Man Arrested On Suspicion of Kidnapping, Murdering Sierra LaMar; No Body Found But DNA Evidence; Watch Video of Sheriff’s Press Conf.

Update 9:20 a.m. KCBS has the video of Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith’s press conference announcing an arrest in the Sierra LaMar case. LaMar, a 15-year-old from Morgan Hill, went missing on March 16. Authorities now believe she was murdered by 21-year-old Antolin Garcia-Torres, also of Morgan Hill.

Part 1 of the video

Part 2 of the video is here.

Here’s what Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said at the press conference:

  • Authorities believe Sierra LaMar was killed by 21-year-old Antolin Garcia-Torres, a longtime Morgan Hill resident. He was booked last night on suspicion of murder and kidnapping. Neither Sierra’s body nor a weapon has been found, and no blood has been discovered, but Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said there is enough forensic evidence to warrant a belief that LaMar was murdered by the suspect. The evidence includes the discovery of Garcia-Torres’ DNA on Sierra’s belongings, which include a bag containing what she wore the day of her disappearance and her cellphone.

    “It’s hard to prosecute a homicide when you have not found the victim,” Smith said, but she believes they have enough evidence to do so. “The probability of homicide is very strong in these types of cases” that have been studied by the FBI, she said. “Early in the investigation we had many suspects, right now we believe he’s the only person responsible for the kidnapping and murder [of LaMar].”

    Expanding on authorities’ reasons for believing LaMar was murdered, Smith said: “Sierra was a very social girl. She had a lot of friends, she communicated with her friends all the time through social media outlets, telephoning. From the time she was missing, there was no contact with any of her friends. No reason to believe she ran away. We now have a stranger with DNA on her property. Discarded was her property she would have taken with her, including medication.”

  • Smith revealed Garcia-Torres was under 24-hour surveillance since the discovery of the DNA evidence on March 28. Smith said authorities were hoping he would lead them to LaMar. “I believe he may have believed he was under surveillance we don’t know that for sure,” Smith said. Smith said public safety was a factor in deciding to finally make the arrest. “Even though we’d been surveilling him, surveillance is not perfect.”
  • Smith said the suspect has been linked through forensic evidence to one of three assaults that occurred in Morgan Hill in March, 2009.

  • The suspect has a prior misdemeanor conviction for interfering with an officer and a prior felony arrest for assault for which he was not prosecuted. Those encounters with the criminal justice system were what placed him in the database from which authorities were able to match his DNA with Sierra’s belongings. Garcia-Torres is not a registered sex offender.
  • Smith said the suspect’s motives are unknown, but “it’s my belief that this was purely random,” as there is no evidence that the two had any prior contact. “It’s the worst kind of a crime, a stranger abduction of a young girl.”
  • Smith said the focus is now on continuing to search for and locate Sierra’s body.
  • Sierra’s parents also spoke. Her mother, Marlene LaMar said, “as a mother I still am hopeful, because her body has not been found and that gives me hopeā€¦.I have a plea to the perpetrator: “Please give the information that you have to help end this nightmare. I would like you to come forward and say where she is. I’m not giving up hope, her body hasn’t been found.”

    Her father, Steve LaMar, said, “we want to thank everyone for all the support we’ve gotten. We still need your support. We still need to bring Sierra home. We still need to find her.”

Update 11:50 p.m. More on the suspect from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Garcia-Torres attended a Morgan Hill continuation school, Central High School. He lives in a trailer park in the city with his mother, wife and 18-month-old child, neighbors said…

The suspect’s mother, Laura Torres, arrived home from her night shift as a nurse at a convalescent home to find reporters waiting near her trailer. She said she spoke to her son Monday night and was distraught about his arrest.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry about me, mom. I am going to be OK,’ ” Torres said. “I told my son, ‘Well, if you didn’t do it, you don’t have anything to worry about.’ ”

She added, “He would say, “Mom, I have never seen that lady,’ ” referring to Sierra.

Torres said her son was “always quiet, always respectful, always close to me. It is unbelievable that this is happening to him. I feel like all of this is wrong. … What parent wants to believe their son did something wrong?”

Garcia-Torres’ father is in jail in Santa Clara County and his brother recently died in Mexico after a life of drinking and drug abuse, Torres said. Full article

And from ABC7News:

The suspect’s sister and brother in law listened to the sheriff’s morning press conference but dispute her claims. “They don’t have physical evidence – there’s no physical evidence at all,” said Garcia.

“They had her DNA in the car,” said a reporter.

“Not in the car actually,” said Garcia.

Garcia believes investigators zeroed in on her brother simply because his car was spotted in Sierra’s neighborhood. She says her whole family knew he was under surveillance and that her brother has cooperated with police. She says a guilty man would have acted differently.

“You would think that he would, I don’t know, go away or try to run away or something. He’s been nothing but compliant with police. He’s given them two DNA swabs,” said Garcia.

The family also doesn’t believe that Garcia-Torres committed previous assaults. One of the assaults that happened in 2009 was in the parking lot of the Safeway where he was arrested. The assault involved a stun gun. The sheriff did not say which of the assaults he was connected to. Full article

Last night KTVU broke the story this evening: Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies arrested a suspect in the March 16 disappearance of Morgan Hill teenager Sierra LaMar. The suspect, identified as Antolin Garcia-Torres, was arrested early Monday evening outside a Safeway store in the South Bay suburb where he worked. He was later booked into Santa Clara County Jail on charges of murder and kidnapping. The San Jose Mercury News reports the sheriff will hold a press conference on the case at 8 a.m. Tuesday.

The Merc quotes Sheriff Laurie Smith from press conference late Monday night:

” ‘We believe we have probable cause that he committed the kidnapping and murder of Sierra LaMar,’ said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith … .

“The sheriff’s office previously announced that a red Volkswagen Jetta may be connected to the case, and according to authorities, Garcia-Torres is the owner of the car, which was seized on May 8.

” ‘We have a lot of physical evidence’ Smith said. She said the public’s safety is the main concern of her office, and, ‘we don’t want to see anyone else hurt or any other little girls taken.’ “

This evening’s coverage:

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor