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Pleasanton classmate arrested in '84 fatal stabbing

San Francisoc Chronical, S F Gate,

BYLINE: Henry K. Lee, Matthai Kuruvila,Demian Bulwa, Chronicle Staff Writers
Link to Article

Pleasanton, CA

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Law enforcement personnel stand behind a photo of Tina Faelz, who was 14 years old when murdered, during a press conference at the Pleasanton Police Department on Monday, Aug. 8, 2011, in Pleasanton, Calif. Police announced Monday they have arrested a suspect in the 1984 stabbing case using DNA evidence. Photo: Noah Berger / Special to The Chronicle

PLEASANTON -- Tina Faelz was 14 when she was stabbed numerous times and left to die in a drainage culvert that she and other kids used to cross under the freeway while walking home from their Pleasanton high school. The 1984 crime shocked the quiet bedroom community and frustrated the police who couldn't solve it.

As the years passed, memories faded, but technology improved. And on Monday, authorities said a DNA match had pinpointed a suspect who had long been on investigators' radar - a 43-year-old parolee who at the time of the slaying was a troubled 16-year-old student at Foothill High School.

In announcing the arrest, Pleasanton Police Chief David Spiller declined to name the suspect because he was a minor in 1984. But Alameda County jail records show he is Steven John Carlson, who knew Faelz, lived near the shortcut under Interstate 680, and went on to become a registered sex offender.

Investigators do not believe Carlson sexually assaulted Faelz, but Spiller declined to discuss possible motives in the case. He said the killing "notably changed Pleasanton and rocked this community. The best way to discuss reaction to this murder was purely shock. The brutal murder of this 14-year-old freshman made the people of Pleasanton look at the world entirely different that day."

Carlson's arrest leaves authorities in the unusual position of marching a heavily tattooed man in his 40s into juvenile court. He is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday at the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro, though prosecutors said they would ask a judge to move him to adult court under laws in place in 1984.

Suspect not surprised

Spiller said Carlson didn't seem surprised when he was arrested at 8:15 a.m. Sunday upon his release from Santa Cruz County Jail, where he had been held on unrelated drug charges and a probation violation since December. Listed as a transient, he was previously arrested at least half a dozen times last year in that county for nonviolent offenses.

He is now being held without bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. Records show he has been in and out of jails and prisons since the late 1980s, soon after his days at Foothill High.

In Yolo County, Carlson was convicted for committing lewd acts with a child under 14, a 1989 offense that earned him the sex offender designation and three years in prison. In Sacramento County, he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in 2008 and sentenced to 120 days.

Pleasanton police said he was among the people that detectives interviewed shortly after Tina was found on April 5, 1984, in a drainage area off Lemonwood Way. She had lived on the east side of the freeway, while Carlson had lived on Lemonwood on the west side near the high school. The shortcut is now inaccessible.

In 1984, though, the technology for making DNA matches was virtually nonexistent. The break in the case came after 2007, when police submitted biological evidence to the FBI crime lab for re-examination.

Last year, authorities said, the lab matched the evidence to Carlson, prompting them to rebuild their entire case - a process that culminated Sunday morning.

Mother 'waited a long time'

Tina's mother, Shirley Orosco, 63, was notified of the arrest by the lead investigator, Detective Keith Batt, on Sunday. She declined to comment Monday, but her husband, Ron Orosco, told reporters that his wife "lost a child - that's forever."

He said, though, that the arrest had brought a measure of relief. "She has to know before she dies, or I die, who was responsible," he said.

Batt said, "I was really happy to get to meet with her yesterday, finally, and let her know that we made an arrest. I'm humbled to be able to do that. She deserves it. She waited a long time."

Former classmates of the victim and suspect - who both entered Foothill High in the fall of 1983 despite their age difference - said Monday that Carlson had been known as "Creepy Carlson" at school because of his demeanor and his thin, drawn appearance, which had changed radically from junior high school.

They recalled hearing immediate rumors around campus - which now has a plaque bearing Tina's name, and a tree planted in her honor - that Carlson had been involved in Faelz's stabbing.

"It's been on everybody's mind for a very long time, and we've always wondered what happened," said Michele Timm, who now lives in eastern Contra Costa County. "It was something that as a class we always talked about. And Steve's name was always in our minds. We always thought he was the one who did it."

She added, "27 years later, I don't remember any particular reason why."

Another classmate, who asked that his name be withheld, said, "Everyone pretty much thought he did it - it was just one of those things. I remember hearing kids say, 'You did it, Steve, you did it, Steve,' and he would laugh."

Leslie Davisson, 43, who used to cut through the same culvert, said the killing "rocked our teenage worlds. Here we were in this suburban bubble. My parents moved there because it was a nice, safe place to raise kids."

All day Monday, Davisson said, friends discussed the killing on Facebook.

"The fact that it was one of our classmates," she said, "who went to school and came back the next day as if nothing went down, sent shivers down my spine."

E-mail the writers at , and .

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Foothill High's campus has a tree and marker in remembrance of Tina Faelz, who died at age 14. Photo: Noah Berger / Special to The Chronicle

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Pleasanton Police Chief David Spiller, right, and Annie Saadi, Alameda County deputy district attorney, listen during a press conference about the 1984 of 14-year-old Tina Faelz on Monday, Aug. 8, 2011, in Pleasanton, Calif. Speaking is lead investigator Lt. Jim Knox. Photo: Noah Berger / Special to The Chronicle

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The home of Tina Faelz's family is pictured on Monday, Aug. 8, 2011, in Pleasanton, Calif. Police announced Monday they have arrested a former classmate suspected of killing the 14-year-old student in 1984. Photo: Noah Berger / Special to The Chronicle

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Law enforcement personnel stand behind a photo of Tina Faelz as Pleasanton Police Chief David Spiller (right) announces an arrest in her stabbing death. Photo: Noah Berger / Special to The Chronicle

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Steven John Carlson, who was 16 when his classmate was killed, lived near the scene of the slaying. Classmates said they had always suspected he was involved. Photo: California Megan's Law Website

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