‘I didn’t know evil could be so young,’ father says of Utah teen who killed his 12-year-old daughter

(Scott G Winterton | Pool Photo) Jayden Sterzer is led into court for his hearing before 3rd District Judge Paul Parker on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 in Salt Lake City. Sterzer pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and murder of Kailey Vijil in 2015.

When Orlando Vijil reached the podium in the courtroom during a final juvenile court hearing for his young daughter’s killer, he clung to the wooden stand and hung his head.

He took a deep breath. Then another.

He then spoke of his 12-year-old daughter, Kailey. He spoke first of how beautiful she was. Then of her truthfulness and bravery, how she helped others and was kind to animals. She gave the best hugs, he said, the kind of hugs that lifted his spirits when he felt down.

And now she’s gone.

“I don’t think this pain will ever go away,” the father said. “I miss her so much.”

Jayden Sterzer, who was 15 years old at the time of Kailey’s July 2015 death, admitted in December to sexually assaulting and killing the girl.

Kailey’s family was able to speak about their loss in court for the first time on Friday.

Afterward, 3rd District Juvenile Judge James Michie ordered Sterzer to time at a secure juvenile facility.

Sterzer admitted to a charge of rape of a child in juvenile court, and pleaded guilty to murder and sexual abuse of a child in adult court. This “blended” plea will allow Sterzer, who is now 18, to remain in the juvenile facility for the next three years before going to the adult prison at age 21.

Kailey’s father said Friday that more than two years after his daughter’s death, he is still angry. He called Sterzer “a monster,” who should be punished as an adult for what he did.

“I didn’t know evil could be so young,” he said. “It came knocking on my door that night.”

Sterzer admitted that on July 16, 2015, he knocked on the Vijil’s door and asked the 12-year-old girl to help him find a lost cat. He brought Kailey to an overgrown pasture about a half-mile from her family’s West Valley City home. There, he sexually assaulted the girl, then strangled her with his tank top.

(Courtesy of the Vijil family) Kailey Vijil

Sterzer said little during Friday’s court hearing; his only statements came from an apology letter read aloud by his attorney. In the letter, Sterzer wrote that he now wanted to dedicate his life to Kailey by “doing good and helping people.”

“I am sorry for what happened,” he wrote. “I wish I could go back in time and make it so it never happened.”

Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Coral Sanchez-Rose said Friday that Sterzer’s crimes have not only devastated Kailey’s family, they also have been devastating to their neighborhood and the community.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare, she said, to have someone dangerous knock on their door and lure their child from their home.

For Kailey’s mother, De Shaun Undergust, it was that moment in 2015 that changed their lives for the worst. It’s been difficult, she said, to lose a child because of somebody else’s actions.

“I just really can’t believe this is my life now,” she said Friday in court. “For the rest of my life, I’m going to go on living with her.”

Sterzer’s attorneys have said that their client suffers from significant cognitive issues based on fetal alcohol exposure.

He was initially found incompetent, and the case was unable to proceed. But Michie ruled in November that Sterzer had become competent after receiving education and services from the states’ Department of Human Services.

Before ordering Sterzer to secure care on Friday, Michie told the teenager that while he has faced many challenges in his life — many which were not his choice — it did not excuse his behavior.

“What you did to Kailey shocks the conscience,” the judge said, “and it shocks it to the core.”

The judge also told Kailey’s family that he hopes the outcome of the case brings them “some level of comfort.”

The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify juvenile defendants unless they are certified to stand trial in adult court, as Sterzer has been.