Thirteen-year-old Laura was last seen leaving her apartment complex located in the 7930 block of Serita Street in Houston, Texas on March 10, 2002 to walk to the Broadway Convenience Store (which is housed inside the Conoco gas station in the 2600 block of Broadway Street, which is located less than 100 feet behind her residence) to purchase a newspaper for her spring break school project.
After several minutes had passed, Laura's mother went to the gas station where an employee told her that Laura arrived at the store alone, bought a newspaper and then left shortly afterwards. She has never been heard from again.
Laura's mother reported her daughter missing shortly thereafter. Later that evening, Laura's shoes and her newspaper were discovered scattered inside a parking lot between her apartment complex and an extensive search of the area produced no clues as to her whereabouts.
Witnesses reported observing a full-size, mid-1980s red/maroon cargo van near the store around the time of Laura's disappearance.
The vehicle was two-tone and had a large-sized white or light-colored stripe painted along its center and had a gray-colored bumper. The sliding door on the right side of the van had a window; witnesses said that the window behind the door may have been missing and plywood concealed its opening; it was apparently a work-related vehicle and appeared to be faded and in worn condition. Additional reports stated that the van had rear windows, but may have been missing its side windows.
A resident near Broadway Street reported seeing the van at approximately 10:00 p.m. on the night of Laura's disappearance, but the witness did not contact law enforcement officials until April 2002 (a month after Laura's disappearance). The individual said that he did not realize the information may have been vital to the case at the time.
The witness also said that the van's sliding door was open and reported observing an unidentified Hispanic or Caucasian male near the scene. The vehicle was parked in the same lot where Laura's shoes and newspaper were discovered.
In February of 2003, Laura's disappearance was linked to three men: Walter Alexander Sorto, Edgardo Rafael Cubas, and Eduardo Navarro. Sorto is from El Salvador and Cubas is from Honduras. They went on a crime spree of robberies, rapes and murders in the predominantly Hispanic east side of Houston. Navarro was charged with driving the getaway car, but he was not directly involved in the murders.
Blood that was found in a SUV which belonged to Cubas's father was linked to Laura's DNA, and semen matching one of the suspects was also located in the car as well. Cubas admitted that he, Sorto, and Navarro occasionally borrowed the vehicle. Semen matching one of the suspects was also located in the car.
Cubas and Sorto were charged with capital murder in the deaths of two adult waitresses and a 15-year-old girl. Navarro was charged in the same offenses, but he could not face the death penalty because he was only fifteen years old at the time of the crimes.
Sorto and Cubas were ultimately convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death; both are awaiting execution. Navarro pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated robbery and was sentenced to 13 years in prison, but none of the suspects were charged in Laura's case due to lack of evidence.
Laura is fluent in both English and Spanish. Her favorite color is maroon and her favorite number is one. She is described as having a shy, reserved nature, is very organized and enjoys journal-keeping & records her activities.
Foul play is suspected in Laura's disappearance, but no charges have been filed in her case and as of 2020, her case remains unsolved.
Laura is described as a Hispanic female with black hair with brown highlights & brown eyes. She has pierced ears, a scar on her upper right arm and wore a full set of orthodontic braces on her teeth at the time of her disappearance.
She was last seen wearing a blue & white checkered dress and probably no socks or shoes.
- Laura Ayala on Charlie Project.