Skeletal remains to be tested for DNA match to missing tot

Vigil demands justice for Baby Elaina

9/7/2013
BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Peggy Arnold, left, hugs Ginger Smith, cousin of Terry Steinfurth, Sr., during a vigil Friday for Elaina Steinfurth at Federal and Leonard streets, the default headquarters of a volunteer-based search effort.
Peggy Arnold, left, hugs Ginger Smith, cousin of Terry Steinfurth, Sr., during a vigil Friday for Elaina Steinfurth at Federal and Leonard streets, the default headquarters of a volunteer-based search effort.

Hundreds chanting “Justice for Elaina” marched curb to curb down narrow East Toledo streets Friday, the day after police found skeletal remains that they believe could be those of 18-month-old Elaina Steinfurth, who was last seen June 2.

Some held candles and balloons and pushed strollers or wheelchairs or held leashed dogs as they circled the large triangle-shaped block, past light poles on which hung “Missing” flyers bearing the Steinfurth girl’s picture.

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On lawns and porches, neighbors held cameras at arm’s length to capture the sight.

The procession came after a gathering in a vacant lot at Federal and Leonard streets, the scene of regular prayer vigils since the girl’s disappearance.

“The Lord has been in this place for three months,” Kyle Baker, a lay pastor at Northpoint Church of the Nazarene, told the crowd.

The march ended in a field at Berry and Leonard streets, where Mr. Baker led the group in prayer. Those with balloons — some printed with the words “Princess,” or “You’re Special,” or a smiley face — released them into the orange of the twilight sky.

Mr. Baker and Terry Steinfurth, Sr., the girl’s grandfather, announced a gathering for 2.30 p.m. Sunday at the Lucas County Courthouse.

“The only reason we’re doing it is for justice and for love,” Mr. Baker said, as the crowd started to disperse.

Officials said they could know within days if the remains found tucked away Thursday in the rafters of an East Toledo garage belong to the little girl.

To determine the identity and gender of the remains, a DNA sample was sent to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations laboratory in London, Ohio, said Dr. Diane Scala-Barnett, Lucas County deputy coroner, who performed an autopsy on the remains. The remains are so “immature,” she said, that it’s impossible to determine the sex without further testing.

Dr. Scala-Barnett said she will not make a ruling on the cause or manner of death until all parts of the autopsy are completed — including DNA analysis, toxicology, and anthropological examination.

Toledo police Chief Derrick Diggs, left, and Capt. Brad Weis, discuss develop-ments in the case.
Toledo police Chief Derrick Diggs, left, and Capt. Brad Weis, discuss develop-ments in the case.

Rush on test

Toledo police asked the state to rush a DNA test in the case, said Jill Del Greco, a spokesman for the Ohio Attorney General’s office.

Ms. Del Greco estimates that results from that test should be available early next week, but it will be up to Toledo police to release the results. Normally, non-rush DNA tests take about 23 days to complete.

“We are trying to get this turned around,” she said.

The test will be done at the BCI’s main laboratory in London because the Bowling Green laboratory does not have DNA testing capabilities.

Because the remains were found in a detached garage at 704 Federal St. where Elaina was last seen June 2, police said they believe they belong to the toddler.

“The bottom line is we found what we believe may be Baby Elaina,” said police Chief Derrick Diggs during a Friday-morning news conference at the downtown Safety Building. “We are going to conduct our investigation. We are going to bring those responsible to justice.”

Police officers were stationed outside police headquarters, checking media credentials of anyone attempting to get into the news conference and to make sure mayhem didn’t unfold outside.

Police searched in and around the Federal Street property numerous times since the toddler was reported missing, at least once taking cadaver dogs to the scene. Officials in the news conference gave conflicting reports on whether the garage behind the home was searched.

Capt. Wes Bombrys, who oversees the investigative services bureau, said police “conducted a couple search warrants at the house. Specifically at the garage? No.”

The captain said new information led police back to the garage where another search warrant was executed and the remains were found in a computer box, sitting on a shelf, in a back corner atop the rafters.

Hundreds gather for a vigil for Elaina Steinfurth at Federal and Leonard streets before a procession through the neighborhood.
Hundreds gather for a vigil for Elaina Steinfurth at Federal and Leonard streets before a procession through the neighborhood.

‘Tough to search’

Capt. Brad Weis, who oversees the Strategic Response Bureau, said officers “searched the garage to the best of our ability at that time. The location is very tough to search. If anybody has been out there, they can attest to that.”

Captain Weis said cadaver dogs at the scene were not allowed to go into the Federal Street property “due to the condition of the property.”

