San Diego is truly a wonderful city to live in. But if you’ve been here the past 5 years, then you know that San Diego was faced with a tragedy we as a city didn’t want to admit could happen. Over the course of a year, two young, beautiful high schoolers went missing. And when one was later found murdered, it appeared there might be a serial killer stalking our most innocent and vulnerable citizens, our children.
Amber Dubios was a ninth grader at Escondido high school. Eager to get to school with a check in hand to buy a lamb through the school’s FFA program, Amber set off to school but never made it. Her disappearance became a mystery that the city of Escondido couldn’t get past.
Almost one year later, Poway high student Chelsea King went missing during her after school run at Lake Hodges. Her parents immediately reported her missing and an intensive search for Chelsea began. Although it was a missing person’s case, the FBI and SD Sheriff’s homicide became involved.
The search for Chelsea led to clues being unearthed that pointed the finger at one individual. Within months of Chelsea’s disappearance, two of San Diego’s most troubling cases were laid bare for not just the city, but the nation to see. Although things happened at lightning speed in those months (in terms of legal proceedings), understanding what really happened started decades before, with the birth of a single man, John Gardner.
This book was a hard one for me. It literally hit close to home for many reasons. I know exactly where these girls went to school and lived. I know many of the people involved in the investigation, particularly that of Chelsea King. In casual conversations with neighbors, someone might mention the King family. Although we are a city of over 1 million, sometimes it can feel like a small town. I also know that one of the last things Amber and Chelsea’s parents probably want is for John Gardner to get any type of additional press. And this book is mostly about him. So there’s a part of me that feels disloyal to these beautiful girls for reading Lost Girls. But what Rother brings to the table is something that you won’t get from all the media and news reports. John’s backstory is not well-known. And perhaps something can be learned from it.
Although a fascinating story for anyone to read, Lost Girls is a tough pill to swallow for many San Diegans. This book may or may not help you understand Gardner’s actions. But Rother’s careful, thorough retelling just might be the most comprehensive look at a side of this story that some people would rather ignore.
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