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Naperville friends praying for missing teen
Arrest made in girl's disappearance in California
By Justin Kmitch | Daily Herald Staff

Chelsea King

 

Friends of former Naperville resident Chelsea King have been meeting regularly to pray for their missing friend and to share stories about happier times. The 17-year-old has been missing since Thursday in San Diego County, Calif.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

John Albert Gardner

 

Associated Press

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Published: 3/1/2010 5:19 PM | Updated: 3/1/2010 11:05 PM

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Police and volunteers in San Diego County, Calif., have widened their search for a missing 17-year-old woman who grew up in Naperville.

Meanwhile, childhood pals of Chelsea King have gathered daily to pray for her and to share stories of their friend who went missing Thursday while jogging.

Roughly 1,400 volunteer searchers and more than 100 law enforcement officers failed to find Chelsea on Sunday. But San Diego County Sheriff William Gore said authorities found physical evidence that led to the arrest of 30-year-old John Gardner III of Lake Elsinore, Calif., in connection with her disappearance. He is being held without bond, but specific charges were still being determined.

Chelsea disappeared Thursday after going for a run near Lake Hodges at Rancho Bernardo Community Park in San Diego, a popular regional park full of running trails. Her car, with her cell phone and iPod inside, were found later that night.

News that Gardner, a registered sex offender, was arrested in connection with Chelsea's disappearance and the discovery of her car has done little to lift her friends' spirits.

"Chelsea has been a sister to me ever since we met on the first day of kindergarten (at May Watts Elementary School) and became attached at the hip," said Waubonsie Valley High School senior Jen Nowell. "My family and our friends have been living our worst nightmares since we got the news Friday that she was missing."

Several of Chelsea's friends gathered at Nowell's home Monday afternoon to make posters about Chelsea they hope to hang around Naperville, Aurora and Waubonsie Valley in the coming days.

"Everyone may not know her, especially at Waubonsie, but we want them to know about her," Nowell said.

They also intend to make T-shirts with her likeness and motivational bracelets that they will send to Chelsea's family in California.

The family moved from Naperville in January 2007 during Chelsea's freshman year at Waubonsie. The friends said the move was so unpopular with the group that they spent all their money on Super Glue and literally tried to glue Chelsea to her front porch.

"We didn't want her to go so we covered her good and made her stick. Her dad had to pry her off and it ripped her jeans," said Claire Bindler, also a senior at Waubonsie. "Those are the types of stories we're sharing and laughing about to keep our spirits up."

Gore said investigators also were holding out hope Chelsea will be found.

Gardner was taken into custody at a restaurant in Escondido, Calif., shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday and was questioned Sunday night.

"This investigation is ongoing and specific criminal charges are still being determined," Gore said at a news conference.

Investigators also suspect Gardner could be tied to a Dec. 27 assault on a female jogger from Colorado Springs, Gore said.

Gardner's Riverside County residence was searched Sunday, Gore said.

He was required to register as a sex offender because of a conviction for lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14, the Megan's Law Web site said.

Chelsea's parents continued to plea for her return and said the arrest offered them no relief.

"Nothing will change for us until our beautiful daughter, Chelsea King, comes home," Brent and Kelly King said in a statement released through a family spokeswoman Sunday night. "We will continue searching for her, and we ask that all of you do the same until she's back with us."

Nowell said she believes Chelsea will survive whatever she is going through.

"Chelsea is the most driven person I've ever found in my entire life," Nowell said. "She is very intelligent and I honestly think she can get out of this situation, whatever it is."

The search for the Poway High School senior also took to the Internet, where a Facebook page generated more than 53,000 fans. A Web site was created at findchelsea.com.