Police would not comment on whether the loft area of the garage was searched or how many times the garage and other property was searched.

Chief Diggs defended the department’s investigation.

“We didn’t drop the ball,” he said, adding that the investigation is ongoing and active. “We can’t get into all these various details right now.

“The main thing that you have to remember — there’s two things. Number one, we wanted to find the body. We wanted to find that baby, which we did. Number two, we wanted to bring justice for Elaina, which means that we are going to continue to pursue our investigation.”

Police would not comment on what led them to search the garage at 3:16 p.m. Thursday, although the discovery came as detectives had been talking to Steven King II, the estranged boyfriend of Angela Steinfurth, Elaina’s mother.

Mr. King, 23, who remains in custody at the Lucas County jail for an obstructing justice charge, and his family live in the Federal Street home.

Mrs. Steinfurth, 25, is also in the Lucas County jail pending an obstructing justice charge.

Police declined to comment on additional charges or suspects. Mr. King has a Sept. 16 trial date set on the obstruction charges. Mrs. Steinfurth has a pretrial hearing on her charges set for Sept. 25.

Terry Steinfurth Jr. right, gets a hug from Kyle Baker, left, during a vigil for his daughter Elaina Steinfurth.
Terry Steinfurth Jr. right, gets a hug from Kyle Baker, left, during a vigil for his daughter Elaina Steinfurth.

Grand jury expected

Before the news conference, Rob Miller, chief of the special units division for the Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office, said that depending on the outcome of the autopsy, he would anticipate presenting the case to a Lucas County grand jury next week.

“Depending on the evidence, we would evaluate whether [the indictment] would be against one or both of them,” Mr. Miller said, referring to Mrs. Steinfurth and Mr. King.

During the news conference, Lucas County Prosecutor Julia Bates said there are still a lot of unanswered questions in the investigation.

“What we are telling you is what we do know, what we can tell you,” she said. “To speculate and to hypothesize about if, when, where, how, and why — we just cannot do that. That would just be silly and foolish.”

Chief Diggs suggested that the investigation was complicated by “a lot of deception taking place, being told to us by a variety of sources in the community.”

Police also declined to comment on how long they believe the box was in the garage.

Outside the Safety Building after the news conference, Mrs. Steinfurth’s stepfather, Richard Schiewe, said he searched the garage with police on June 3 and that the box was not in the garage.

“That body was not in the rafters the day after Elaina come up missing,” Mr. Schiewe said. “I was in the garage with police. … I searched the garage. All that was in the garage was junk bicycle parts, plumbing parts, electrical parts, and two turtles, and a bunch of musted-up boxes.

“That body was not in that garage,” he said.

Elaina’s father and paternal grandfather met other family and supporters at Leonard and Federal streets, the default headquarters of a volunteer-based search effort, on Friday morning.

“I just hope there’s closure,” said Terry Steinfurth, Sr., the girl’s grandfather. “I’m just here for her. We did not want it to end this way. All we can hope for is that those who are responsible get a fair punishment. We still have a lot of questions. We are waiting for answers,” he said.

Terry Steinfurth, Jr., Elaina’s father, said he is “still holding on to hope that it’s not her. But you’ve got to be realistic to some degree too. So I’m just being hopeful. The police are doing what they can do, hopefully.”

The Steinfurth family has been working with Lucas County Children Services since the beginning of the investigation, working with Elaina's 4-year-old sister Kylee to get “whatever services she needs,” said Dean Sparks, the agency’s executive director.

“This is a horrible tragedy,” Mr. Sparks said. “It’s a very sad day for all of us.”

Strangers to the Steinfurth family visited the search party headquarters Friday, bringing with them well wishes and stuffed animals to add to the growing memorial on the porch of a boarded-up home.

Daleleen Ridgeley of Toledo brought her 2-year-old son Nate and 9-month-old daughter Sienna to the home to leave behind a teddy bear.

“It’s just so sad,” said Ms. Ridgeley, wiping tears from her cheeks. She does not know the family, she said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”

The Steinfurth family had other support Friday.

Representatives of the local Parents of Murdered Children chapter were outside the Safety Building after the news conference with informational pamphlets.

Gabriel Burgete and Juanita Carrillo, who have both lost children, said it will be important for friends and family to make themselves available to Elaina’s family.

“They just need to listen and let the grieving person grieve,” Mrs. Carrillo said. “Be a good friend. Listen. Let them cry.”

Blade staff writers Nolan Rosenkrans, Jennifer Feehan, Mark Zaborney, and Mike Sigov contributed to this report.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at tdungjen@theblade.com, or 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @taylordungjen.