March 25, 2014 > Remembering Sierra LaMar
Remembering Sierra LaMar
By Joe Gold
Sierra LaMar was a vivacious and popular cheerleader at FremontÕs Washington High. On a warm Sunday morning, the day marking two years after she went missing from Morgan Hill, over 100 friends, families of those who knew her, teachers and school staff gathered to remember.
They gathered near a tree where cheerleadersÑlike their friend SierraÑpracticed and synchronized moves. Here, at her favorite spot, the school dedicated a custom-built octagonal bench surrounding the tree. It was a sober event. Teens were subdued, voices mostly hushed as they remembered and shed a few tears.
ÒWhen Sierra left Washington High School, she left bonds,Ó said Helen Paris, Washington High director of student affairs at a brief ceremony. ÒWe couldnÕt find a better spot than under the cheerleading tree.Ó
Tom Malpede, a Fremont construction company owner who also knew Sierra, personally crafted the bench from Golden State LumberÕs donated materials. During a moment of silence for the missing student and all missing children, ceremonial balloons in Washington HighÕs orange and black lifted a veil from the dedication plaque inscribed:
In Loving Memory of Sierra
Sit with me here quietly, youÕll never be alone. We wait to see you smile again, and have our Husky Home.
Dedicated to Sierra LaMar and the memory of all missing children.
What happened to Sierra LaMar on March 16, 2012, is still unclear. She left her motherÕs house in Morgan Hill that Friday about 7:15 a.m. to catch a school bus. The driver never saw her that day and Sierra never made it to Sobrato High School, where she had transferred five months before from Washington.
In the first days, Santa Clara deputies found her cell phone at the side of the road, and a few blocks from that was her backpack with neatly packed clothing. The FBI joined the case within the week.
SierraÕs parents, Steve W. LaMar of Fremont and Marline LaMar of Morgan Hill, chose to go public about their missing daughter in the hope it might bring forth a clue. They appeared on NBCÕs Today Show a week after Sierra disappeared, and made themselves available for comment to Bay Area television outlets. Family, friends and supporters maintained Sierra could still be alive, and some 500 teams of volunteers have literally beat the bushes every weekend in Santa Clara County parks and streams, searching for any new sign of the missing girl.
Supporters set up a reward for information, created findsierralamar.com and a Find Sierra LaMar page on Facebook. Posters went up on telephone poles, light standards, around the South Bay, and were even approved on BART trains. The Klaas Foundation, set up in Petaluma after the notorious 1993 abduction and murder of Polly Klass to help find missing children, contributes funds and organization to the effort to find Sierra.
On May 21, 2012, exactly 66 days after Sierra disappeared, Santa Clara SheriffÕs Deputies arrested Antolin Garcia-Torres, then 20 years old and a former supermarket worker. He was charged with kidnapping and murder. With neither a body nor a crime scene to prove there even was a murder, TorresÕ attorney refused to enter a plea at repeated hearings.
Then, in February, nearly two years after his arrest, a Santa Clara County grand jury indicted Garcia-Torres for three counts of carjacking attacks on women in 2009 and for the kidnap and murder of Sierra LaMar in 2012. The prosecutor reported finding the girlÕs DNA in TorresÕ car and on his clothing.
Only last month on February 13, some 21 months after his arrest, Garcia-Torres entered his plea: Not guilty. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Thang Nguyen Barrett is due to set a trial date on April 18.
At the bench dedication at Washington High, many wore red canvas Converse sneakers, which were SierraÕs favorite, and are now an icon for the continuing search for the missing teen who, if she is still alive, would be 17 and a high school senior.