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At murder trial, Mandy Steingasser's mother recounts worst nightmare

On the witness stand Friday, Mandy Steingasser's mother recounted the horror of reporting her only child missing and learning she had been murdered.

"That's my baby," Loraine Steingasser said, her voice choking, as she looked at a photo of her 17-year-old daughter, taken about a month before her death in 1993.

The mother remained composed when Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek showed her a ring that was on Mandy Steingasser's finger when her body was found.

"It's a ring that belonged to me when I was young," Loraine Steingasser said. "Mandy wore it all the time. She said it was her lucky ring."

Her testimony came on the second day of Joseph H. Belstadt's murder trial in Lockport. He's charged with strangling the teenager.

Mandy Steingasser was last seen alive in the early hours of Sept. 19, 1993, in North Tonawanda. Her body was found Oct. 25, 1993, in Bond Lake Park, Lewiston.

Belstadt was charged in April 2018, after a DNA test confirmed two hairs found in his car in 1993 came from Mandy Steingasser's body.

Loraine Steingasser said Mandy and her close friend, Stacie Blazynski, went out with Blazynski's boyfriend, Brian Frank, and Frank's friend, Wayne Mielcarek, on the night of Sept. 18, 1993. But she wasn't sure what their plans were.

"We went to get alcohol," said Blazynski, who followed Loraine Steingasser to the witness stand.

They got a bottle of Southern Comfort at one store.

After that, the four went to a house party in Buffalo's Riverside neighborhood. "We drank and smoked marijuana," Blazynski said.

After the girls were barred from a Buffalo bar for being underage, the group drove to Mielcarek's apartment on Ironton Street in North Tonawanda.

Blazynski said the four decided to walk to a party on 1st Avenue, but they hadn't gone far when two men jumped from a passing car and confronted Frank and Mielcarek on Ironton Street.

A fight ensued, and Steingasser and Blazynski ran away. When the attackers left and sirens were heard, Frank yelled for the young women to come back.

Blazynski did, but Steingasser kept walking toward 1st Avenue.

"She said she didn't want the police to drive us home, because we were going to sneak into her house," Blazynski said. "I was upset with her. ... I thought she went home without me."

Loraine Steingasser said she had instructed her daughter and Blazynski, who was to sleep over at the Steingasser home that night, to be home by midnight.

Mandy was under orders to always call home about her plans and to wake her mother when she came home.

But about 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 19, Loraine Steingasser was awakened by a phone call from Blazynski. The mother said she heard a male voice in the background saying, "Ask if Mandy's home."

"I knew she wasn't home because she didn't wake me up. I didn't even look," Loraine Steingasser said. "I was mad, pretty mad at first."

After a sleepless night, she started calling her daughter's friends, but none of them knew her whereabouts.

One of the friends was the daughter of a North Tonawanda police officer, Glenn Gardner, who sent Patrolman Nathan Achtziger to begin taking a missing persons report.

Loraine Steingasser also called the FBI.

"North Tonawanda police said she ran away, but I knew she didn't run away because she would have called," Loraine Steingasser testified. "I was the mother, and I knew she didn't run away."

There was one other time Mandy Steingasser missed her curfew, and that was on an earlier date with her boyfriend, she said. The defense has questioned whether he might have played a role in the young woman's death.

Loraine Steingasser said she didn't tell the FBI about the boyfriend "because I knew he left town."

The prosecution said in pretrial sessions that the boyfriend left North Tonawanda on Sept. 17, 1993, the day before Mandy Steingasser's fatal night out.

Loraine Steingasser said she didn't know the boyfriend well, except from hearing Mandy and her friends talk about him.

"He was good to her," Loraine Steingasser said.

When co-defense attorney Dominic H. Saraceno asked about Mandy's relationship with the boyfriend, Wojtaszek objected.

"The relevance is that when she started hanging out with (him), she started getting in trouble at school," Saraceno said.

But after another objection, Judge Sara Sheldon said, "We're not going to have this conversation."

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