The Tragedy of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois
A couple of weeks ago, when John Albert Gardner III, a 31-year-old registered sex offender, was sent to prison for life after pleading guilty to murdering two teenage girls in San Diego County, I felt some sense of relief that we had gotten another monster off the streets.
But in all candor, I still felt a raw, unbridled anger that such gruesome murders had happened in the first place.
Before Gardner murdered 17-year-old honor student Chelsea King, who went out for a run and was found in a shallow grave, and before he murdered 14-year-old Amber Dubois, who was last seen in front of her school in Escondido, carrying a check to buy a lamb for her Future Farmers of America project, he previously had served five years in prison for beating and molesting a 13-year-old girl. A psychologist who evaluated him said he was a continuing threat.
And, as all tragically now know, when he was released from prison, he went right back to what he had been doing — sexually assaulting young girls. Yes, he was required by law to register as a sex offender, listing his address once a year, which could be accessed by the public. He also was banned from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children played. Even with those restrictions, however, he was still able to slip under the radar and attack other girls.
I admit, when I hear about child sex predators, I have both a personal and professional reaction and both of them are negative. I question whether we have found the right approach to treating or monitoring these people. In fact, I am pretty sure we have not!
What should we as a society do about people like John Gardner? Should we show compassion? Should we change the law to make it easier for juries to sentence these people to life in prison after their very first convictions for a sex offense — especially if it’s with a minor? Should we consider, as many experts have suggested, mandatory chemical or actual castration of convicted sex offenders? Should we at least require sex offenders to wear ankle monitors for the rest of their lives? And despite the cost, should there be more police officers assigned just to monitor registered sex offenders?
I applaud Chelsea’s parents, Brent and Kelly, who say they are channeling their rage and grief to prevent other children from falling victim to predators. The Kings are now partnering with San Diego assemblyman Nathan Fletcher to pass Chelsea’s Law, which would identify gaps in the system and tighten sex offender laws in California. During an interview with Larry King, Kelly asked, “How many times do our daughters need to be raped before we put these monsters behind bars forever?”
As senseless as Chelsea’s and Amber’s murders are, please don’t think such tragedies only happen to other people. Every situation is different, and no one knows if any kind of training or awareness might have helped Chelsea or Amber. But either way, parents, you need to teach your kids to self-protect. Talk to them early and often about stranger danger, but do so in a way that doesn’t scare them. Although it’s important for them to respect authority figures, let them know that it’s OK to yell or make a scene if they have a bad feeling about an adult. Make sure to rehearse your child’s response to danger, and role-play with them on how they should respond in a dangerous situation.
Never forget, sex offenders are really good at what they do, and they will take any step to get access to potential victims. We cannot give them an inch.
My prayers go out to the families of Chelsea and Amber.