Reporting from San Diego — A yearlong search for a missing 14-year-old girl from Escondido has ended with the discovery of her skeletal remains in a remote area of northern San Diego County, police said.
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, Calif. The discovery was announced Sunday by Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher at a brief news conference.
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 Amber vanished near Escondido High School. Maher did not disclose whether Gardner, who is being held without bail, is linked to the Dubois case. He said an unspecified lead led investigators to the remains.
Amber was last seen walking to school at 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 Amber's face appeared on the cover of People magazine. Last summer, the family hired search dogs that traced Amber's 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 Chelsea's.
Amber Dubois' father, Maurice, helped in the search for Chelsea and was told by police that Gardner was being investigated in connection with his daughter's case.
FOR THE RECORD:
Maurice Dubois lives in Buena Park, not Buena Vista.
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," Dubois said last week.
Amber, 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.
Times staff writer Julie Cart contributed to this report.