The criminal justice system failed to protect Chelsea King from being raped and murdered last week, when it allowed a convicted sex offender out of jail early and inadequately monitored him, her distraught father said today.
"It let our daughter down," Brent King said of the criminal justice system. "It let every child in this country down terribly. There's no doubt."
King and his wife Kelly were in the courtroom Wednesday when John Albert Gardner III pleaded not guilty to charges of raping and murdering 17-year-old Chelsea.
Gardner is a convicted sex offender who spent five years in prison for molesting a 13-year-old girl in 2000. When he was let out of prison early in 2005, one prison psychiatrist argued that Gardner should not be released, stating that he would continue to be a threat to girls and showed no remorse.
Chelsea's body was discovered Tuesday in a shallow grave near Lake Hodges, in the marshy park north of San Diego where she disappeared while running on Feb. 25. Gardner was arrested the following Monday, March 1.
Police now believe Gardner may be involved in a string of attempted abductions, and perhaps one other murder, going back at least a year ago.
"We want to assure that kids can be kids and be safe, and predators shouldn't be allowed to be within reach. They shouldn't be allowed to," King said during an appearance on the "Today" show.
King said the family had been embraced and buoyed by their community. Thursday was the first time the family left their home to get dinner together since Chelsea disappeared, choosing their 13-year-old son's favorite burrito shop.
"Everybody in the burrito shop pretty much came up and just gave us hugs and let us know that their prayers are with us, and that helps tremendously," King said.
Chelsea's friends too have been visiting and supporting the family.
"To be able to wrap our arms around these kids, they're like our own children as well, and they're such a huge part of Chelsea's life and such a huge part of the joy that she found in every day," he said. "It's a gift, and I don't ever want to lose touch with any of these kids. They're very, very special and we love them dearly."
On Thursday police in Lake Elsinore said they were contacted by a 16-year-old girl who said she recognized Gardner as the man who tried to abduct her in October 2009. At the time the girl gave a description of a man fitting Gardner's description who approached her in his car as she was walking to a friend's house early in the morning. The man pointed a gun and demanded she get in his car, but the girl ran away.
Police had already connected Gardner to an attack on 23-year-old graduate student Candice Moncayo in December 2009 on the same jogging trail where Chelsea King died, and believe he could be responsible for the disappearance of Amber Dubois, 14, who vanished while on her way to school in Escondido in February 2009.
Moncayo reported being attacked on the same jogging path in the same park north of San Diego in which King went missing.
"I thought he was going to rape me," Moncayo said of the overweight man who tackled her. "So I told him he would have to kill me first."
Gardner is 6 foot 2 and weighs 230 pounds.
Moncayo elbowed her attacker in the face and was able to flee. She also contacted police about recognizing Gardner after his picture was flashed across the country following his arrest.
The family of Amber Dubois, who has never been found, also believes that Gardner, a sometimes self-employed electrician, is responsible for the girl's disappearance.