Tuesday, March 9, 2010
For the second night in less than a week, hundreds of mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil to grieve the loss of a young San Diego County girl. This time it was for 14-year-old Amber Dubois.
Amber’s parents, Maurice "Moe" Dubois and Carrie McGonigle, addressed the crowd and urged them to turn their tears into action in the fight against sexual predators.
"Please take a minute for every tear you have ever shed for Amber, for Chelsea and for any other child that has suffered at the hands of these predators," pleaded Dubois, "and come back tomorrow and take just as many minutes of action in our fight to protect our children."
McGonigle said laws need to be changed.
"I still see a lot of children walking by themselves and it scares me," she said
Escondido High School Principal Rich Watkins reiterated that message when he asked the community to unite for the safety of kids so "this never happens again."
"As you stand here tonight, please understand that we stand united against violence in our community," he said. "We stand together to do everything we can to make sure that evil does not win and we put kids first. In doing so it will ensure that Amber Dubois is not forgotten."
Following the tributes, the large crowd held up candles for a moment of silence and then quietly sang "Amazing Grace."
Amber Dubois vanished walking to school on Feb. 13, 2009, about 10 miles from where Chelsea King was last seen in running clothes at a park. Amber's father noted their shared characteristics; both were 5-foot-5, thin, blue-eyed.
"We're hoping they're two separate isolated incidents," he said last week. "In the back of our minds, we know the possibility is so strong there is a connection."
Authorities found Amber's skeletal remains early Saturday in a remote, rugged area of Pala, a small town in the Pala Indian Reservation, which covers more than 12,000 acres in north San Diego County, said Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher. The county medical examiner's office confirmed the remains were Amber's through dental records, he said.
Police are investigating whether Amber's disappearance was linked to Chelsea King's accused killer, John Albert Gardner III. Maher said a tip led officials to Amber's remains, but he didn't give any other details or answer questions during a brief news conference Sunday.
"This is an ongoing murder investigation, and any details, no matter how slight, would be inappropriate to reveal at this point in time," he said.
Gardner, 30, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murdering Chelsea and raping or attempting to rape her, and attempting to rape another woman in December, a potential death penalty case.
A spokesman for the San Diego County district attorney's office, Paul Levikow, declined to comment Sunday on the investigation into Amber's death.
Gardner was registered as a sex offender in Escondido, a north San Diego suburb, from January 2008 to January 2010, with some gaps, police say.
He served five years of a six-year prison term for molesting a 13-year-old neighbor in San Diego in 2000. He saw her at a bus stop and lured her to his home to watch movies. He completed parole in September 2008.
Amber was last seen walking with a man about 200 yards from Escondido High School by a woman who used to drive her to middle school. Another neighbor reported seeing her about 300 yards from school. She never appeared on school surveillance cameras.
Amber, who was active in Future Farmers of America, left home with a $200 check to buy a lamb. It was never cashed.
There was no physical evidence recovered, hindering early search efforts, her father said. Calls reporting sightings of the girl came in, but none panned out.
In contrast, physical evidence was quickly recovered when Chelsea went missing, sparking a massive, round-the-clock search. Three days after Chelsea went missing, Gardner was arrested outside a Mexican restaurant in Escondido.
Gardner is being represented by Michael Popkins, a public defender who declined to speak with reporters after Wednesday's arraignment. No one answered the phone at the public defender's office Sunday night.
Chelsea's death sparked outrage in her hometown of Poway, a wealthy suburb near Escondido.
A court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Matthew Carroll, recommended the maximum sentence allowed under law for Gardner in 2000, calling him an "extremely poor candidate" for treatment and a "continued danger to underage girls in the community."
He faced a maximum sentence of nearly 11 years in prison under a plea agreement, but prosecutors urged six years.
The Associated Press and KPBS staff contributed to this article