South Bay News
Sheriff: Garcia-Torres kidnapped and murdered Sierra LaMar
raw video: News conference regarding Sierra LaMar
MORGAN HILL, Calif. (KGO) -- Santa Clara County Sheriff's investigators are confident they have arrested the man responsible for the kidnap and murder of missing Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar. Authorities held a news conference Tuesday morning to announce the arrest of 21-year-old Antolin Garcia-Torres of Morgan Hill.
Sierra's family left the sheriff's office Tuesday in a circle of hugs, handshakes and even hope. "I am not giving up hope," said Sierra's mother, Marlene LaMar. "Her body hasn't been found."
Earlier in the news conference, though, the family listened to Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith express confidence in two things: the missing high school student is not alive and the man responsible for her kidnap and murder is Garcia-Torres.
"There is no information that we have of any type that the two know each other [or] have had any contact," said Smith. "We believe this is the worst type of crime -- a stranger abduction of a young girl."
Within days of Sierra's disappearance on Mar. 16, detectives found her cellphone and purse. DNA evidence on her clothing in that purse came back from the lab on Mar. 28. It immediately identified Garcia-Torres as a suspect.
"From that time, we've had 24-hour a day surveillance on Garcia [Torres]. We needed additional information, we were continuing the investigation," said Smith. "We were hoping that he would lead us to where Sierra was."
The sheriff says evidence collected from Garcia-Torres' red Jetta, which just came back from the crime lab, proved to be the tipping point for his arrest Monday night. The dramatic revelations have left some volunteers devastated. "So hurtful to know that she's been dead and that she still hasn't been found," said search volunteer Emma Spencer."
Until Sierra is found, the family has questions perhaps only one man can answer. "I do have a plea to the perpetrator to please, please give the information that you have to lead us to Sierra to help end this nightmare," said Sierra's mother.
There is a significant amount of surveillance and forensic evidence in the case, and Smith says detectives did not intend to withhold that information or mislead the public in any way. They simply wanted the public's help and were building a strong case. The sheriff says that even without a body, a weapon or knowing how Sierra was killed, they are confident she was murdered and equally confident they have her killer in custody.
"We believe he is the only suspect in the kidnap and murder of Sierra," said Smith.
ABC7 News legal analyst Dean Johnson said the case can be prosecuted if the body is not found because of scientific advancements in DNA. He said this is a critical time for the suspect because if he discloses where the body is he may very well save himself from the death penalty.
Reaction from friends and classmates
Sierra's friends and classmates are trying to remain optimistic in the face of these latest developments. Sierra and her family moved to Morgan Hill from Fremont in the fall and she has many close friends in both communities.
Tuesday morning, the principal of Ann Sobrato High School made a campus-wide announcement in which she urged students to try to stay positive. We talked with several students who told us they are trying to do just that, including one girl who told us she came nearly face to face with the suspect seconds before he was arrested.
"We pulled into the parking lot and that's when he walked past my window," said Sierra's schoolmate, Denee Hendrix, who happened to witness the arrest of suspect of Garcia-Torres Monday night. "The guy walked right past my window and he was like two inches from it. Then all of a sudden, all the undercover cops came and they were like, 'Get on the ground! Get on the ground!"'
Sierra's friends at the high school say they're trying to stay positive, despite the latest difficult news. "It's hard to hear it being talked about all day at school, but we're just staying positive and hanging in there," said friend Shanice Washington.
Despite the developments in the case, the Miller family of Morgan Hill has no plans to remove the messages from their SUV anytime soon. Those messages read, "We love you Sierra, come home soon," and "Find Sierra LaMar."
"I'm not ready to quit," said family friend Tonya Miller. "My heart, my mind, every fiber in my being says we're going to keep the faith and we're going to keep looking until we find her." Miller says her family had Sierra's mother and boyfriend over for dinner Monday night.
Fifteen-year-old Maddie Miller is a teammate of Sierra's on an all-star cheerleading squad. They competed in a tournament last December. "My thoughts and my hope is that she's still alive because until we know for sure, you can't say anything different," said Maddie.
Parent Kristen Hendrix says she is at least a little relieved that an arrest has been made. "I hope they have some solid evidence that this really is the guy because I have to say I've been pretty uneasy," she said. "I'm glad they found something and I'm glady they found somebody. I pray for the family."
Counselors were brought in Tuesday at Ann Sobrato High School to help students deal with the latest news. The same is true at Washington High School in Fremont where Sierra went to school until she moved to Morgan Hill.
Volunteers continue to search for Sierra
The Santa Clara Sheriff's Department sent out its dive team to search the Uvas Reservoir Tuesday. News of the arrest had quite an impact on the volunteer searchers who plan to continue looking for Sierra.
Despite no volunteer searches scheduled Tuesdays, many volunteers showed up anyway to share reaction to Monday night's arrest. Strong friendships have been forged among the volunteers, and the arrest of Garcia-Torres has unleashed a flood of emotions.
"All of the emotions apply here -- anger, happiness, grief, hope," said volunteer Paula Davis. "We're all going through that right now." The volunteer search center is a place where images of Sierra are posted on every wall. "I am angry at this person for thinking he has the right to harm somebody else," she said.
In the community of Morgan Hill, which turned out in full force to support Sierra's family, the arrest of a suspect doesn't end the case.
"Relieved, but it's still not finished," said resident Jennifer Alvernaz. "There's no body. There's still no closure yet. So it's still scary."
"It's very sad for the family, but at least hopefully there will be some closure for them, and I'm still hoping that they'll find her alive," said resident Susan Felios.
Wednesday will be another search day. Every Wednesday and Saturday, hundreds of volunteers have formed teams to comb through the fields and hillsides. Steve Tollis says he has already recruited 20 new volunteers for Wednesday, even as he deals with his emotions. "A lot of hope, a lot of excitement, and I admit, a lot of anger, too, now that we have a suspect," he said.
Tollis is hoping to mobilize 500 volunteers Wednesday, building on the momentum of the arrest and the hope that there could be a turning point in the search as well. "We need everybody to step up, drop what they're doing and help us with this search," he said.
The search effort welcomes newcomers to turn out. The volunteers are sent out on easy, medium and advanced assignments, depending on their fitness.
Anyone with information on this case is asked to contact sheriff's investigators at (408) 808-4500 or call the anonymous tip line at (408) 808-4431.
missing person, santa clara county, morgan hill, sierra lamar, crime, south bay news
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