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Sara was last seen after exiting her school bus at the end of the driveway of her family's residence on April 3, 1996 in rural Spooner, Wisconsin. She was about 100 yards from her house. There was a dark-colored pickup truck driving behind the bus, and when she got out it pulled up next to her and she spoke to the driver, then got inside the vehicle. The truck backed out of Sara's driveway and started off in the direction of the nearby town of Trego. Sara has never been heard from again.
Authorities initially classified Sara as a runaway, but now they are unsure what caused her disappearance. She didn't take any clothing or money with her, and she wasn't behaving in an unusual manner before her disappearance. She had recently broken up with her 21-year-old boyfriend because her parents had forbidden her to see him. They did have lunch together on the day of her disappearance and he drove her back to school for her afternoon classes. He said this was the last time he saw her. Sara's family believes she was harmed by someone she knew, as they don't think she would have gotten into a stranger's vehicle.
There's speculation that Crystal Soulier's death may be connected to Sara's disappearance. Soulier, who was eighteen years old, disappeared from Cable, Wisconsin in October 1996. Five months later her body was found in Rock County, Wisconsin, but it wasn't identified until 2002. Her murder remains unsolved. Soulier and Sara were both blonde young women in the same age group. They knew each other and they also had at least 19 mutual friends, all of them young men in their twenties. Both Soulier and Sara attended parties held by these men, and Sara's school friends were unaware of this. None of the men have been named as suspects in Sara's disappearance or Soulier's murder, which is also unsolved.
Sara's parents divorced when she was a toddler. She lived with her mother and stepfather at the time of her disappearance, but she visited her father and stepmother's home in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin on a regular basis, and she was thinking of moving in with them. Sara was a sophomore at Spooner High School in 1996. Her father believes she is deceased.
Washburn County Sheriff's Office