Little girl’s murder has ripple effect on community | RecordCourier.com
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Little girl’s murder has ripple effect on community

by Merrie Leininger

The murder of a 9-year-old South Lake Tahoe girl is having a ripple effect on the rest of the community.

While friends and family grieve for Krystal Steadman, the employees and staff of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, who searched for her and found her body, also have to deal with the loss.

Douglas County Sheriff Ron Pierini said the department has a policy for helping officers deal with being so close to an unexplainable incident.

“The critical issue is to understand how terrible acts like this occur. They will never understand how a predator will kill a young girl,” Pierini explained. “They will be questioning, ‘Why does this happen?’ and they will not be able to relate to that. Added to the helpless feeling you have, they will be questioning themselves and asking, ‘Why couldn’t I have been there to stop it?’ That’s what they deal with. Even I, and the rest of the staff, we’ve often talked about this. It was a terrible thing and there’s no rationale.”

He said Capt. Robert Lekumberry of the East Fork Paramedic District is trained in crisis counseling and will be assisting the department.

However, because the investigation is ongoing, detectives cannot take the time to deal with the emotional investment they may have put into the case yet, he said.

“We will have a mandatory session for them to attend soon,” Pierini said. “Also, Jim Doornink is a psychologist in Carson City and they can see him up to five times free of charge,” he said. “But, the other thing is, history will tell you, employees think everything is OK, but down the road, they will have reoccurring problems, so it has to be monitored, and we will monitor the situation.”

Pierini said the last time the department had to deal with the loss of a child was in 1992 when two children and their parents drowned in Lake Tahoe and their bodies were discovered on the Douglas County side.

– Comfort. Last year, the department created a team of clergy trained in counseling victims and Pierini said that program has proved invaluable.

“When we notified the (victim’s) mother, we had our sheriff’s chaplain and he is versed with the agencies the family can go to for assistance and he will stay with the family and make sure they aren’t left alone,” he said.

Pierini said another way the department helps the family get through a trauma is to ensure they are given updates often and help them understand the process so they won’t feel abandoned.

– Protecting your children. Pierini said he is more than ever dedicated to “A Fighting Chance,” a program started in 1991 by the South Lake Tahoe Soroptimist Club when another little girl was kidnapped and never found.

Pierini said the class has been taught in a few Douglas County schools for the past year by a DCSO deputy, and the department will continue its attempt to take the program to every elementary school in Douglas County.

The program is also taught in South Lake Tahoe schools by SLT police, but Pierini said he did not know if Steadman had been in the class.

“We need to do something in the schools. After this, I have no doubt we’ve got to support this program and provide the information to young people to be aware there are predators out there that could abduct you and this program has got to go to every kid in Douglas County,” he said.

The program teaches children to run and scream to draw others’ attention when approached by a stranger and even how to disable a car if they are abducted.

Pierini said parents also have to talk to their children.

“Today is the best time for parents to talk to their kids about this because it is so close to home. They have to tell them, if some adult approaches you, get out, start yelling, break loose. Today is the time,”he said.

The children who live in the apartment complex where Steadman was abducted attend Zephyr Cove Elementary School and Principal William Robison said the school is letting all the children from that complex and their parents know counseling is available.

“We are providing an opportunity for those kids who would like to meet with our school counselor, and have talked to parents of some of the kids who have expressed concerns,” he said.

The school provides a variety of age-appropriate programs regarding safety, Robison said.

– Hiring practices. The suspect in the death of Steadman, Thomas Soria Jr., 19, was a part-time employee of the Boys and Girls Club branch that is located in the Lake Park Apartments on Kahle Drive, where he lived. In light of the fact that ProTeen, a group that is trying to start a teen center in the Carson Valley, recently heard a presentation from the Boys and Girls Club, how will this affect the group’s plans?

ProTeen chairman Claudia Bertolone-Smith, a teacher at C.C. Meneley Elementary School, said whatever program they choose to bring a teen center to Carson Valley, the rules will be clear and the children would receive abduction education.

“What I think is important is kids need to be taught what to be aware of and how to keep themselves safe, and since this has happened, I can see having a rule that no kids can ride in a car of a staff person for any reason, just because I want kids to know, you just never get in a car with anybody,” she said.

Cathy Blankenship, executive director of Carson City Boys and Girls Club, said South Lake Tahoe Boys and Girls Club did everything right when hiring Soria.

“We have been informed that, in South Lake, they did a local and an FBI background check on all employees and nothing was reported and nothing came from that, which was of concern to anyone who runs a youth program,” she said. “That’s just a horrendous situation to be in, to have done what you could possibility do and still have something so scary occur.”

Blankenship said the hiring process is developed by each club’s board of directors.

In South Lake Tahoe, the main club is located in a middle school, Blankenship said, and a branch was opened up in the apartment complex where Steadman was abducted.

“There’s steps you can do and that’s doing reference checks, background checks, law enforcement checks, but beyond that, there’s not much you can do. While it’s not perfect, I think it does protect us from some people. It’s the best system we have and we just have to be diligent and do it every time. And we always have to be wary if someone wants to take a child somewhere out of the ordinary,” Blankenship said.

A bank account in Steadman’s memory has been set up at the South Lake Tahoe Wells Fargo. Anyone wishing to donate for a memorial that will take the form of education and awareness for children can deposit money in account number 6906612155. Checks or money orders should be made out to Elizabeth Steadman.