STATELINE - Police arrested a part-time Boys & Girls Club worker within hours Monday after finding the body of a 9-year-old girl off Highway 50 near Carson City.
Thomas Robert Soria, 19, who worked for the Lake Tahoe Boys & Girls Club, was arrested about noon Monday after investigators connected him with the disappearance of Krystal Steadman, whose naked body was found shortly after 9 a.m. on an embankment along the highway to Spooner Summit.
Krystal, a Lake Tahoe Boys & Girls Club member, was last seen Sunday at 2 p.m. playing with Soria in the parking lot of the club's site in the Lake Park Apartments on Kahle Drive in Stateline. Krystal and her mother were visiting friends at the complex when she disappeared.
"He was seen talking with the girl before she disappeared and his vehicle was seen where the body was discovered," Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said.
Krystal was playing with a group of girls who last saw her standing on the running board of Soria's red and white Chevy Blazer. She was wearing a white Tweety Bird T-shirt, black pants and lavender shoes.
Krystal's older sister, Sonya Klempner, said the girl came inside to get her jacket shortly before she disappeared.
Her mother, Betty Steadman, called 911 when she found the coat on the trunk of a car a half-hour later.
The cause of death is not yet known, but an autopsy, which will also determine if Krystal was sexually assaulted, will be conducted this week.
"I can't believe this is happening. I feel horrible," Klempner, 25, said. "It is one of those things you don't think will ever happen to you."
Krystal, 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 both gymnastics and karate.
"She stood out from the crowd. She was very creative and intellectual," Klempner said. "It is very ironic that your biggest fears - the things you do so much to prevent - can happen."
"Krystal 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."
Krystal's mother, who lives in Tahoe Paradise, met with a priest for several hours Monday and Klempner said, "she is really having a hard time with this."
Eva Peck, who owns a nearby day care, was shocked when she heard the news.
"That is very spooky," she said. "That kind of stuff is not supposed to happen up here."
Soria will be arraigned at 10:30 a.m. today and could face the death penalty, according to the Douglas County District Attorney's Office.
"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.
A tip from a woman who saw a suspicious vehicle on the side of the highway led investigators to Krystal's body and to Soria's 1989 Chevrolet Blazer. The Blazer was confiscated Sunday night and sent to a crime lab in Reno for analysis.
Evidence found in the car, and at the crime scene led to Soria's arrest at the apartment complex just before noon, according to Modispacher.
Investigators are still searching for the girl's clothes and encourage anyone who saw Soria's blazer, Nevada license plate 248KHV, between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday to call the Sheriff's Department at (775) 586-7275.
This is the second kidnapping on the South Shore in the last week. Investigators are still looking for 9-year-old Dyresha Williams who was taken from Al Tahoe Elementary School by her mother, whom she had not seen in three years.
An arrest warrant has been issued for 27-year-old Edwina Lee, who police suspect is hiding in Reno or the Bay Area.
Nine years ago, South Lake Tahoe was shocked by the disappearance of another Meyers Elementary School student who was abducted by a woman in a car while walking to her bus stop on Washoan Boulevard. She is still missing.