Though her cross will be gone, her memory lives on | NevadaAppeal.com
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Though her cross will be gone, her memory lives on

by F.T. Norton
Rick Gunn/Nevada Appeal Gary James, looks over the memorial dedicated to Krystal Steadman Friday afternoon. The Nevada Department of Transportation is scheduled to remove the memorial next week. James has helped maintain the memorial. photo by Rick Gunn
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Bowing under the pressures of threatened lawsuits, a memorial cross on Highway 50 West which marks the spot where the body of 9-year-old Krystal Steadman was found will be dismantled this week, despite opposition from her family.

“We don’t like the fact that someone’s using the slaughter of a 9-year-old girl to complain about a cross on state land,” said John Bucknell, Krystal’s uncle. “Why didn’t they bitch when it was a 9-year-old body laying on state land? Somebody complains how it mars the beautiful scenery, but they didn’t complain when a 9-year-old girl was murdered there.”

The 8-foot-tall white cross stands two miles west of Carson City where Krystal’s brutalized body was found March 20, 2000, a day after she went missing from a Stateline apartment complex.

She was abducted, raped and murdered by Robert Thomas Soria Jr., 21, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. His father, Robert Thomas Soria Sr., 40, committed suicide one day into his trial for murder, kidnapping and sexual assault.

After the original memorial was removed because it was in the path of snow plows, two replacement memorials were vandalized. Then Craig Maxwell of Blue Mountain Steel donated steel and labor to make a monument that would be indestructible.

But the size of the current memorial has broughtattention to the fact that it’s a cross sitting in the state’s right of way without a permit.

Through an attorney, an unidentified Reno man threatened the Nevada Department of Transportation with a lawsuit if the cross isn’t dismantled, saying it is there illegally, promotes religion on state property, and mars the scenery.

Because the state has no policy for roadside memorials, spokesman Scott Magruder said, the memorial has to come down.

“We will take it down next week, but we don’t know exactly when. It depends on the weather,” Magruder said Friday.

Gary James, who has volunteered his time to take care of the memorial, said he was disappointed the state was removing the cross. He said he was under the impression a portion of the cross might remain at the site.

“NDOT called me and told me the cross is coming down,” James said. “I asked if we could leave part of it there and they said the governor wants it all taken down.”

Gov. Kenny Guinn, chairman of the transportation board, said in September the cross had to be removed but he’d look for a suitable location to erect a permanent memorial for Krystal. Calls to Guinn’s office Friday were not returned.

James said he is hopeful after transportation hearings in January to draft a memorial policy for the state, he will be able to return a pillar of steel with a red cross and Krystal’s initials in it to the location. Maxwell will keep the cross.

Bucknell said the memorial and its location are painful reminders to the family, but they understand why it’s there and appreciate the message and effort put forth by hundreds of strangers who’ve visited and maintained it over the past three years.

“We consider that cross for the children of the community. It is a reminder to do anything we can to avoid having this happen again,” he said. “People should be concentrating on how crimes like this could be avoided – instead of worrying about the cross.”