Pictured are the suspects in the Sept. 3, 2017, slaying of transgender teen Ally Lee Steinfeld, 17, of Houston, Missouri. Briana Calderas, 24, Andrew Vrba, 18, and Isis Schauer, 18, are charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action and abandonment of a corpse. James Grigsby, 25, is charged with abandonment of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence.
Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group National Content Desk
A transgender Missouri teenager slain earlier this month was stabbed, mutilated and burned by her girlfriend of a week and some of the girlfriend’s friends, court documents show.
Ally Lee Steinfeld, 17, died Sept. 3, two days after she was last heard from by her family, according to the Kansas City Star. A probable cause statement obtained by the newspaper said the teen, who came out as transgender in May, was killed at her girlfriend’s mobile home in Cabool, a small city about 75 miles east of Springfield.
Her remains were found Sept. 20 in a burn pile outside her girlfriend’s home and in a plastic bag inside a chicken coop, KY3 in Springfield reported. The news station referred to Steinfeld as male.
Accused of Steinfeld’s slaying are the girlfriend, Briana Calderas, 24, Andrew Vrba, 18, and Isis Schauer, 18. The three were arrested Sept. 21 and charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action and abandonment of a corpse, the Star reported.
A fourth suspect, James Grigsby, 25, is charged with abandonment of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence.
“She was excited, talking about her and Briana meeting (the family),” Amber Steinfeld said.
KY3 reported that it was the Steinfeld family’s search for the missing teen that led to Calderas’ home, and the discovery of human remains.
The Star reported that, according to the probable cause statement, Vrba admitted to investigators that he stabbed Ally Steinfeld to death in the living room of Calderas’ home. He said he initially tried to poison her, but that she didn’t drink the beverage he put the poison in.
Vrba told detectives he bragged to friends about killing Steinfeld, gouging out her eyes and mutilating her genitals, the Star reported.
Calderas and Schauer then went to a nearby Walmart and bought supplies with which to burn Steinfeld’s body, the court documents said. Calderas told authorities she did not want Steinfeld dead, but statements from Vrba and Schauer contradicted her.
“They stated Calderas did want Steinfeld killed, and even mentioned it several days prior to Steinfeld’s death,” an investigator wrote.
Grigsby is accused of helping to dispose of Steinfeld’s body once the killing was done.
“Grigsby stated that Vrba told him he had tortured and killed Steinfeld, and that Calderas had asked for (Grigsby’s) assistance with disposing of the remains,” the court documents obtained by the Star said.
Grigsby allegedly admitted to putting some of Steinfeld’s burned remains in the plastic bag and hiding them.
Investigators found remains in the bag, as well as in a burn pile outside Calderas’ home, the Star reported. Blood was also found on the living room carpet.
Despite some of the details of the crime, Texas County Sheriff James Sigman told the Star that the crime was not based on Steinfeld’s gender identity.
“You don’t kill someone if you don’t have hate in your heart,” Sigman said. “But no, it’s not a hate crime.”
Sigman said on Facebook last week, however, that it was difficult to make sense of the reasons behind the slaying. The sheriff also criticized the local news media outlets who reported the gruesome details of the homicide and assured the public that it was not his office who released the information.
Texas County Prosecutor Parke Stevens Jr. also stated that Steinfeld’s death was not a hate crime, the Star reported. Tony Rothert, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, urged Stevens and Sigman to change their course in the case and charge the suspects under Missouri’s hate crime statute.
“Any act of violence that targets a person simply because of their gender identity must be called out and investigated for what it is: a hate crime,” Rothert told the newspaper.
Amber Steinfeld told the Star that the family was beginning to accept her daughter’s transition, but in her interview with the newspaper, she alternated between using male and female pronouns. Missing persons fliers distributed before her daughter’s remains were found also referred to him as male and by his given name.
“We were starting to (refer to her as female),” Amber Steinfeld said. “We’d known him as Joey for so long, but we accepted him for who he was.”
Acquaintances and strangers alike posted condolences on Ally Steinfeld’s social media accounts. Like the teen’s mother, some used male pronouns and others, female.
“My condolences to the family and friends of this young person,” a woman wrote on Facebook. “May God have mercy on the souls of your murderers, Joseph, and may your family receive justice for this crime. My heart is overflowing with sadness.”
“So sad and heartbreaking, what happened to you,” one woman wrote on Instagram. “RIP, sweet girl!”
“I’m so sorry that you were murdered (because) of hate in people’s hearts,” another woman wrote on Facebook. “May you rest in paradise as the person you felt you were in your very short time on Earth.”