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Old Time Crime: Murder of girl walking to school disturbs Valley in 2001

Posted: 2:00 PM, May 20, 2018
Updated: 2018-05-20 21:31:29Z

The murder of a young girl walking to elementary school disturbed Valley residents in 2001. 

It was May 23, 2001, when 8-year-old Elizabeth Byrd walked to school from her home near 37th and Southern Avenues. 

She never made it to school that day. 

He strangled the girl with her own backpack straps

A family friend, Steven Ray Newell, joined her and began walking with her. 

Newell got Byrd to take a shortcut through a field, where he strangled the girl, with her own backpack straps. He later wrapped the girl in a carpet and threw it into a nearby water-filled drainage ditch. 

A Salt River Project employee saw Newell near the ditch before he ran away. The worker also saw a green carpet in the water. 

Family members became concerned when the girl did not return home from school. They soon realized she never made it to school that day. 

Parents of school-aged children walked their children to school, never letting them out of their sight

In the days that followed, parents of school-aged children walked their children to school, never letting them out of their sight, until Newell's arrest, nearly two weeks later. 

Family members described Byrd as someone who wanted to help others saying, "She took meals to homeless people."

Searchers located her backpack, shoes and a children's book in the field near the school. A Sheriff's detective found Byrd, still wearing her school uniform, in a rolled-up carpet, in the irrigation ditch. 

Investigators would later say the backpack strap was still tied around her neck. 

Newell was questioned four days later and denied seeing her that day and was released. 

However, they soon met with him again after seeing him at the girl's funeral, wearing shoes that matched footprints seen at the crime scene. 

Investigators matched his shoes to the shoeprints found near the attack

Investigators matched his shoes to the shoeprints found near the attack. 

Newell would later be positively identified by the SRP worker and confessed to the crime. 

After an 11-day trial, Newell was convicted of murder and later sentenced to death. He is currently on death row.