Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Chelsea King's father believes missing teen is still alive

March 2, 2010 |  7:46 am

Possible evidence

The father of a San Diego teen missing since last week said this morning that he believes she is still alive despite the arrest of a sex offender in connection with her disappearance.

Chelsea King, 17, a high school senior, went for a jog Thursday on the hilly trails around Lake Hodges in northern San Diego County and has not been seen since.

"Until I hear differently, I believe she's alive," father Brent King told CBS News Tuesday morning.

The King family, along with hundreds of law enforcement authorities and volunteers, plan to continue their search today for the blond, blue-eyed girl. But their hopes of finding her alive dimmed after police arrested a registered sex offender Sunday evening outside a Mexican restaurant near the popular recreational area.

The suspect, John Albert Gardner III, 30, was arrested on suspicion of murder and rape after investigators found several pieces of unspecified evidence. Gardner, 6 feet 2 and weighing 230 pounds, pleaded guilty in 2000 to molestation charges involving a 13-year-old girl.

A psychiatrist at the time recommended that Gardner be given the maximum sentence, which was at least 10 years in prison. San Diego County prosecutors recommended a six-year term. "It is my opinion that [the defendant would be a continued danger to underage [girls] in the community," said the psychiatrist in the court documents.

Authorities were not sure Monday how much time Gardner actually served in prison. According to the Megan's Law website, he lives in Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, but was visiting his mother in San Diego County last week. At the time of his arrest, Gardner's pants were damp, authorities said.

It was not clear Monday if Gardner was providing any information regarding Chelsea's whereabouts. Authorities were focused on the 14 miles of shoreline of the shallow lake, where FBI dive teams on rafts scoured the murky water. Hundreds more volunteers searched the desolate trails winding around the lake.

"It's rugged terrain: sloughs, rocks, vegetation, hills. It's not easy, but it's not deterring them," said Jan Caldwell, a spokesman for the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

Friends and relatives described Chelsea as an outgoing overachiever with a passion for literature who had been accepted to several colleges. She played French horn for the San Diego Youth Symphony and tutored other students.

Her parents, who live in a gated community, didn't like her to jog alone. It was one of the few rules they had to set for their daughter. "They wanted her to study less and have more fun," Mikkelson said.

--Richard Marosi in San Diego

Photo: Volunteers examine a backpack discovered near Lake Hodges. Friends and relatives described Chelsea as an outgoing overachiever with a passion for literature who had been accepted to several colleges. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times