With his daughter missing for more than a month, the only thing that suppresses Jay Steger’s agonizing grief and discouragement is his unyielding determination to find her.
Trudging through deep snow Saturday morning on Maplewood’s Keller Lake, just 2 miles from where Kira Trevino lived with her husband — now charged with her murder — her father scoured brush and shoreline, desperately searching for any sign of her.
Just like he’s done every weekend.
“I gotta be here; this is my girl,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t try.”
More than 100 volunteers turned out for the morning search, the largest one so far and one of five just this weekend. Steger stopped searching only to hug or thank volunteers, most of them strangers from across the Twin Cities and the state who’ve been moved by a case that weeks later has many unanswered questions.
The searches have been more than just cathartic for the family. Last week, at Keller Lake they uncovered two of the largest pieces of evidence in the case. There, they stumbled across a plastic bag with Trevino’s DNA on a bloody pillow, sports bra, shirt and sponge.
“I felt sick,” said Trevino’s sister, Keri Anne Steger, 29.
But the bag, along with the family’s discovery of a hole in the ice roughly chipped large enough to fit a body, reinvigorated search efforts, giving the family hope that closure is in sight.
“I feel her [here],” her sister said. “I’m not giving up.”
‘A lot of life to live’
While most searches have had a half-dozen to two dozen volunteers, Jay Steger’s impassioned plea for the public’s help spurred more than 100 volunteers at Keller Lake, near the intersection of Hwys. 61 and 36 in Maplewood.
Most were strangers, like the 80-year-old grandmother who thought of her two granddaughters when she heard of the missing St. Paul woman. Or the middle-aged father sickened by the case because he has a daughter Trevino’s age.
Slogging through thick snow, they used whatever they could bring — garden hoes, walking sticks, shovels, even an ice scraper and hockey sticks — fanning out across the lake to scrape away snow, comb through brush or chip at ice in search of any clues.
“She was young; she had a lot of life to live,” said Kristi Jarvis, 31, of Apple Valley. “She’s got to be out there somewhere. Some kind of closure for the family, that’s what’s important.”
Both the morning search and an afternoon one at nearby Beaver Lake turned up nothing. But even everyday objects that were uncovered sometimes looked suspicious, prompting 65-year-old Larry Darst of St. Paul to call police when he found a torn-apart garbage bag under a cover of broken trees.
“You never know,” he said.
For Trevino’s family, most who live in Wisconsin but some who also have come from as far as Louisiana and Texas, the support of so many people is comforting.
“It gives us strength, because so many people are here today to help Kira; nothing is too big or too small to help someone else and everyone here is doing just that,” Keri Anne Steger said. “[But] it doesn’t take away the pain. We need to find Kira.”
Awaiting new details
St. Paul police divers searched the lake on Tuesday after cadaver dogs indicated the scent of a body in the water, but nothing was found, according to an amended criminal complaint filed Friday against Jeffery Trevino in Ramsey County District Court.
On Saturday, police spokesman Howie Padilla said no weekend law enforcement searches were planned, but “as our resources become available and our partners’ resources become available and new information warrants it, we’ll continue our investigation,” he said.
Kira Trevino was last seen Feb. 21 leaving the Mall of America with her husband. Three days later, Jeffery Trevino called police to report she had been missing, as did her mother, who told police that the couple had marriage problems and she feared for Kira’s safety.
On Jay Steger’s birthday, Feb. 24, he got the call that his daughter was missing. He drove from his Marshfield, Wis., home hoping to find Kira just hiding out at a friend’s house.
But when law enforcement found her car in the Mall of America parking ramp with a bloody trunk liner discarded nearby, “that’s when I knew something was seriously ... wrong.”
“Copious” amounts of blood were later found in the couple’s home. Jeffery Trevino, 39, remains in the Ramsey County jail, charged with two counts of second-degree murder.
Much of this weekend’s search was focused along the southwest side of Keller Lake.
That’s where a witness told police that, in the early morning hours of Feb. 22, she was driving on Hwy. 61 and saw two men on the frozen lake, struggling to carry something that appeared to be the size of a person but wrapped in something.
On Sunday, searchers will be out again at 10 a.m. on Keller Lake and 2 p.m. on Round Lake nearby.
The weekend’s fifth search will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday at Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Bloomington.
Jay Steger vows he’ll be there and wherever else until he finds his daughter, his grief magnified by the urgency he feels to find her body both for closure and justice.
“I feel we’re getting closer,” he said. “And I’d like to get closer yet. We need to get her home.”
Staff writers Nicole Norfleet and Brandon Stahl contributed to this report. Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141