Parents of dead SoCal teen urge new predator laws

Liz De La Torre

From The Associated Press

ESCONDIDO, Calif. – The father of a 14-year-old girl whose bones were found more than a year after she vanished walking to school urged supporters to behave like his late daughter’s favorite animal, the wolf, to hunt down child predators.

“Wolves hunt to survive, wolves hunt to together to catch their prey,” Maurice Dubois told more than 1,000 mourners at a candlelight vigil Monday night for Amber Dubois. “We as parents and the community need to make a change for the protection of our children.”

Mourners held a moment of silence for Amber, whose remains were found early Saturday in a rugged area north of San Diego, and 17-year-old Chelsea King, who disappeared Feb. 25 in a north San Diego park. A body presumed to be Chelsea’s was found March 2 in a shallow, lakeside grave.

John Albert Gardner III pleaded not guilty last week to murdering and raping or attempting to rape 17-year-old Chelsea King of Poway and attempting to rape another woman in December in the same park where King disappeared.

His public defender, Michael Popkins, did not respond to a phone message.

The registered sex offender was expected in court Tuesday for a brief hearing to address procedural issues.

Escondido police say Gardner, 30, is also a focus of their investigation into Amber’s death.

Carrie McGonigle, Amber’s mother, said laws need to be changed.

“I still see a lot of children walking by themselves and it scares me,” she said on a chilly night in the courtyard of Escondido High School, near the spot where Amber disappeared Feb. 13, 2009, in the north San Diego suburb.

Police said Sunday that Amber’s remains were identified through dental records. They have not said what led them to the remote area near Pala because the discovery is part of a murder investigation.

“Yesterday was my personal time for tears,” Dubois told the audience. “Now, for Amber, it is our time to take action.”

Amber, a member of Future Farmers of America, left home with a $200 check to buy a lamb on the day she vanished. It was never cashed, fueling suspicion of foul play.

But, as Dubois noted in his remarks, rumors that she was a runaway hampered the family’s efforts to bring national media attention to their search. Gardner’s arrest three days after Chelsea King disappeared renewed interest in Amber.

Amber was an avid reader and animal lover who had a horse at her grandmother’s stable in the Los Angeles area.

Kelly Elsbernd, a cousin, said she and Amber grew up drawing animals together and pretending to be seals and otters when they went swimming.

“They never really played with dolls,” said Nicole Elsbernd, Kelly’s mother. “They played with bugs.”

Jade Fidel, Amber’s best friend, said Amber had two dogs, a cat and a bird but wolves were her favorite.

“She liked them,” Fidel said. “They were free, independent.”

Gardner was registered as a sex offender in Escondido from January 2008 to January 2010, with some gaps, according to police. He served five years of a six-year prison term for molesting a 13-year-old neighbor in San Diego in 2000 and completed parole in September 2008

Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher told the crowd he would do everything possible to find Amber’s killer.

“If not closure, we can certainly get justice,” he said.