Father remembers slain little girl
With the majestic Sierra Nevada as a backdrop, Krystal Dawn Steadman’s body lies in a grave decorated with a Christmas tree, Valentine candy and Teddy bears.
Her modest gravestone at Happy Homestead Cemetery in South Lake Tahoe does not bespeak the horrors she endured in her final hours.
Today marks the 1-year anniversary of the kidnapping, rape and brutal murder of the Lake Tahoe 9-year-old.
Thomas Robert Soria Jr., 20, is behind bars for life after pleading guilty to the crime. His father and accomplice, Thomas Robert Soria Sr., 40, committed suicide in his Douglas County Jail cell the day after his own death-penalty trial began in January.
The son admitted to luring Krystal into his residence at the Lake Park Apartments March 19, 2000, in South Lake Tahoe for his father. Krystal was missing overnight, her nude body was discovered in the early morning hours of March 20, 2000, tossed down an embankment seven miles outside of Carson City. She had been brutalized and raped, her throat slashed.
Tonight 2,400 miles from where friends will gather on a Lake Tahoe beach for a candlelight vigil for the slain child, her father John Steadman will light a candle of his own from his home in Tennessee.
” I cry most every night,” Steadman said Sunday in an interview from his home.
In 1994, when Krystal was 4 years old, Steadman and Krystal’s mother Betty divorced. Theirs was a volatile relationship, Steadman said. But even after it ended, he said he hoped for a reconciliation.
As the years passed, he lost hope and said he began to fear that he would not see his daughter again.
“I would try to see her,” he said, but her mother would tell him she had a party or was ill. “I decided then that I was never going to be able to see my daughter again without a fight.”
Steadman and his girlfriend Virginia moved to Tennessee and bought a home. They added a room on for Krystal, he said.
“I took an old window and made it into a bookshelf. I had a television with Surround Sound in there for her. And a wrought iron bed. That room was ready for her if she could come,” Steadman said. Virginia’s own children were grown and the home was just theirs with a room waiting for his little girl.
Steadman said he retained a lawyer once he got to Tennessee. Since 1994 his attorney had been helping to communicate with the district attorney in Los Angeles where the couple had separated.
“I was trying to get some sort of custody so I could see her at least every six months,” he said.
In the time since he and Betty had split up, Steadman said he’d heard she and Krystal had moved to Canoga Park, Calif., and at one point lived in Hawaii. Steadman said he searched for Krystal but to no avail.
For months, even years at a time, Steadman said he wouldn’t know where his daughter was. Then a breakthrough came in December 1999. New child support papers were filed and Steadman had an address.
“I finally knew where she was,” he said. His lawyer cautioned him, “You should be prepared, John. She might be calling someone else Daddy.”
In telling the story Steadman choked back tears.
“It’s hard for me to say that,” he said.
“I decided it would be best if I started out slow. Send her presents and small notes, until she felt comfortable with me,” he said.
He prepared a package of Christmas gifts and sent them off to Krystal.
Only months later, Krystal would be dead, but her father – not knowing of the murder – still clung to the hope that he would speak with her.
No one notified Steadman of Krystal’s murder. The first indication of anything amiss was a letter from the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office dated June 2000, three months after Krystal’s death.
The letter stated his child support obligation was paid in full.
” I said to myself, ‘Paid in full? She’s only 9 years old,'” he said. “I thought Betty had moved to another state and now I have to find them again.”
Steadman said he called the DA’s office in El Dorado County and spoke with a receptionist.
“I told her I needed to know where my daughter is to send my payment checks, and she’s stalling me, not saying anything,” he said. Finally, someone broke the news.
“‘Don’t you know?” they asked him. “I said, ‘Know what?'” Steadman said.
“Then she told me, ‘Your daughter was kidnapped and murdered.'”
Steadman is angry at how he learned of Krystal’s death.
“No one should find out something like that in that way,” Steadman said. He feels it should be a law that parents should be notified but doesn’t know where to begin to implement change.
“I didn’t know for three months after my daughter died,” he said. “The FBI was involved, the Sheriff’s Department, why didn’t anyone tell me?”
He is hoping to change that for other families. “As long as a parent is paying their child support, it should be a law that they are contacted if something happens.”
Steadman is upset he could not see his daughter one last time before she was buried.
“I never got a chance to come to her funeral, never got a chance to pay for it. I had no idea anything was going on,” he said.
But most of all, Steadman is angry his daughter died.
“She was a little girl, how could someone do that to a little girl?” he asks. “Why wasn’t anyone watching a 9-year-old child?”
Steadman said he viewed the autopsy photos of Krystal when he came to Nevada for Soria Jr.’s sentencing.
” I wanted to make sure my hate was deep,” he said. He said he still has a hard time believing she is dead. “I don’t have any closure on it.”
” But what can you do?” he asks. “She’s gone and only now do I definitely know where she is. I can at least send toys and flowers now.”
In the year since Krystal’s death, things have changed.
The apartment where she was murdered has been torn down for a redevelopement project. Northern Nevada law enforcement officials have enacted a program called Krystal Child Abduction Alert Plan, which will quickly disseminate information about missing children.
Soria Jr. is now housed at the Ely Correctional Facility where he will remain until he dies. Soria Sr.’s body was cremated at state expense and the remains sent to his wife in Sacramento.
And the lives of the people Krystal and her story touched will forever be marred by the ugliness that happened that springtime day.
“It just goes to show you, even in our pretty little town, no one is safe,” said Cathy Boffa organizer of tonight’s vigil.
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