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Friends remember Amber Dubois as police seek possible link to Chelsea King murder suspect

March 8, 2010 |  7:38 am

A candlelight service is scheduled Monday night for a missing girl whose remains were found over the weekend in San Diego County, and authorities were looking for possible links between that case and a man charged in the slaying of 17-year-old Chelsea King.

Amber-dubois-lead Amber Dubois, who disappeared last year on her way to school, was identified through dental records after police found her remains Saturday in rugged terrain near Pala. Police had refocused attention on the Dubois case after a registered sex offender was arrested last week in connection with the suspected murder of Chelsea King, a high school senior from nearby Poway.

The suspect, John Albert Gardner III, lived a couple of miles from where Dubois vanished near Escondido High School. Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher did not disclose whether Gardner, who is being held without bail, is linked to the case. He said an unspecified lead led investigators to the remains.

Bill Garcia, a private investigator hired by the Dubois family, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the tip leading authorities to Dubois' body did not come from Gardner. 

Dubois was last seen walking to school at about 7:10 a.m. Feb. 13, 2009, carrying a $200 check to purchase a lamb for her 4-H Club project. The girl's family worked relentlessly to keep the investigation alive. They hired private investigators, raised thousands of dollars to distribute fliers, organized a walk-a-thon and put up a website, bringamberhome.com.

Police spent thousands of hours chasing leads, and Dubois' face appeared on the cover of People magazine. Last summer, the family hired search dogs that traced her scent to the Pala library, but no witnesses were found, according to local media reports. FBI bloodhounds later found no trace of her there.

No other solid leads emerged until Gardner's arrest. He is accused of murdering Chelsea King, who went missing during a jog at Lake Hodges on Feb. 25. Authorities discovered a shallow grave a few days later that was believed to contain the 17-year-old's body. Authorities have not made a positive identification, but said there's a strong likelihood that the remains are King's.

Dubois' father, Maurice, helped in the search for King and was told by police that Gardner was being investigated in connection with his daughter's case.

Maurice Dubois, 40, of Buena Vista expressed mixed feelings at the time, wanting closure but hoping that a "monster" like Gardner wasn't linked to his daughter's case. "I'm living a nightmare. I keep trying to wake up out of it, but it's not happening," he said last week.

On Sunday, he told reporters he was grateful for the work of investigators: “They are the most dedicated people we could have imagined. That’s all we wanted to say.”

Amber Dubois, a freckled, blue-eyed girl, was described by family and friends as a bookish, sheltered teenager who loved animals. "Amber is a smart and beautiful young lady; she gets good grades, is not into boys, makeup, MySpace or anything like that. Amber is content as long as she has a good book to read," her mother, Carrie McGonigle, wrote on the website.

Gardner's arrest has angered some residents and victims-rights advocates who say laws designed to protect communities from sex offenders have largely failed.

Gardner in 2000 pleaded guilty to molesting and assaulting a 13-year-old girl. Though a psychiatrist recommended that he be given a maximum term of at least 10 years, prosecutors recommended a six-year sentence.

He served five years of the sentence and wore a global positioning system device until his parole ended in 2008. As required by Megan's Law, he registered his residence. He lived in Escondido before moving to Lake Elsinore last year, but authorities said he spent time on weekends at his mother's home in Rancho Bernardo, near Lake Hodges.

Gardner's preliminary hearing is scheduled for next week.

The candlelight vigil is scheduled for Escondido High School on Monday night.

-- Richard Marosi in San Diego, Julie Cart in Los Angeles

Upper photo: Sobbing, Jade Fidel, 5, right, turns away from a memorial to her friend Amber Dubois and hugs her father, Jeff Fidel. The family brought flowers, balloons and a candle to a sidewalk memorial in front of Escondido High School.  Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: Amber Dubois. Credit: Associated Press