Murder suspect arraigned
Thomas Soria showed little emotion Tuesday when he was arraigned on charges of kidnapping and using a knife, or other sharp object, to murder a 9-year-old South Lake Tahoe girl.
In the courtroom, the girl’s 25-year-old sister, Sonya Klempner, cried as the charges were read.
Soria could face the death penalty, according to Douglas County District Attorney Scott Doyle, who said, “Crimes of this nature don’t happen very often here.”
Krystal Steadman was visiting a family friend with her mother Sunday afternoon. According to witnesses, she was last seen playing with Soria outside the Lake Park Apartments in Stateline. Her body was found down an embankment on the side of U.S. Highway 50 near Carson City the next morning.
She had been stripped naked and her neck was deeply cut, according to investigators’ reports.
Investigators are still looking for the Tweety Bird T-shirt, black pants, green socks and lavender shoes Steadman was wearing when she vanished.
An autopsy will determine the exact cause of death and if the girl was sexually assaulted, Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said.
“We’ve got the right guy,” Pierini said of Soria. “He was seen talking with the girl before she disappeared, and his vehicle was seen where the body was discovered.”
Investigators found blood on Soria’s boots and in his car, which looked as if it had been cleaned, according to court records. They also found what appeared to be a semen stain on his underwear.
“My sister’s (death) is an example of how you can teach a child all that is good and bad but this kind of thing can still happen,” said Klempner, who tried not to think about what her sister went through Sunday night.
Soria allegedly told investigators that he gave Steadman and two other girls rides on his father’s 1989 Chevy Blazer. He drove slowly through the apartment’s parking lot while the girls took turns standing on the running boards, clinging to the door handles.
The other girls told investigators they left Steadman alone with Soria, who lives with his father at the apartments and works there for the Boys and Girls Club of Lake Tahoe.
At 2:30 p.m., Steadman’s mother began searching for the girl. She even went to Soria’s apartment, according to an investigator’s report.
The suspect let her inside but she was unable to look in one of the apartment’s bedrooms.
More than 70 law enforcement officers soon joined the futile search for the girl that lasted until 3 a.m.
Shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday, Soria was seen leaving the apartment complex and told investigators that he had gone for a drive after getting into an argument with his father. He fell under suspicion when he returned at 7 p.m. and told investigators he did not know what happened to Steadman.
He was arrested the next morning, three hours after the girl’s body was found.
Investigators were led to the body by a woman who said she saw a man throw something that looked like a pillow case over the edge of the highway about three hours after Steadman disappeared.
“I think we are fortunate to make this arrest because a lot of these things go unsolved,” said Sgt. Lance Modispacher of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
Soria has been suspended by the Boys and Girls Club where he worked as a program aide for seven months. Soria helped organize youth activities and ran the computer lab in the one-room satellite site in the apartment complex.
He also helped students with their homework every day after school.
The club’s executive director, Steve Conway, stressed that the tragedy occurred while the facility was closed and was not connected to the club.
Conway would not comment further, except to say, “Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with (Steadman’s) family and friends.”
Klempner said she was lucky to have support from her friends and from people in the community. Several people have put money in a trust fund opened for the family at the Wells Fargo Bank.
“I will always remember her as my angel.” Klempner said. “Not a day, not a moment went by, that I didn’t feel lucky to have her as my sister.”
The victim’s mother did not attend Tuesday’s arraignment. However, the hearing drew several people from the community, including Douglas County Commissioner Steve Weissinger.
“I am here to watch the proceedings, out of respect for the family and the mother,” he said. “I have two stepdaughters who I met when they were 9 and 10 years old and I remember how vulnerable and innocent they were.”
Klempner said her sister was a natural leader and that she was a very popular and independent girl. Steadman recently competed in a beauty pageant and was running for student body vice president at Meyers Elementary where she was a fourth-grader.
“She was just so lovable,” said Klempner, who added it will take a long time for her and her mother to accepted Steadman’s death.
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