Sheriff: Registered sex offender arrested in disappearance of San Diego County teenager

By Elliot Spagat, AP
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Arrest made in case of missing California girl

SAN DIEGO — A registered sex offender was arrested Sunday in the disappearance of a suburban San Diego teenager as some 1,400 volunteers spent the weekend searching a park and surrounding area where she disappeared three days ago, authorities said.

The arrest came after about 120 law enforcement officers and the volunteers had searched Rancho Bernardo Community Park in San Diego for 17-year-old Chelsea King.

Investigators found evidence that led to the arrest of 30-year-old John Albert Gardner of Riverside County, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore told the Associated Press in an interview.

Gore said investigators, who combed the area around Lake Hodges in the park where King’s car was found, discovered physical evidence linking Gardner to the case. Gore would not elaborate on the nature of the evidence. He said authorities were holding out hope for her return.

Gardner was taken into custody at a restaurant in Escondido shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday and was questioned Sunday night.

“This investigation is ongoing and specific criminal charges are still being determined,” Gore said at a news conference Sunday.

Investigators also suspect Gardner could be tied to a Dec. 27 assault on a female jogger from Colorado Springs, Colo. in the park, a popular regional recreation area full of running trails, Gore said.

Gardner’s residence in Lake Elsinore 75 miles north of San Diego was searched Sunday, Gore said.

He had to register as a sex offender because of a conviction for lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14, the Megan’s Law Web site said.

It was not immediately clear whether Gardner has hired an attorney.

King’s parents continued pleas for her return and said the arrest offered them no relief.

“Nothing will change for us until our beautiful daughter, Chelsea King, comes home,” Brent and Kelly King said in a statment released through a family spokeswoman Sunday night. “We will continue searching for her, and we ask that all of you do the same until she’s back with us.”

Gore said the search for King and for further evidence would continue throught the night and expand beyond the park.

“There are several searches going on around the county,” Gore said. “We are going to refocus some of our search efforts.”

The volunteers also handed out flyers during the weekend effort.

“It’s a reflection of who she is and what kind of person she is,” Brent King said of the numbers showing up to help. “She’s that kind of kid that everybody loves, and it shows.”

Chelsea King’s BMW was found in the park after she failed to return to her home in suburban Poway, Calif. on Thursday, sheriff’s spokeswoman Jan Caldwell said.

Investigators also looked for clues on the teen’s cell phone, which was found in her car, and on her home computer.

The search for Chelsea King, a straight-A senior at Poway High School, also took to the Internet, where a Facebook page generated more than 24,000 fans. A Web site was created at

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