Sara Bushland was last seen in Spooner, Wisconsin on April 3rd, 1996 and has never been seen or heard from again.
Sara is a white woman, 5’0”, and 104 pounds. She has blond/strawberry hair and blue eyes. She has a mole on the left side of her neck and above her upper lip. At the time of her disappearance, she wore wire-framed glasses. When she was last seen, she was wearing silver rings on her right hand and a class ring with a black stone. Sara may also go by the nickname ‘Bug.
It was around 4:00 pm when Sara was last seen getting off her school bus at the end of the driveway of the Lambert residence where she lived with her mother, stepfather and stepbrothers in rural Spooner, Wisconsin. There was a dark-colored pickup truck driving behind the school bus and when she got off the bus, the truck pulled up next to her. Some of those on the bus believed that the truck belonged to Sara’s 21-year-old boyfriend. From Sara’s body language, she seemed to know the driver of the truck. There is conflicting reports, with some saying that they saw her just talking to the driver and others saying that she actually got into the truck. The truck backed out of the driveway and went in the direction of the nearby town of Trego.
At 4:37pm, Sara’s stepbrother, David called his father and mentioned that Sara still wasn’t home yet. However, no one was concerned as they thought she was at a friend’s house. Sara had previously been grounded for several weeks, not allowed to leave the house except for school and school-related activities, and this was the first day she wasn’t grounded. Both Sara’s mother and stepfather were out of town that day and hadn’t been planning on coming home until the following day. When Sara’s mother Marie learned that Sara hadn’t returned from school, she headed to Spooner.
When Sara still wasn’t home by 6:20pm, her mother started calling Sara's friends to see if they had seen or heard from Sara. None of them had seen her since they all left school. By 8:00pm that night, her mother started driving around town looking for Sara and visited Sara's boyfriend Travis’s apartment nearby.
Marie reported her daughter missing on April 4. In 1996, law enforcement wasn’t trained to react to missing children as quickly as they are today. Sara was first labeled as a runaway and then as endangered.
Marie and the authorities thought that Sara had ran away at first. She didn’t take any money or clothes with her and had no previous history of running away from home. Her father and older sister don’t believe that running away was a possibility.
Sara had become friends with a group of people older than her, including a 21-year-old man that she started dating. Her parents did not like this and told her that she couldn’t date until she was older, but she continued to see him. Sara and her boyfriend had lunch together the day of her disappearance and he drove her back to school for her afternoon classes. He said this is the last time he saw her.
Sara’s family believes that she was harmed by someone she knew as they do not think she would have gotten in a stranger’s car. At the time of her disappearance, there was tensions and allegations of abuse between Sara and her stepbrothers. Sara was thinking of moving back in with her father and sister in Chippewa Falls.
According to Sheriff Stuart, law enforcement conducted the first of several searches at the Lambert property in July of 1999 – more than three years after Sara disappeared. He said investigators also combed through a trash dump on the property in 1999 and dragged nearby Spring Lake in August of 2000. Nothing of significance was found. Another search was done in May of 2013, when a group of more than 70 officials, made up of Washburn County officers and Wisconsin’s Division of Criminal Investigation, searched the Lambert property once more. This search, again, didn't turn up anything.
Sara's mother and stepfather passed away in 2017 without ever knowing what happened to Sara.
A 4th search warrant was executed on the Lambert’s property. Again, nothing of significance was found.
Sara's sister and father are still searching for answers about what happened to Sara.
No suspects have been named in Sara’s case. The photo above is an age-progressed photo of Sara to 39 years old.
You can read more about Sara's story in this book which is available on Amazon.
Sara was only 15 years old when she went missing. She would be 42 years old today.
Any leads or information should be directed to:
Washburn County Sheriff’s Office
Investigator Tia Hartl
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