Sorrell
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Posted at 4:49 PM, May 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-17 13:21:19-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It's been 20 years of agony for Tiffany Sorrell and her aunt Velina Guy, that’s because Tiffany’s mother Laverda vanished on July 4, 2002 in Fort Defiance, Arizona on the Navajo Reservation, which crosses into New Mexico.

It was also the last day Velina ever spoke to her big sister, the siblings made it a point to call each other every single day. Laverda was raising Tiffany who was 14-years-old at the time and her two younger brothers.

"She just loved us, that’s all I really remember is her smile her joy and her love of family. When we were little, we didn’t really understand what was going on we were very much confused and as a kid our coping was to kind of bury it,” Sorrell said.

"She was a best friend as a sister as a mother she performed all of those roles to me so I didn't just lose a sister I lost a lot more than that,” Guy said.

Velina says Laverda went to dinner with her husband on the night of her disappearance for their anniversary. According to the FBI at some point, Laverda was dropped off that night and reported missing by her family 4 days later. Then the case took a dramatic turn in 2019.

"He said that he dropped her off at 11 or 11:30 at her place of employment which is a school district in the parking lot of where she worked. I don’t know why she would want to go to her work at 11:30 at night. We met with the FBI investigator at that time that the case was progressing into a homicide,” Guy said.

Frank Fisher with the Albuquerque FBI says investigators are working the case along with 15 other missing and murdered cases on the Navajo Reservation between Arizona and New Mexico, he’s hoping exposure can lead to more tips.

"To preserve the integrity of the investigation we won’t get into specifics. Our big focus here is putting out her picture putting out the details of her disappearance. We have to bring them justice and won’t stop until we do,” Fisher said.

Tiffany says jurisdiction issues made it hard for the case to get traction, but advocating for her mother and others is helping with the healing process.

“This is my mother’s ring I do wear it because I feel like she’s my guardian angel. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the values she taught me. You know if there’s any kind of big event, I can’t celebrate it with my entire family like we used to,” Sorrell said.

Tiffany and Velina are speaking out through memory walks, social media and other platforms to educate their community about ending the cycle of abuse. The family also recently put up a billboard to get the word out about Laverda’s case.

"We go by a matriarchal society in our culture and so the epidemic with missing and murdered women Native women, Diné women. It's devastating to know that’s what’s happening to our women we want to put a stop to that,” Guy said.

At 5’1" and 110 pounds Laverda may have been small in stature, but Velina says her heart was big and filled with love.

“We really would like our sister remembered and honored and we really don’t want anyone to forget her we’re not going to give up our fight in finding out what happened. We’re not going to give up our fight at finding the truth we just really want justice,” Guy said.

There’s a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. If you have any information, call the Albuquerque FBI at 866-373-2130.

Below is a link to a list of missing and murdered persons cases on the Navajo Reservation: