Tempe police: Tips coming in after ASU student’s dragging death - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Tempe police: Tips coming in after ASU student’s dragging death

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Posted: Thursday, May 27, 2010 4:37 pm | Updated: 9:36 pm, Fri Dec 3, 2010.

Tempe police not only are looking for the man who stole Arizona State University student Kyleigh Ann Sousa's purse.

They now are looking for the man who her family says stole her life.

Sousa, 21, a pre-law student at ASU, was robbed and dragged by a car about 2 a.m. Wednesday in Tempe. She was pronounced dead from blunt force trauma to the head late Wednesday at a local hospital, according to the Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office. But Sousa's body was placed on life support until her older brother could fly into Arizona to see her on Thursday. She was taken off the life support machines that day.

Sousa's family is pleading for anyone with information about her death, which is being investigated as a homicide, to come forward.

Police and witnesses said Sousa was approached Wednesday by a heavyset Hispanic man in a newer model silver Chrysler 300 or possibly a silver Dodge Charger. They said he grabbed the young woman's purse before driving away in the 200 block of East Apache Boulevard in Tempe. The crime happened across the street from the Twin Palms Hotel and an International House of Pancakes restaurant.

Tempe police said Friday that a number of tips are coming in that will be followed up on and police have alerted students on campus to be more alert of anyone in a car who may try to approach them as they are walking on campus in the event the crime may not be an isolated incident.

Counseling services for those who knew Sousa also are available through Arizona State University's Counseling Center; they should contact the center through the university's online directory at www.asu.edu, said Sharon Keeler, spokeswoman for the ASU Police Department.

During an emotional press conference in Tempe on Thursday, Sousa's mother, stepfather and grandfather described her as a "happy-go-lucky" girl who was full of life and energy and could make anyone smile at any time. Sousa also was described by her family as a generous person, and they are donating her organs so that others may live.

"All (the hospital) could do was to keep her alive until I got here," said Sousa's mother, Karen Montenegro, who flew to Arizona from Point Pleasant, N.J. "When I saw her at the hospital, I could not recognize my own child. Her injuries were so severe, there was nothing they could do. Whoever did this, if you hear this, please turn yourself in. Do right by me, and I'll try to forgive you. We would like justice for this crime. She didn't deserve to die like this."

Sousa's stepfather, Nick Montenegro said, "That picture of Kyleigh that you all see of her - that Kyleigh does not exist. She's all black and blue - covered from head to toe (in bruises). You would not be able to recognize her as your child."

At this time, authorities do not believe the car ran over Sousa, but that she somehow became entangled with her purse as she was trying to hold onto it after the man she was talking to in the car grabbed it and sped away. Police also believe that other people were inside the car with the man who stole her purse and possibly are protecting the person responsible for the crime. Authorities do not believe that Sousa knew the man in the car who approached her and one of her friends.

This was not the first time Sousa was involved in a hit-and-run crime where she suffered serious injuries, her mother said.

"When she was a junior in high school, she was hit on a motorcycle and thrown 40 feet," Montenegro said. "The person who did that, didn't even stop to help her. But, when she made it through her injuries, I thought she made it. When this happened, I thought, here we go again."

Sousa has two brothers, one who is attending West Virginia University and one who will graduate from high school next week and also attend West Virginia University. The brothers tried to talk Kyleigh into going to school with them, but she was "an Arizona State girl," after she transferred from Hawaii Pacific University, her mother said.

"She loved it here," Montenegro said.

Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman pleaded with the public to "think about this. Check your memory. If you know people who may have been involved in this, please step forward."

Just moments before the crime, Sousa was hanging out with friends on a night off from work at the Tavern on Mill where she has been a server for the last four months, according to Nick Kelly, manager for the Tavern on Mill. The restaurant is accepting donations and hosting fundraisers for the Sousa family.

"No one ever saw her in a bad mood," Kelly said of Sousa. "I can't think of any employee who was with us for such a short time that had such a positive impact on our staff."

Anyone with information is asked to call Tempe police at (480) 350-8311 or Silent Witness at (480) 948-6377.

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