"To destroy that memorial is unforgivable"
A week before the second anniversary of the brutal murder of a South Lake Tahoe 9-year-old girl, people were stunned to discover the memorial in Krystal Steadman’s name had been vandalized for the third time.
“Anybody who worked on or was affiliated with that case knows it is a very dear case to our hearts. Any officer who worked the investigation will never be over it. For someone to destroy that memorial is unforgivable,” said Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini.
Krystal disappeared from the Lake Park Apartments in Stateline on March 19, 2000.
The following morning, on a tip from a motorist who saw something suspicious the previous evening, the child’s body was discovered about 20-feet down an embankment three miles west of Carson City.
Authorities arrested Thomas Robert Soria Sr., 40, and his son Thomas Robert Soria Jr., 20, who lived at the apartment complex. Soria Jr. pleaded guilty and was sentence to life in prison.
Soria Sr. pleaded not guilty, but committed suicide one day into his death penalty trial.
“What that poor little girl went through was just one of the worst, most heinous crimes I’ve ever seen,” said Pierini.
Immediately following the discovery, an impromptu memorial began to evolve on the roadside, only to be removed on a directive by the Nevada Department of Transportation.
A second memorial was set up behind a guard rail nearby. It was stolen in November 2000.
The Vietnam Veteran’s Motorcycle Club, at the prompting of member Gary James, joined the cause and helped erect a 5-foot cross made of train rails, covered in wood and secured in more than a cubic yard of cement.
On Jan. 13 of this year, James was back at the site repairing what appeared to be damage from a chain saw.
Then, Tuesday, James found the cross stripped of its wood, leaving only the welded train rails. The mountain of stuffed animals and cards at the base of the memorial had been scattered and tossed down the embankment where Krystal had been discovered.
James said friends reported the memorial was fine Monday evening and damaged Tuesday morning.
According to the Carson City Sheriff’s Department, which has jurisdiction over the memorial, damage to it is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a $1,000 fine.
“This is a real sad commentary,” said Chief Deputy Scott Burau. “I think the family has been through more than enough.” He said Nevada Highway Patrol will be increase its patrols of the area.
Pierini hopes anyone who commutes from or to Lake Tahoe will take the time to keep an eye on the memorial.
“They are our eyes and ears. If anyone saw anything they should call immediately and report it,” he said.
“We have to remember her and never forget what that little girl went through, so it doesn’t happen again.”
James is adamant about pressing charges.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” he said.
But the recurring destruction of Krystal’s memorial is testing James, who quit the motorcycle club and recently become a devout Christian.
“I want to revert back to my old self and get ahold of this person. But that’s not a very Christian things to do. It makes it tough.”