Feb. 28, 2010— -- A registered sex offender was arrested today in connection with the disappearance of Chelsea King, a 17-year-old straight-A student who disappeared Thursday after going for a run in a San Diego park, police said.
John Albert Gardner III, 30, of Lake Elsinore, was arrested outside a restaurant in Escondido, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore announced at a news conference this evening.
The charges against Gardner had not been determined, Gore said.
The investigation into what happened to King is not over and the sheriff's department and other agencies are still working to find the girl, who ran cross country at Poway High School and was a member of the San Diego Symphony.
Numerous pieces of physical evidence led investigators to Gardner, and there was a strong possibility that he was connected to an assault on a woman that occurred in December in the area where King disappeared, Gore said.
Gardner, who was convicted of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years, according to the California sex offenders registry Web site, was being interviewed at San Diego Police Department headquarters this evening, the sheriff said.
Investigators are holding out hope that King is still alive and they are refocusing some of their search and rescue efforts, he said.
King disappeared after parking her BMW sedan outside the Rancho Bernardo Community Center on Thursday afternoon, and when she was late coming home, her parents called police, according to the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.
Her disappearance struck a chord throughout the community, and hundreds of volunteers have turned out every day to help the sheriff's department along with members of the FBI, the San Diego Police Department, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and the Del Mar Lifeguard Service in their search.
More than 800 people were out today searching the rough terrain of the Rancho Bernardo Community Park, divided into 45 teams to scour the trails, streams and shoreline of Lake Hodges.
Chelsea King Missing Since Thursday; Registered Sex Offender Arrested
"There's a tremendous response and time is of the essence," said Sara Muller Fraunces, the King family's spokeswoman.
She said when she arrived at the volunteer organizing center this morning, the line of people waiting to help was around the block.
The search for King began Thursday night and has continued throughout the weekend.
Chelsea is white, 5-feet-5 inches tall and 115 pounds, with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes.
She is a member of the San Diego Youth Symphony and a straight-A student at Poway High School, where she is due to graduate this spring.
A family spokesman told KGTV that she has been eagerly awaiting college acceptance letters.
The sheriff's department asked that anyone with information about King's whereabouts call 858-565-5200.