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Did a Woman With Down Syndrome Walk Away? The Disappearance and Mysterious Death of Sarah Galloway

Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.

Sarah Galloway mysteriously vanished from her rural home in Picture Rocks outside of Tucson, Arizona, on March 21, 2019.

Sarah Galloway mysteriously vanished from her rural home in Picture Rocks outside of Tucson, Arizona, on March 21, 2019.

On March 21, 2019, Sherry Galloway, 66, got out of the shower and, while sitting on her bed, she realized, “I didn’t hear Sarah.” Sherry ran to the door where her daughter, Sarah Galloway, 38, had been sitting on the porch. Panicked, she looked both ways down the dirt road that leads to their home in rural Picture Rocks, Arizona. Sarah was gone.

I got in the car and drove down the road. No Sarah. I was freaking out,” said Sherry. “Within 10 minutes, we’d called 911.

Sarah was reported to Pima County Sheriff’s Office as an endangered missing person with a disability.

Born with Down Syndrome

Sarah was born with Down syndrome and described as a “happy go lucky” young woman who functions at the level of an 8-year-old child. At age 8, Sarah joined the Galloway family.

Sherry had known Sarah since her birth. “She was the most beautiful little baby I had ever seen and I just fell in love with her,” said Sherry. Sarah was adopted at age 12, officially joining the family, along with five other siblings.

Sarah Galloway with her favorite “Frozen” doll.

Sarah Galloway with her favorite “Frozen” doll.

Sarah loved helping her mother around the house. She would spend much of her time coloring princesses in coloring books. Frozen was her favorite. She would also role-play movies and TV characters with her mother.

Sarah is always very friendly and no one a stranger,” said Sherry. “She is so innocent and I feel someone took advantage of that.” Sarah needed supervision and did not know how to operate a cell phone. To Sherry, it was hard to imagine that a young woman could just vanish into thin air.

Sherry and her daughter went everywhere together and were never separated. The thought of being apart was terrifying and surreal.

The Day Sarah Vanished

The day Sarah vanished, police and volunteers canvassed the area on foot, all-terrain vehicles, and used canines but could not find a trace of Sarah. Initially, Sherry was under the understanding that the canines had picked up Sarah's scent only to be told later they had not. Had Sarah simply walked down the road? If so, one would assume the canines would have alerted handlers and pointed out her scent. That’s what one would have wished for—instead fear enveloped Sherry that her daughter was now a missing person, endangered, and somewhere out there all alone.

Sarah was afraid of bugs and rattlesnakes and Sherry and her family say there is no way she would leave on her own.

I do believe she was picked up that morning and that might explain a lack of scent at our home,” said Sherry. "I don’t know by who, and I can’t figure out why.”

The aerial search for endangered missing person Sarah Galloway in Picture Rocks, near Tucson, in March 2019.

The aerial search for endangered missing person Sarah Galloway in Picture Rocks, near Tucson, in March 2019.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department was the primary investigating agency and organized the search party, continuing to look for Sarah into the night. Department of Homeland Security joined the search the following day and conducted aerial searches by helicopter.

She’s a vulnerable adult and we’re doing everything we can to locate her,” said spokesperson Deputy Daniel Jelineo. “We’re looking to the public to supply any tips they have.

Her disappearance was a mystery, and one that had never happened in the small community of Picture Rocks.

The Months Prior to Sarah's Disappearance

Sarah’s behavior had changed in the months prior to her disappearance. She had been agitated.

Sarah regularly went to a daytime program for adults with disabilities that she loved but she began acting strangely and claiming to be pregnant.

Sherry took her out of the program and took Sarah to the gynecologist who confirmed Sarah was not pregnant, nor had she been penetrated.

It was really weird," Sherry told Alexandra Fleming of People. “She was fantasizing about someone—an acquaintance—calling him her husband and telling me that this guy was going to do bad things to me. We didn’t know where that was coming from or what to think.”

Sherry constantly replayed the months of potential delusions Sarah had been experiencing.

She changed. She changed dramatically. She wouldn’t listen to anything I’d say; she wouldn’t get up and go anywhere,” Sherry told KGUN 9 TV. “She was running outside doing strange things, throwing rocks at my windows, saying she was going to break my trailer, going up to the car that she and her boyfriend—husband—were going to steal. When you ask her who her husband is, she would name him, and I don’t think I’m allowed to name him on camera, so, I just keep my thoughts to myself because he had an alibi.

A Mom in Despair

Meanwhile, as Sherry was desperately waiting for any word from law enforcement and wishing they would notify her that her daughter had been located, alive and well, she found herself the focus of the investigation and the public’s scrutiny.

Anytime a person is reported missing, it is normal that all of the family members are investigated too. Sherry’s house was searched by investigators, the computer taken, and even both of her vacuums. For all families of missing persons, it is nightmarish, emotional, and scary.

Sherry felt like she had been sucked up into a perpetual whirlpool, and in total disbelief, she was being investigated in her own daughter’s disappearance.

The rugged desert around Picture Rocks, Arizona, where dozens of volunteers and law enforcement searched for Sarah Galloway.

The rugged desert around Picture Rocks, Arizona, where dozens of volunteers and law enforcement searched for Sarah Galloway.

