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MISSING IN ALASKA’S INTERIOR: Doren Sanford disappears searching for lost dog

Published: Mar. 8, 2021 at 9:46 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) -It’s been 191 days since anyone has seen or heard from Doren Sanford, and his family is still desperately seeking answers.

“I am 100% convinced we have already talked to the people who know what happened and they are not willing to tell us the truth right now,” Lieutenant Jess Carson of the Alaska State Troopers said in an interview Friday.

The 35-year-old was last heard from on the afternoon of August 29, 2020.

The Backstory

Sanford was raised in Tok, alongside his brother, grandmother, and large extended family. Growing up, he spent many days playing outside with cousins and making memories at family gatherings.

Doren Sanford spends time with his brother at a family gathering.
Doren Sanford spends time with his brother at a family gathering.

Sanford is a heavy equipment operator/laborer and an aspiring business owner in Anchorage. He recently started his own business, Sanford Home Repair & Remodel.

His mother, Liz Webb, said he has an adventurous spirit and loved the outdoors. He also loved sharing his adventures with his Rottweiler, Groot.

Doren Sanford is a heavy equipment operator/laborer and aspiring business owner.
Doren Sanford is a heavy equipment operator/laborer and aspiring business owner.(Jordan Sanford)

Webb said he also has a deep care for others and would help anyone in need.

“When he was living in Anchorage, if he saw someone walking down the street [experiencing homelessness] he would pull over,” Webb said. “If they needed to eat, he’d make sure that they did and if they wanted to clean up, he’d take them home and [let them] get in the shower and get them cleaned up and fed and get them back and drop them off where they need to go.”

Missing Dog and Mysterious Disappearance

A few weeks prior to his disappearance, Sanford had been working with a family member in Northway when he received word from Fairbanks that some property was available he may be interested in purchasing.

When Sanford arrived in Fairbanks he stayed with some friends. His mother says he was looking for his dog, Groot, which went missing.

“We do believe he was missing his dog, he was looking for his dog Groot. Groot is a Rottweiler and it has a long tail it isn’t cropped,” Carson said.

Doren Sanford's dog, Groot, went missing shortly before his disappearance. Investigators...
Doren Sanford's dog, Groot, went missing shortly before his disappearance. Investigators believe finding Groot may lead to more answers on the case.(Jordan Sanford)
Alaska State Troopers are looking for more information on Doren Sanford's missing dog, Groot....
Alaska State Troopers are looking for more information on Doren Sanford's missing dog, Groot. Groot is a Rottweiler with a tail and went missing in September of 2020.(Jordan Sanford)

Alaska State Trooper, Lt. Jess Carson says he believes that finding Groot may lead to more answers on the case.

“We followed up on the tip of looking for Groot, early on in the case, we then believed Groot had been euthanized at the shelter for dogs here in town,” Carson said. “After reviewing that more closely, we are no longer sure that was actually Groot. So now we are, after having followed a bunch of tips, are re-interested in looking for Groot again.”

Carson said they are asking for the public’s help in locating the missing dog.

“If anybody knows where Groot is, that could help lead us and help us out,” Carson added. “If you have a tip or if a Rottweiler showed up in your area, with a tail, in the mid-September that would be very, very helpful to us.”

Sanford was last heard from on August 29, 2020. His family said they last heard from him when he was near what used to be the Pizza Hut on Airport Road (near Denny’s). He was wearing a navy blue Tanana Chiefs Conference sweatshirt, a camo Lavelle’s Taphouse hat and may have been carrying a backpack.

Outside Help

The Alaska State Troopers have been working closely with the Village Public Safety Officers, the Fairbanks Police Department, the FBI, The Tanana Chiefs Conference, and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative.

“We collaborate with other agencies. We work very closely with the Fairbanks Police Department and their detective unit,” Alaska State Trooper, Lt. Brian Wassmann said. “We have been in close contact with the FBI talking about steps to take and sharing information and we are taking this as a team approach, even though each agency has its own specific cases, we’re not working in isolation of each other, we are definitely sharing information, we are coordinating efforts, we are making some progress.”

