For the third time, vandals have marred a cross that marks the spot where the body of a slain 9-year-old Lake Tahoe girl was found three years ago.
Between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, someone took a can of flat-black spray paint and defaced Krystal Steadman's memorial cross, located alongside Highway 50 about two miles west of Carson City.
"This is just wrong," Deputy Bill Richards said Thursday as he investigated the vandalism.
Krystal disappeared from South Lake Tahoe on March 19, 2000. Her mother spent one panicked night wondering where her little girl had gone.
Early the next morning, dozens of officers shimmied down a steep embankment near Spooner Summit to collect the broken body of the fourth-grader. She'd been raped and tortured, her throat slit and her body tossed down the roadside.
Thomas Soria Sr. and his 19-year-old son., Thomas Jr. were charged with the crimes. Soria Jr. pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence without parole. His father committed suicide in the Douglas County Jail one day after his murder trial began.
On Thursday, a children's book, its cover warped by the weather, pages bleached and brittle, lay atop dozens of stuffed animals -- Bugs Bunny, Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird, Kermit the frog -- faded by the sun.
Mementos left at the base of a once-sunshine-yellow cross, they mark where Krystal died.
After Richards took photographs of the blackened cross, the Carson City sheriff's deputy climbed down the hill where Krystal's body had been found and collected an empty Color Place spray can believed to have been tossed by the vandals.
"We might be able to get some fingerprints," he said as he gingerly placed the can in an evidence bag.
Facing the cross, he put his hands on his hips and sighed.
"Why would someone do this?" the single father asked.
Craig Maxwell wonders the same thing.
The second time Krystal's cross was vandalized, Maxwell donated steel and his talent to create the eight-foot tall memorial dedicated on March 2, 2002. His son, Ben, painted it a striking yellow with anti-grafitti paint. The cross was one of Ben's last projects. The 19-year-old ironworker drowned in the Carson River on June 2.
"It's sad to see his work gone like that," Maxwell said.
But he was optimistic it could be repaired.
"We might be able to buff it out," he said. "I'd be willing to do that. It's just the right thing to do."
Richards urged anyone who may have seen something Wednesday night or early Thursday morning to call the Carson City Sheriff's Department at 887-2020 extension 1717.
The first memorial, an impromptu pile of mementos near the highway's shoulder, was removed by highway workers. Then a wooden cross with a plaque was stolen in November.
Volunteers then tried to foil the vandals by setting a 5-foot cross in concrete, but somebody tried to chop it down with a chain saw.
The existing metal cross weighs 2 tons, was lifted onto the site with a crane and is welded in place.