Search for Chelsea King continues



City News Service

A registered sex offender was behind bars Monday on suspicion of murder and rape in connection with the disappearance last week of a Poway High School senior who remains the subject of exhaustive search efforts.

The last known sighting of 17-year-old Chelsea King was late Thursday afternoon, when she went for a run in Rancho Bernardo Community Park, near Lake Hodges.

Since then, hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement personnel have been searching for Chelsea, a straight-A student and member of the San Diego Youth Symphony. Numerous agencies have pitched in, scouring the area by foot, air and boat.

On Sunday, John Albert Gardner III of Lake Elsinore was taken into custody outside a south Escondido restaurant-bar where he had just had a meal, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said.

Physical evidence led authorities to Gardner, 30, who was questioned by homicide detectives, Gore said. Authorities have declined to describe the clues, but Chelsea’s mother told news stations this morning that her daughter’s underwear was found near where she went missing.

Despite the murder charge facing Gardner, the sheriff told “Good Morning America” that law enforcement personnel and volunteers would continue to look for Chelsea in hopes of finding her alive.

Hundreds of volunteers showed up this morning at a search center behind a Citibank off Bernardo Center Drive, eager to help in the efforts to locate the teen. Law enforcement officials gathered them into groups and assigned them various locales to comb.

The “aggressive ongoing search” will continue for “the foreseeable future,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Jan Caldwell told reporters during a late-afternoon briefing near the lake.

The teams were contending with dense brush, heavy reeds, large rocks and snakes, according to Caldwell.

“They’re going slowly for safety but also slowly to make sure they cover every square inch,” she said.

Gloria Kendall, 55, of Escondido was part of a team of about 20 people who searched an undeveloped area off Espola Road in Poway. They looked through heavy foliage and around ponds, Kendall said.

“They tagged a shirt and some bones,” she added.

Carlos Lindsey, a 53-year-old San Diegan, has helped search swamps, orchards and hillsides over the last three days. He called the turnout “unbelievable for a Monday.”

Dive teams, meanwhile, waded and swam through the shallows of Lake Hodges. An FBI dive team from Los Angeles used sonar to look for evidence.

“We’re hoping with this technology it will make finding Chelsea faster,” the sheriff’s spokeswoman said.

The man suspected of being responsible for the girl’s disappearance was convicted 10 years ago of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old neighbor girl,according to court records.

Prior to arresting Gardner over the weekend, investigators searched his Riverside County home and other addresses, including a townhouse on Matinal Road near West Bernardo Drive, where Gardner has recently stayed with his parents. The residence is about a mile from the park where Chelsea went missing.

Detectives are “leaving the door open” to the possibility that additional suspects might be identified in the case, Caldwell said.

Gore said earlier there was “a strong possibility” that Gardner, who is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon, also carried out a Dec. 27 attack on a female jogger in the same general area where Chelsea vanished.

In addition, authorities said they are investigating whether he was involved in the disappearance of Escondido High freshman Amber Dubois, who went missing while walking to school in February 2009. The girl, who was 14 at the time, remains at large.

Chelsea’s parents, Brent and Kelly King, reported her missing after she failed to return from her after-school run. Brent King located her car in the parking lot at the park.

Investigators looked for clues on Chelsea’s cell phone, which was found in her BMW sedan, and her home computer. Officials have declined to disclose whether the devices contained any valuable evidence.