Missing teenager highlights sexual predators – law enforcement concerns
It was a balmy afternoon when teenager Chelsea King went for a run in Rancho Bernardo Community Park in San Diego – Thursday of last week. After four days of extensive searching the region where King’s family located her car and her parents are still no closer to bringing their High School honor student home.
The story is sad. Friends and family giving heartfelt pleas for the safe return of Chelsea, reporters clamoring for more details about evidence collected and frustrated search and rescue workers still coming up empty handed and officials are still no closer to finding the 17-year-old- girl..
The reality of this story starts with another sexual predator, John Albert Gardner III, 30, a registered sex offender who was supposed to be living in Lake Elsinore, however, he was arrested Sunday at Hernandez Hide-a-Way restaurant and is being held on suspicion of rape and murder.
Late-breaking news ties Gardner to another attack in the same park that took place on December 27, 2009. The victim was a female jogger who successfully fought off Gardner and ran for help at nearby homes.
Sheriff spokesperson Jan Caldwell, was reluctant to give any details on the connection of the two separate crimes at an afternoon press conference. “Our job now is to find Chelsea and bring her home.”
After authorities garnered a positive identification of Gardner for the December sexual assault case, the hopes of finding the teenager alive dwindled with each passing hour.
Concerned residents lined the park closely watching the helicopters, divers and search and rescue team pick through the weeds and brush looking for any clues that could lead to Chelsea’s whereabouts.
From the south end of the park neighbors watched FBI agents photograph a rocky embankment near the Community Park’s waterfall for more than four hours. The secluded cove below the waterfall was scoured by police watercraft. The Sheriff’s Department still believes the victim may have been dumped in Lake Hodges.
Most disturbing to residents is the fact Gardner, a registered sex offender was living with his mother who lives less than a mile from the crime scene. Gardner was also a frequent customer at the corner Circle K, the store clerk said. “He seemed normal.”
There was no reassurance from area residents that a registered sex offender was arrested for the alleged rape and murder. “We can never be safe in the park again, the police can’t protect us,” Martha Gerber said.
In 2000 Gardner was convicted of sexually molesting a 13-year-old neighbor. He went to prison for five years and successfully completed his parole in 2008. There have been numerous reports that once Gardner returned to the community he may have resumed his unlawful sexual advances on many different women.
Connecting the dots with Chelsea’s disappearance may answer some lingering questions regarding another 14-year-old Escondido girl who disappeared from home.
It’s been just over a year since the other teenager; Amber Dubois vanished on her way to school. According to Escondido Police Lt. Bob Benton, they have seen similarities between the victims, Chelsea and Amber.
Authorities have their work cut out for them if Chelsea or Amber are never found. For now the hundreds of investigators and family members remain hopeful that the girls will return home safe some day.
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