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Search continues for S.D. teen after arrest

March 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Authorities are still searching for a missing teenager last seen in a park on Thursday. Police suspect a registered sex offender in her disappearance. The suspect is under arrest but is reportedly not cooperative. That suspect was arrested in Lake Elsinore, about 50 miles from Rancho Bernardo Park, northeast of San Diego, where Chelsea King vanished. A police command post has been set up in Rancho Bernardo.

There was still a massive search under way Monday afternoon, with search crews scouring 14 miles of Lake Hodges shoreline. It's been five days since Chelsea King was last seen. The arrested suspect faces murder charges.

The search continued Monday in Rancho Bernardo Park, near San Diego, with crews trolling the weeds on foot and a helicopter scouting the shoreline from above.

It was last Thursday when Chelsea King, 17, told her family she was headed to Rancho Bernardo Community Park to go jogging. She hasn't been seen or heard from since. Her car was found at the park, with her mobile phone and iPod inside.

Police say 30-year-old convicted sex offender John Albert Gardner lived at least part-time in Lake Elsinore with his grandmother.

"He seemed normal," said Lake Elsinore resident Linda Terrill. "They've been there forever. The family seemed nice."

Terrill would see Gardner from time to time. She was home Sunday afternoon when authorities busted into the home of Gardner's grandmother with a search warrant.

"About 4:30, 5 o'clock, about 20 of them rolled up and busted the door down and went in," said Terrill.

"This is one of his residences, this is his official residence listed, and he has a room here, so we're going to search it," said Riverside County Sheriff's Sergeant David Brown Sunday night.

Police won't say what evidence connects Gardner to the disappearance of King.

Gardner is a registered sex offender, convicted of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14.

There's also the question about whether Gardner might be involved in a couple other cases.

Another woman was assaulted in the same park in December. She got away from her attacker.

And more than a year ago, a 14-year-old girl disappeared on her way to high school, not far from Rancho Bernardo.

Monday morning, King's family said they still have hope. They pray everyone else does do.

"It is so heartwarming to see the effort that's being given, and it's what sustains me every single moment and it's a testament to who my daughter is, and who the community is, and thank you, please keep searching for her," said Brent King, Chelsea's father, on "Good Morning America."

Gardner has been in custody since Sunday. Sources say he is not talking and is not cooperating with authorities. His arraignment is set for Wednesday, March 3 in downtown San Diego. He faces charges of forcible rape and first-degree murder. A registered sex offender is in custody on Monday, and authorities are convinced they have the right man. Authorities said physical evidence led them to 30-year-old John Albert Gardner.

King disappeared while on a run in Rancho Bernardo Community Park last Thursday. Her car was found there, with her mobile phone and iPod inside.

About 1,400 volunteers and 100 law enforcement officers combed the park on Sunday, looking for clues as to where King might be.

Crews also searched for evidence in Lake Elsinore, one of the places where Gardner lived. Neighbors said they are not sure how much time he spent there, saying he was only there every few weeks to help out his grandmother, who lived there.

Police arrived at an Escondido restaurant on Sunday at about 4 p.m. with an arrest warrant and took Gardner into custody. Authorities aren't saying specifically why he was arrested, only saying it involved King's disappearance.

Authorities and family members are still hoping to find King alive.

"We're holding up because we want out daughter back home," said King's father on "Good Morning America." "Everything we're doing is focused on our daughter. We love her so much, and we just want her back."

Police are also looking into the possibility that Gardner might be involved with two other incidents: A female jogger was assaulted in the same park in December but was able to get away, and a 14-year-old who went missing about a year ago in the same area as she was walking to school.

Lake Elsinore neighbors said they did not know Gardner well and only saw him while helping out his grandmother in the yard. They were surprised to hear that he was a registered sex offender. According to the Megan's Law Web site, Gardner was convicted of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under 14.