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updated: 3/3/2010 5:31 AM

Missing ex-Naperville teen's body found

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  • Brent King, left, with his wife, Kelly, talks about his daughter, Chelsea, 17, who has been missing since Feb. 25, during an interview in San Diego on Monday.

      Brent King, left, with his wife, Kelly, talks about his daughter, Chelsea, 17, who has been missing since Feb. 25, during an interview in San Diego on Monday.

 
 

The body of 17-year-old Chelsea King, who disappeared while jogging last week, was found Tuesday afternoon in a shallow grave near a San Diego lake.

Chelsea, a former Naperville resident who attended Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, was found at about 2 p.m. near Lake Hodges, a popular jogging area. She had been missing since Thursday.

San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said the remains were found about 10 feet from the shoreline.

"While the body has not been positively identified, there is a strong likelihood that we have found Chelsea," he said.

A registered sex offender, John Albert Gardner III, was arrested Sunday in connection with Chelsea's disappearance and has remained in the county jail. Steve Walker, a spokesman at the San Diego County district attorney's office, said Gardner will be formally charged at his Wednesday afternoon arraignment. The precise charges are still being reviewed, he said.

Gore said he spoke with the girl's parents and described them as "devastated."

Hours later, several thousand people holding candles and tearfully embracing joined the teen's parents, Brent and Kelly King, in a vigil outside St. Michael Catholic Church in suburban Poway.

Brent King spoke briefly, thanking everyone for their efforts to find his daughter.

"One of the nicknames that I've always called my daughter is my Angel. She's my angel forever," he said.

"I want to thank you. Chelsea wants to thank you," he said.

When someone shouted, "We love you," Brent King responded, "We love all of you."

Chelsea's friends in Naperville gathered Tuesday night to grieve and share stories about the teenager's life.

"She was always very positive," Alex Nowell told ABC 7 Chicago. She always looked at the good parts of life; she never looked down at life."

"Chelsea was just a wonderful girl that touched everybody's heart that she ever met," Rich Nowell said. "She really was just a beautiful brilliant, funny, loyal, wonderful young lady."

Walker wouldn't discuss what evidence linked Gardner to Chelsea's death or the possibility of additional charges connecting Gardner to other crimes.

A Colorado woman in town on a family visit was running alone Dec. 27 in the same park Chelsea was last seen when a man tackled her and demanded money. The victim, who managed to escape after elbowing the assailant in the face, left town before she could work with investigators on a sketch of the assailant, San Diego Capt. Jim Collins said.

A swab taken from the elbow of the Colorado woman did not match Gardner's DNA, he said.

Chelsea and her parents moved to San Diego from Naperville in January 2007 during Chelsea's freshman year at Waubonsie. Chelsea was born in California.

About 1,600 volunteers searched for Chelsea, a straight-A student and member of the San Diego Youth Symphony, on Sunday, while about 1,000 went out Monday, according to figures posted on the Facebook page her family created after her disappearance. In all, the family estimates about 4,000 volunteers helped looked for her.

10News reported that Gardner committed a forcible lewd act on a child in 2000. A 13-year-old girl accused him of repeatedly punching her in the face and fondling her at Gardner's mother's Rancho Bernardo townhouse, which is about a mile from Rancho Bernardo Community Park, where Chelsea's car was discovered. The girl said she went to the residence after Gardner invited her in to watch a movie.

Gardner was sentenced to six years in prison and served five years before he was released in September 2005. He was on probation until 2008. He registered as a sex offender using his grandmother's Lake Elsinore address but reportedly has been staying with his mother lately, the station said.

• Daily Herald staff writer Justin Kmitch and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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