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2,000 gather to honor Chelsea King's memory

March 2, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
After the reported discovery of her body Tuesday, more than 2,000 people gathered to honor Chelsea King's memory at a somber vigil."One of the nicknames I always called my daughter was, 'my angel,'" said Brent King, Chelsea's father. "She'll always be my angel."

With silent reverence for the moment, a seemingly never-ending stream of people filed by, each holding a candle, each with special thoughts about 17-year-old Chelsea King.

There were hugs and tears, especially from close friends, but even for people who didn't know her, this was the end they did not want to see.

"It's very upsetting that something like this could happen," said Poway resident Lea Wilson.

"We're here to remember a person that's part of our community and somebody that was going to have a bright future that was so brutally taken away from them for no reason," said Laura Vonnyssen, another Poway resident.

Like most people at the vigil, Vonnyssen was not a close friend of King's.

In fact, she competed against her at a track meet.

"She's someone who touched everybody's lives, even if they didn't know her," said Vonnyssen.

When asked how she wanted to remember her friend Chelsea, Melanie Van Bebber said, "The way she was and not how, not the story that happened to her, so her personality not her story."

It's a story that the entire nation has followed the past several days, right up to its heart wrenching end.

In a Tuesday afternoon news conference, San Diego County Sheriff William Gore says authorities believe the body found on a bank of Lake Hodges is missing teenager Chelsea King.

Gore described the location of the body as a "shallow grave," saying the body was covered by debris.

The body was discovered in a heavily wooded area not observable from hillside homes or from the park, about a half-mile from where Chelsea King's car was parked.

According to Gore, a searcher in the water of Lake Hodges spotted a shallow grave on the bank of the lake shortly after 1 p.m. A body was covered with debris. A shoe was discovered about 10 to 15 feet from the body.

Positive identification was not expected until Tuesday night or Wednesday morning at the earliest. Gore said King's parents were informed of the discovery.

An active search was ongoing in Rancho Bernardo Park on Tuesday. Even though King has been missing since Thursday, crews are not giving up. About 60 law enforcement officers were joined on Monday by 37 search-and-rescue volunteers.

A San Diego-area television station reported early Tuesday afternoon that a body was spotted near Lake Hodges in Rancho Bernardo.

"We're using every possible resource at our fingertips to try to find Chelsea," said Jan Caldwell of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Crews were scouring Rancho Bernardo Community Park and 14 miles of Lake Hodges shoreline. Dive teams were in the water again and a helicopter searched from above.

King told her family she was headed to Rancho Bernardo 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.

Investigators said 30-year-old John Albert Gardner, arrested in her disappearance, is not cooperating. Gardner is being held in solitary confinement.

Authorities have not said what evidence they have against Gardner at this time. He is booked on rape and murder charges and will be arraigned on Wednesday afternoon in downtown San Diego.

Police say Gardner lived at least part-time in Lake Elsinore with his grandmother. He is a registered sex offender, convicted of molesting a 13-year-old 10 years ago. Gardner apparently got a much lighter sentence because prosecutors rejected a psychiatrist's advice to seek a stiffer punishment, so he only got five years.

San Diego Police Capt. Jim Collins said Tuesday that Gardner is believed to have assaulted a 22-year-old Colorado woman on a run at Rancho Bernardo Community Park in December.

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

The Associated Press contributed to the report.