“We have also been active with the [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons] folks that started with the US attorney’s office and they have a statewide coordinator,” Wassmann added. “We have been on some of those meetings and from that perspective shared what information we could and talked about different strategies and different plans going forward.”

But law enforcement said the communities’ input has been the most crucial.

“The most helpful group amongst anybody has been the family members,” Carson said. “[They] talk to people, get people to talk to us. They convince them to come to the troopers and do interviews with us and providing us a lot of information.”

“We can’t solve any of these cases on our own,” Carson added. “If we could of, it would have happened the first couple of days. We need that extra help and that extra work and the family members have been great about working it.”

The Investigation

In the months after his disappearance Troopers say they have followed down dozens and dozens of leads.

“Some of those tips have led us to different locations,” Carson said. “We’ve searched different locations, we are not willing to disclose what resources we’ve used or where those locations are at this time. "

The Trooper said they have been tight-lipped about the case details.

“One of the things we’ve had to do that we don’t like to do is limit our communication out to the public and to the families because it has made it difficult for us to follow some of these tips and leads back to the source.” Carson said, “Because if we say tell a family member, then another family member tells another family member… we start that loop of information coming out into the public, it makes it difficult for us to say, did we cause that loop? Or is this loop leading us to where it originated from? We don’t know.”

Carson said there will be a time when they are willing to disclose more information, but for now, want to be sure they investigate all the tips before sharing. Carson believes the truth will come out.

“We still have some open tips right now we are working. We are very hopeful one day we are going to find out what happened,” he said.

Sanford is known to go on adventures with his dog, Groot. Groot went missing shortly before...
Sanford is known to go on adventures with his dog, Groot. Groot went missing shortly before Sanford's disapearance.(Jordan Sanford)

Doren Sanford’s mother says, she won’t give up.

“On Facebook, we send out the pictures, send out the missing, not just on my son but all that are missing,” Webb said. “So that it doesn’t get quiet. Because everybody continues to live, everybody moves on. For us who has the missing loved one, we can move on but we still have that void and so we can’t let it be.”

A Mother’s Message to Those Involved

“I would really encourage you to go the authorities, call the troopers and let them know what you know,” Webb said. “No matter how small the detail or how in-depth, this is my child, this is my son, and I would like for him very much to come home. And I ask you to help me and my family.”

She added, “And you’ll be okay. They are not going to do anything but ask you questions. Which they need answers to. If even you wanted to talk to me, I would really encourage you to reach out because Doren, he’s a person… He’s still a living person, he belongs to somebody, and he belongs to me and my family. All we are asking is that you let us know… Where he is. We love him. Like you are loved by somebody. We love him. And we want him home.”

Webb continued, her voice soft but direct.

“If you would please just do this as soon as you can, as soon as you [read] this. Just have a heart. For a moment just put down what is aggravating you and just pick up the phone and call the troopers. And I’m very thankful if you do. I just hope and pray that whatever is going on in your life that you will turn around and do well.”

Still Missing

According to the Troopers and the Fairbanks Police Department database, Doren Sanford is one of seven people to go missing since August of 2020.

  • 8/17/20 69-year-old Frank Minano’s truck was abandoned near the Old Nenana Highway; extensive searches did not locate Minano.
  • 8/17/20 John McCelland, 61, went missing, his travel direction unknown.
  • 8/20/20 Debbie Nictune, 59, was last seen at the Northward Apartment building on Noble Street.
  • 8/28/20 Doren Sanford, 35, was visiting Fairbanks in search of his dog when he mysteriously disappeared.
  • 10/9/20 Julia Rice, 17, was last seen leaving her foster parent’s house on Peridot Road in North Pole
  • 11/13/20 Willis Derendoff, 34, was visiting from Huslia, staying at the Extended Stay Hotel, and later became missing.
  • 1/9/21 Steven Hjelm, 54, was last seen leaving his sister’s house on 16th Avenue, walking towards a corner store on South Cushman.

If you have any information on Dorend Sanford or any other missing person, you are asked to contact the Fairbanks Police Department at (907) 450-6500 or the Alaska State Troopers (907) 451-5100. Tips can remain anonymous.

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