Many in the community had come out to help search for Sarah in the days and weeks following Sarah’s disappearance, and would all meet at the old Wagon Wheel, a local bar that doubled as the command center. There, volunteer searchers would meet and serve up food and stories. Fliers were made and a member of the community set up a Facebook page, Justice for Sarah Galloway with currently 2.4K members.

Sadly, to her dismay, Sherry began seeing people posting on Facebook about their suspicions of Sherry being involved in her daughter’s disappearance. Eventually, seeing the posts from those speculating her guilt just became just too much to bear.

At a time when a despairing mother needs unwavering support from family, friends, and the community, Sherry sunk into a severe depression.

I miss her coming into my bedroom and kissing me in the morning,” cried Galloway. “I miss having her kiss me at night before she went to bed.”

More Questions

On February 12, 2020, sheriff’s deputies approached Sherry’s home and knocked on the door. They were there to notify her that human remains were found.

Sarah Galloway’s remains were located in the desert northeast of Anthony and Maggingale in her hometown of Picture Rocks, near Tucson, Arizona.

Sarah Galloway’s remains were located in the desert northeast of Anthony and Maggingale in her hometown of Picture Rocks, near Tucson, Arizona.

The remains had been found northeast of Anthony and Massingale roads, about one mile from Sherry’s home.

The deputies told Sherry that the remains “could be” that of her daughter and would be sent for DNA analysis for confirmation of identity.

A week later that confirmation was received and deputies notified Sherry the remains were that of her daughter. But how did Sarah die? Questions whirled in her mind and utter despair set in.

Sherry Galloway meets with a reporter after she received confirmation her missing daughter Sarah’s remains were found. Photo courtesy of KVOA News 4.

Sherry Galloway meets with a reporter after she received confirmation her missing daughter Sarah’s remains were found. Photo courtesy of KVOA News 4.

The Coroner classified Sarah’s death as “undetermined.” There were no answers and only more questions. Sherry finally knew where Sarah was. Sherry would no longer look out the window with her little dog “Foxy” waiting for Sarah to come walking up the driveway. However, she would still be plagued by nightmares of wondering how her daughter died. Did she suffer? Did someone dump Sarah’s body there? Was it someone who lived in the neighborhood? Was there a murderer living in her midst? How was she going to go on without her precious Sarah?

While sitting on the porch where Sarah had been that fateful morning, Sherry cried to a reporter from KOLD 13 News, “There’s no God anymore, and I can’t feel like that because I’m not supposed to.

Sarah’s remains were found just a couple miles from the command center where volunteers had met every day for nearly two months.

Some of the volunteers said the area where my Sarah was found had been searched by volunteers early on, but there has been no confirmation of that,” said Sherry. “I just can’t believe Sarah would leave on her own and I must know who did this.

Frustrated by the lack of communication from the Pima Sheriff’s Department, Sherry kept notes and worked with her sister and Homicide Survivors in Tucson, to get the autopsy report and try to obtain any information investigators would release.

Out of the Blue

Sherry has spent almost a year since Sarah’s remains were identified, trying to wrack her brain for some forgotten detail that would lead her closer to an answer about what happened to Sarah. She has spent nearly two years under close scrutiny by both police and the community.

Then on September 26, 2020, Sherry received another knock on her door. It was the Sheriff’s Department once again. What could they want?

With Foxy by Sherry’s side, she let the investigators into her house. They proceeded to tell her that they are closing the investigation. With no evidence of foul play, no suspects in the case, and no cause of death, they were formally informing Sherry they would no longer be looking for her daughter’s killer. They were closing the case. Investigators also finally confirmed that Sarah’s clothing was found with the remains, something Sherry had wanted to know since Sarah’s remains were found.

The investigators tried to explain to Sherry that they felt Sarah had wandered off and died from exposure. With temperatures in the 70s during the day, the evenings when Sarah vanished dipped below 49 degrees. It could have taken days for Sarah to expire and with new information, new nightmares for Sherry were realized.

A Mother's Promise

In the aftermath of Sarah’s death, the hope that a killer would be found and justice for Sarah finally served was the driving hope Sherry needed to keep going. To date, it really hasn’t settled in that there would now be no justice for Sarah. The news the case was being closed felt like a knife in the heart, the ultimate abandonment.

Sarah Galloway, a young woman with Down syndrome, mysteriously vanished in March 2019 and found deceased almost a year later in February 2020, in Picture Rocks, Arizona.

Sarah Galloway, a young woman with Down syndrome, mysteriously vanished in March 2019 and found deceased almost a year later in February 2020, in Picture Rocks, Arizona.

I need to know what really happened, this is hell, I will never give up,” said Sherry. “I just can’t.

As well, the community has not given up and some are still searching for answers too. A candlelight memorial vigil has been scheduled for Sarah this November, at the old Wagon Wheel Post, where people’s hearts were first touched by a young woman with a free spirit and smile that used to light up a room.

Sherry Galloway visits the path that leads to where Sarah’s body was found.

Sherry Galloway visits the path that leads to where Sarah’s body was found.

Despite, the trauma Sherry has experienced, her search for answers continues. “I can’t stop searching because I still don’t know what happened out there and in my heart, Sarah would have never wandered away,” Sherry said.

For those who have continued to support Sherry, they know Sarah was a daughter who was the “forever light” in a mother’s heart, her family, and a small desert community who will be forever touched.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Kym L Pasqualini