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'The world has changed,' Poway official says as town mourns Chelsea King

March 3, 2010 | 11:01 am

The Poway City Council cut short its regular meeting Tuesday evening so that those present could attend a candlelight vigil for Chelsea King, whose body was believed to have been found in a shallow grave near the lakeside park where the teenager had gone running last week.

"Poway is a tiny town. We are 50,000 now. When things like that happen, it rocks the soul of the community," Councilmember Betty Rexford said Wednesday.

She said the community has been grappling for some time with the issues that come with urban growth.

"They call it a city in the country," Rexford said.

When she moved to Poway 40 years ago, there was only one traffic light, she said. Children could enjoy the lake and trails in relative safety. Now, she said, parents are wondering whether they should allow their children to go to the mall alone.

"The world has changed," said Rexford, who worries about her two teenage granddaughters. "It is kind of scary that as a society we have to be looking over our shoulders all the time."

But she said the community had rallied around King's family. Already a city with a strong volunteer tradition, she said thousands helped search for the 17-year-old Poway High School senior.

"It does your heart good that you have a community that, when something happens to their own, they come together," she said. "It was just an outpouring of love and support."

Authorities have linked the suspect in the case, John Albert Gardner III, a 30-year-old registered sex offender, to an attack in December on another young female jogger in the same park.

"I think right now people are numb," Rexford said. "They don't know what to do. But everyone is angry."

-- Alexandra Zavis

Photos: (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times / March 2, 2010) Top: An estimated 4,000 people gathered at St. Michael's Church in Poway on Tuesday for a vigil for Chelsea King. Brent King and his wife, Kelly, and their son thank a gathering of about 4,000 people at St. Michael's Church for their help and prayers.