9-year-old girl murdered, suspect arrested
A 9-year-old Lake Tahoe girl was found dead at the side of U.S. Highway 50 near Carson City Monday, ending a massive search which began after she disappeared from a Stateline apartment complex Sunday afternoon.
Less than three hours after the naked body of Krystal Steadman was discovered, Thomas Soria, 19, was arrested and charged with the girl’s murder.
Soria was apprehended at the dilapidated Lake Park Apartments on Kahle Drive where he lives and works part time for the Lake Tahoe Boys and Girls Club.
Steadman, who was wearing a Tweety Bird T-shirt and recently competed in a beauty pageant, was playing outside the complex with several other girls. She was last seen at 2 p.m. Sunday standing on a running board of Soria’s red and white Chevy Blazer.
“(Soria) was talking with the girl before she disappeared, and his vehicle was seen where the body was discovered,” Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said.
Soria will be arraigned today at 10:30 a.m. in the Tahoe Township Justice Court. He could face the death penalty, according to Pierini, who did not reveal the cause of the girl’s death.
An autopsy this week will determine if Steadman was sexually assaulted.
“I think we were fortunate to make this arrest because a lot of these things go unsolved,” said Sgt. Lance Modispacher of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Steadman’s 25-year-old sister, Sonya Klempner, said the 9-year-old came inside to get her jacket shortly before disappearing. Her mother, Betty Steadman, called 911 when she found the coat on the trunk of a car a half hour later.
“I can’t believe this is happening, ” Klempner said. “I feel horrible. It is one of those things you don’t think will ever happen.”
Steadman, a fourth-grader at Meyers Elementary School, was running for student body vice president and competed for the title of Junior Miss Lake Tahoe in January. She played the flute and studied gymnastics and karate.
“She stood out from the crowd. She was very creative and intellectual,” Klempner said. “It is ironic that your biggest fears – the things you do so much to prevent – can happen.”
Kyrstal’s mother, who lives in Tahoe Paradise, met with a priest for several hours Monday. “She is really having a hard time with this,” Klempner said.
A tip from a woman who said she saw a suspicious vehicle on the side of the highway led investigators to Steadman’s body and to Soria’s 1989 Chevrolet Blazer, which they confiscated Sunday night and analyzed at a crime lab in Reno. Evidence found in the car, and at the crime scene led to Soria’s arrest at 11:45 a.m., Modispacher said.
Investigators are still searching for Steadman’s clothes, which include black pants, green socks and lavender shoes. They encouraged anyone who saw Soria’s blazer, Nevada license plate 248KHV, between 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday to call the sheriff’s department.
As word of Steadman’s death spread across the South Shore, people were devastated.
“Kyrstal was a sweet and energetic fourth-grader who brought smiles to our lives,” said Doug Forte, the principal of Meyers Elementary. “She will be missed very much by our faculty and our students alike.”
Eva Peck, who owns a nearby day care center, was shocked when she heard the news.
“That is very spooky,” she said. “That kind of stuff is not supposed to happen up here.”
Krystal Steadman was the second girl to be abducted on the South Shore in five days.
Investigators are conducting a major search for 9-year-old Dyresha Williams. She was taken from Al Tahoe Elementary School Wednesday by her mother, who she had not seen in three years.
An arrest warrant has been issued for 27-year-old Edwina Lee, who police think is hiding in Reno or the Bay Area.
Another Meyers Elementary School Student was abducted 9 years ago, shocking South Lake Tahoe. Eleven-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard was abducted in June of 1991 and is still missing.
Suspect Thomas Soria owns a red and white 1989 Chevrolet Blazer, Nevada license plate 248KHV. The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office encouraged any one who may have seen the vehicle between 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday to contact them at (775) 586-7250.
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