Witnesses’ help sought in murder | RecordCourier.com

Witnesses’ help sought in murder

by Merrie Leininger

About 50 law enforcement officers spent hours looking for a lost little girl in Stateline Sunday night, not knowing they were fighting a war already lost.

Now, investigators are laboring to gather evidence against the man suspected of kidnapping and murdering Krystal Steadman, 9, of South Lake Tahoe.

Thomas Robert “TJ” Soria Jr., 19, of Stateline was arrested about 11:45 a.m. Monday at his home at Lake Park Apartments, 134 Kahle Drive. Sheriff Ron Pierini said Soria was under surveillance by Douglas County officers from the time he was first questioned about 7 p.m. Sunday. He is being held without bail on felony charges of murder and kidnapping.

Steadman was last seen at 2 p.m. Sunday playing with friends who live at Lake Park Apartments. The sheriff’s office was called about 5:20 p.m. By 7 p.m., a search team of officers from DCSO, El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, South Lake Tahoe Police Department, Nevada Highway Patrol and Washoe County Sheriff’s Office was assembled and looking for Steadman in the area of the apartment complex.

Apartment employees who were blocking the media from coming on the property Monday said the complex has security guards that patrol the area.

Witnesses said Soria was seen talking to Steadman before she disappeared. She may have known him because he was the part-time program manager of the Boys and Girls Club branch located in the apartment complex. Witnesses told police she was seen standing on the running board of Soria’s truck. Soria was questioned, placed under surveillance, and late Sunday night, his truck was taken to Washoe Sheriff’s Office crime lab for investigation, Pierini said.

That night, a woman called the Carson City Sheriff’s Office to report seeing a suspicious man and a red and white truck parked on the side of Highway 50, about two miles from the intersection with Highway 395. Officers and volunteers began searching the area, but the search was suspended at 3 a.m. and resumed at 7 a.m. Monday.

Officers found Steadman’s naked body at 9 a.m. Monday about 40 feet down a hill, between Highway 50 and Clear Creek Road, which is 200 feet below the highway. Pierini said he does not know if Steadman was sexually assaulted, but a coroner’s autopsy performed Tuesday in Washoe County will reveal that information.

The DCSO is requesting information from anyone who saw Soria’s vehicle between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. His vehicle is described as a two-door, full-size, red and white 1989 Chevrolet Blazer. The vehicle has chrome running boards and Nevada license plate 248 KHV. Investigators are also requesting help in locating the clothing Steadman was wearing at the time of her disappearance.

She was last seen wearing a white T-shirt with Tweety Bird insignia, black pants, lavender tennis shoes and light green socks.

At a press conference Monday afternoon at the Stateline substation, Pierini said the Boys and Girls Club ran Soria’s fingerprints through law enforcement computers before he was hired, but his only conviction was for passing bad checks in California.

Search and Rescue personnel continued to comb the hillside where Steadman’s body was found for clothes or a weapon Monday by using a safety rope to belay the searchers down the steep slope, according to Rob Loveberg of search and rescue.