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Update: Suspect in case of missing Poway girl accused of murder, rape

SAN DIEGO -- Searchers looking for missing Poway teenager Chelsea King are focusing today on a 4-square-mile area on the southern side of Lake Hodges.

Eyewitnesses say police helicopters and searchers were scouring neighborhoods and shorelines all day. The Sheriff's Department disputed a rumor that a body had been found.

A suspect was arrested Sunday on preliminary charges of suspicion of rape and murder in the disappearance of King.

The suspect, identified as registered sex offender John Albert Gardner III, was arrested at a landmark restaurant and bar on the west side of Lake Hodges, Hernedez Hide-A-Way, on Lake Drive near Del Dios Highway at 4:30 p.m., according to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department.

The 30-year-old resident of Lake Elsinore in Riverside County is described as being 6′2″ and 230 pounds. He has a previous conviction for lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age.

Gardner is scheduled to be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 3, in Department 12 at San Diego Superior Court downtown.

Gardner's mother lives in the Westwood development of San Diego near Rancho Bernardo Community Park and Lake Hodges. It’s believed he had been staying there for several days.

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore announced the break in the case at a Sunday night news conference. He said physical evidence found on the south end of Lake Hodges lead investigators to Gardner. Reports indicate underwear found near the lake contained DNA that lead investigators to Gardner.

Gardner’s home has been searched and he is being questioned by investigators.

Gore said searchers will continue looking throughout the night for Chelsea. When asked if the 17-year-old Poway High student is still believed to be alive, Gore said, “we’re holding out that hope.”

Those comments were made before jail records revealed the preliminary murder and rape charges against Gardner.

Gore said Sunday night there “is a strong possibility” that the suspect may also be linked to a December attack on a jogger in a nearby neighborhood,

The woman was jogging on a neighborhood trail through the Westwood housing development in the 10400 block of Poblado Road. She told San Diego police she was tackled by a man who demanded money. She thought she may have broken his nose in the scuffle. Gardner’s mother lives in the same neighborhood.

The woman was able to escape from her attacker on Dec. 27. The description she provided police was similiar to the description of Gardner. The victim described her attacker as white, 25, 5′11″ and 230 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.

The location where Chelsea King’s car was found is in the neighboring park. The area where she is believed to have gone jogging is on the trails in the brushy area north of there.

Sheriff Gore said investigators are also looking into any possibility that Gardner could have played a role in the disappearance of 14-year-old Amber Dubois more than a year ago as she walked to Escondido High School.

Chelsea’s family issued a statement at 9 p.m. Sunday after the arrest:

”Nothing will change for us until our beautiful daughter, Chelsea King, comes home. We will continue searching for her, and we ask that all of you do the same until she’s back with us. She is an extraordinary daughter and also someone who is committed to her community. She has huge dreams and wants to change the world. Hundreds of people are working alongside us to make sure she has that chance, and we are deeply grateful. She and our entire family need your help now for Chelsea’s safe return. We thank law enforcement for pursuing all avenues to bring this situation to an expedient, positive outcome. We will be posting regular updates from our family on Facebook page: Chelsea King Search Center.“

Kelly & Brent King, and family