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National Recognition: Daughter's Death Inspires Mother's Journey to Help Others

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A Cedar Rapids woman has received national recognition from the American Probation and Parole Association for her work as a victim advocate.

It's her own experience as a mother that motivated her to help victims of violent crimes.

Linda Sorenson's daughter, Leah Wara, was murdered on the night of her high school prom in May 1989.

In her daughter's memory, Sorenson has devoted her life to helping people impacted by crime. Sorenson has worked for the Department of Corrections for years.

When she first began working to help victims, she quickly started support groups and he co-workers said she really focused on making victims a central part of the system. The motivation behind her work is a story of sadness and strength.

On a quiet, winter day, a portrait greets Linda Sorenson every time she comes to work. It's sitting in this snow-covered Memorial Garden. The night of Leah's death is frozen in her mother's memory. Sorenson said her daughter met up with a 19-year-old acquaintance from Texas..

"He was going to give my daughter a ride home from an after-prom party that he met her at, and instead he took her to his third floor apartment and he raped and strangled her to death," Sorenson said.

The Cedar Rapids mother has a picture that was taken that night of the two of them.

"That's the one night I felt that she would be safe being around her friends. It's the first night, ever, that I actually went to bed and didn't wait up for my daughter," Sorenson said.

Leah never came home that night. Her family searched and found the boy's apartment.

"My husband and I found her two days later, after we broke into his apartment and she was in the closet," Sorenson said.

Instead of letting grief take over, she got to work. She took her daughter's memories and funneled them into helping other victims, especially after very few programs existed when she needed help.

"There was a song before she died, her friends actually told me that she liked the song by Ozzy Osbourne, called "Close My Eyes [Forever]", and part of the lyrics is: if I closed my eyes forever will the world remain unchanged. I thought if there's one thing that that I could still do for my daughter it was to make some kind of difference," Sorenson said.

Even on a cold, winter day, Linda finds hope in knowing she can't change the world but she can help victims struggling through unimaginable pain.

"No one should have to go through that alone, no one, no one," Sorenson said.

Sorenson said the man who committed the murder is currently serving a life sentence.

As for her job, one of Sorenson's wish now is that when she retires many others will continue making progress to help victims.

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