Family seeking answers on Alaska man Doren Sanford months after he vanished while searching for his missing dog

Jene J. Long

It’s been seven months since Alaska native Doren Sanford disappeared while searching for his dog in Fairbanks last August, and his family and local authorities are calling on those with information on his whereabouts to come forward.

“I am convinced we have already talked to the people who know what happened to Doren,” Lieutenant Jess Carson of the Alaska State Troopers told Dateline. “Specifically, a young lady. It’s time she comes forward and gives us the information we need to find Doren and give his family closure.”

Doren, who was 34 years old when he went missing, was last seen on August 28, 2020, in Fairbanks, Alaska. Lieutenant Carson added that there has been no activity on his bank account or cell phone since that date, but said there are witness accounts that put him in the area around August 31.

Doren SanfordFind Doren Sanford Facebook page

Doren was raised in Tok with his large extended family, and lived in Anchorage where he worked as a heavy equipment operator/laborer and had recently started his own business, Sanford Home Repair & Remodel.

“He was always involved in some sort of project,” Doren’s cousin told Dateline. “He was always building stuff, fixing stuff, trading stuff. It’s just who he is.”

Just a few weeks prior to his disappearance in August 2020, Doren was staying with family friends in Fairbanks while he looked at property he was interested in buying, according to his cousin.

Jordan told Dateline that in their Alaskan native culture, their extended family remains in close contact with each other every day. They spoke to Doren often when he checked in and were made aware of his plans to buy land, so when no one heard from him in two weeks, the family began to worry.

“He wouldn’t just vanish without contacting someone, his mother, his brother, someone,” his cousin told Dateline. “That’s when it became alarming to us.”

She said her cousin was last seen on August 28, 2020, when he was walking in the area of Airport Road in Fairbanks looking for his dog, a Rottweiler named Groot. Doren was wearing a navy blue Tanana Chiefs Conference sweatshirt, a camo Lavelle’s Taphouse hat and may have been carrying a backpack.

“He never went anywhere without Groot,” she said. “That was his companion.”

Doren’s dog, Groot.Find Doren Sanford Facebook page

Lieutenant Carson told Dateline that early on in the investigation, troopers followed up on a tip that Groot had been euthanized at the shelter in the area.

“After reviewing that more closely, we are no longer sure that was actually Groot,” he said. “The shelter described the dog as being very violent – and no one has ever described Groot with that sort of behavior.”

Lieutenant Carson added that he believes that finding Groot may lead to more answers on Doren’s whereabouts and is asking the public to call authorities if he’s spotted.

“If you have a tip or if a Rottweiler showed up in your area, with a tail that is not cropped, let us know,” Lt. Carson said. “Any of that information would be very helpful.”

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.

But Lt. Carson told Dateline that information from the family and from the community has been the most helpful and will be, what he believes, what leads to locating Doren.

“We couldn’t have gotten this far without the help of the family,” Lt. Carson said. “People who are too scared to come to us with information will go to them and then they’re convinced it’s safe to come to us. We can’t do this on our own and we want you to know that it’s OK to come to us.”

Lieutenant Carson told Dateline troopers believe foul play is suspected in Doren’s disappearance and reiterated that they believe they’ve spoken to people who know what happened to him. Lieutenant Carson added that this includes the young woman who he says has given information to people in the community that places her with Doren and knows what happened to him.

“It’s going to take someone’s conscience telling them to come forward in order for us to solve this case,” Lt. Carson said. “It’s going to take someone wanting his family to have closure.”

Searches were held shortly after Doren was reported missing, but the harsh Alaska winter and snowfall has halted all searches. Lieutenant Carson told Dateline they will continue searching for Doren once the snow melts this spring.

In the months since Doren’s disappearance, dozens of tips have led troopers to different locations, but Lt. Carson would not go into specifics due to the ongoing investigation. But he said he believes it’s only a matter of time before the truth about what happened to Doren comes out.

“We’re hopeful to know the truth soon,” Lt. Carson said. “We want to find out what happened for his family.”

Doren Sanford’s mother, Liz Webb, spoke on video released by the Tanana Chiefs Conference, saying she’ll never give up looking for her son, who she describes as someone with an adventurous spirit who loves the outdoors and who would help anyone in need.

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

She continued, encouraging the public to go to the authorities.

“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,” she said. “And I ask you to help me and my family. 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.”

Doren’s mother ended the video with a plea to the community.

“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.”

Doren is described as being 5’10” tall, weighing approximately 140-160 lbs, with brown hair and blue eyes. A Facebook page “Find Doren Sanford” has been created to share developments in the case.

If you have any information on Doren’s whereabouts, please contact the Alaska State Troopers (907) 451-5100. A $10,000 reward is being offered by the family for information that leads to Doren.

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