Scattered candles shone brightly Monday night on the shores of El Dorado Beach, where community members gathered to honor the memory of Krystal Steadman.
The candlelight vigil was organized by longtime South Shore resident Cathy Buffa, whose children knew Krystal well.
“My daughter was a friend of Krystal’s and it just still deeply affects us,” Buffa said. “I want this to be a reminder that we all need to keep an eye on each other’s kids.”
It has been a year since the 9-year-old South Lake Tahoe girl was kidnapped, raped and brutally murdered.
Twenty-year-old Thomas Robert Soria Jr. is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole for his part in the crime. His father, Thomas Robert Soria Sr., 40, killed himself while in custody just one day after his trial opened for Krystal’s murder.
The grotesque details surrounding the young girl’s death are at times almost impossible to accept, but friends and family still remember Krystal as the bright, energetic and happy child they loved.
“Krystal was a lot of fun to be with,” said Krystal’s soccer coach Larry Brown, who attended the vigil with his daughter Sadie. “She was like an energizer, so vivacious.”
South Tahoe Middle School student Tayah Del Vecchio said she has many wonderful memories of Krystal.
“There are so many (memories),” Del Vecchio said. “This one time she came over to my house and we were playing with makeup and we came out with a bunch of eye shadow on, like a lot, and my mom laughed at us.”
Dot Mangnall, a member of Compassionate Friends, a support group for bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings who have lost children, said events like the vigil help in the healing process.
“I think this is wonderful,” said Mangnall, who stood holding a candle next to her husband Jack. “We’re going to have to have events like this for the healing but also to remind us that this can happen, even up here. We have to be very aware of the dangers out there today.”
The Mangnalls lost their daughter Lori Beth 10 years ago. Dot Mangnall referred to Compassionate Friends as a healing vessel.
“We lost our daughter and this gives us a chance to remember,” she said. “The more we recognize grief, the more we are willing to accept death and work through the grieving process.
“We believe in talking about our children. This is as much for (Lori Beth) as it is for Krystal.”
Adults and children alike shared memories of Krystal and offered messages, hoping she could hear them.
“I heard about it and when I found out at school it was Krystal I was really sad and I couldn’t make it through the day,” 8-year-old Erin Hagerty said through fast-flowing tears. “I was just really, really sad.”
Kaylee Dennis, 11, said she cherished Krystal’s friendship.
“She was a good friend and I forgive myself and I forgive her for fighting with me,” Dennis said. “I want to say Krystal, we miss you and we love you.”
Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini stressed the importance of teaching today’s children how to protect themselves.
“I wanted to make sure I came tonight,” Pierini said to a crowd of about 50 people. “I didn’t know Krystal but I wish I had.”
According to Pierini, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department, South Lake Tahoe Police Department and Soroptimist International plan to continue working together to give kids “A Fighting Chance” against predators. “Get away right away” is the focus of A Fighting Chance, a program Pierini said is of utmost importance.
“For as long as I’m sheriff in Douglas County I’m going to make sure (A Fighting Chance) continues in Douglas County and those kids will never forget Krystal Steadman,” he said. “We’re going to make it a better community because of Krystal and we are never going to forget.”
Krystal’s uncle John Bucknell said his grieving has just begun.
“It’s not a bit easier,” he forced out. “But I want to thank this community for all of the support they’ve given my family. It’s great that so many people turned out.”
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