The details of a transgender teen’s gruesome killing have shocked a Missouri community and sparked speculation that it was a hate crime. The victim had come out earlier this year.
Ally Steinfeld, 17, was stabbed and her mutilated body was burned earlier this month at a residence in Cabool, Mo., in the Ozarks, police say. Three people have been charged with murder. One other faces less severe charges.
“I still don’t know who in their right minds would do something like that,” said Linda Camara, who is close friends with one of Steinfeld’s cousins. “Killing someone is very bad, but I mean to do it ... oh my God, to do it like that. Just ... I ... I ... oh, God. I just can’t even see someone doing that.”
Camara told The Star that she believes Steinfeld’s gender identity played a role in the killing.
Steinfeld was 17 and had posted on social media accounts that she was trans.
According to the police probable cause statement:
Andrew Vrba, 18, admitted to stabbing Steinfeld in the living room of a friend’s residence. The friend, 24-year-old Briana Calderas, and 18-year-old Isis Schauer were also present and helped burn Steinfeld’s body, according to Vrba’s statements to police.
All three are charged with first-degree murder, abandonment of a corpse and armed criminal action.
Vrba originally attempted to poison Steinfeld, he told police, but she did not drink the liquid, “so he used a knife instead.”
Vrba told police that he had bragged about the brutal killing, going into detail with friends about how he gouged out Steinfeld’s eyes and stabbed her in the genitals.
A search of the residence led to the discovery of human remains in a burn pile and in a plastic bag nearby. Blood was discovered on the living room carpet, police said.
A fourth person, James Grigsby, 25, has been charged with abandonment of a corpse and tampering with physical evidence, both felonies.
“Grigsby stated that Vrba told him he had tortured and killed Steinfeld and that Calderas had asked for his (Grigsby’s) assistance with disposing of the remains,” court documents state, adding that Grigsby admitted to detectives that he went to the residence with the other three, placed burnt human remains into a plastic sack and hid them near a shed.
All four alleged perpetrators are being held without bond.
Steinfeld had posted on Instagram in May that she was coming out.
“I am mtf I hope all u guys support me,” she wrote. MTF stands for male-to-female and is used to describe a trans woman or girl.
She also posted drawings of gender symbols that indicated she was transitioning to female.
She continued to use her birth name, Joseph Matthew Steinfeld, as her primary name on Facebook, but she included the name “Ally Lee Steinfeld” on her account.
On Instagram, she identified as “allyleesteinfeld.”
Human Rights Campaign and intomore.com posted that media outlets had misgendered Steinfeld, originally identifying her as male.
On Steinfeld’s Facebook page, some friends posted condolences. In one thread, Steinfeld was at times referred to as male. Others corrected them.
In court records, Steinfeld is also referred to as male.
Steinfeld was reported missing by family on Sept. 1. The slaying occurred two days later.
Detectives made contact with Vrba and Schauer last week, and charges were filed Thursday.
While Steinfeld was still considered missing, her mother regularly posted a missing person poster to Facebook.
“My heart breaking in two,” Amber Steinfeld wrote. “Please help me.”
She and Ally Steinfeld’s father, Joe Steinfeld, have posted since charges were filed. Amber Steinfeld wrote that she believes justice will be served.
“I miss you Joey dad loves you,” Joe Steinfeld wrote. “May u rip in peace.”
Others posted condolences on social media.
“I’m sorry that hatred has led to this yet again,” David Delcour wrote on Facebook. “I don’t know your family. But to your family I say this. You are loved and you are being hugged from a distance right now. We will not let this happen again. The hatred must stop. My heart breaks right now for you, as it does for your family.”
Neither the sheriff nor the prosecuting attorney of Texas County, who are handling the case, were immediately available for comment.
But Texas County Sheriff James Sigman made a Facebook post on the Office’s page, in which he criticized media outlets for including the gruesome details of Ally’s killing.
“I know the family of the victim was very upset for they did not know the full details of how their loved passed because I did not disclose that information to them for many reasons,” Sigman wrote. “Our investigation is still ongoing and details of the crime like that should not be released to the public.”
Sigman also wrote, “As usual in homicide cases it is hard to make (sense) of the reason or figure out why people do the things that they do.”
In response to the post, Cathy Armstrong-Farr called what happened to Steinfeld a hate crime and expressed hope that it would be charged as such.
Probable cause statements make no mention of the fact that Steinfeld was trans and whether that was a factor in the slaying.
Pam Osborn wrote the community is in shock by the horrific details.
“I pray we all can come together & give support wherever it is needed,” Osborn wrote.
A benefit account has been created at Enterprise Bank in Cedar Hill, Mo., according to Mary Mollard, an employee at the bank.
The account is in Joseph Steinfeld’s name, Mollard said. Those interested can contact the bank to make a donation to the family.