BOULDER, Colo. – A former schoolteacher was arrested Wednesday in Thailand in the slaying of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey — a surprise breakthrough in a lurid, decade-old murder mystery that had cast a cloud of suspicion over her parents.
Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood identified the suspect as John Mark Karr, 41. Federal officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the name, and one law enforcement official told The Associated Press that Boulder police had tracked him down online.
"John and Patsy lived their lives knowing they were innocent, trying to raise a son despite the furor around them," Wood said. "The story of this family is a story of courage, and story of an American injustice and tragedy that ultimately people will have to look back on and hopefully learn from."
The attorney said the Ramseys learned about the suspect at least a month before Patsy Ramsey's death. "It's been a very long 10 years, and I'm just sorry Patsy isn't here for me to hug her neck," Wood said.
• Timeline: The JonBenet Ramsey Murder Investigation
Karr was a teacher who once lived in Conyers, Ga., according to Wood. The attorney said the Ramseys gave police information about Karr before he was identified as a suspect.
Wood would not say how the Ramseys knew Karr. But JonBenet was born in Atlanta in 1990, and the Ramseys lived in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody, about 30 miles northeast of Conyers, for several years before moving to Colorado in 1991.
Thai police said that when Karr was arrested, he denied any involvement in JonBenet's slaying. But a source close to the investigation in the U.S. said Karr confessed to certain elements of the crime. Also, a law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AP that Karr had been communicating periodically with somebody in Boulder who had been following the case and cooperating with law enforcement officials.
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A University of Colorado spokesman, Barrie Hartman, said journalism professor Michael Tracey communicated with Karr over several months and contacted police. The CU spokesman said he didn't know what prompted Tracey to become suspicious of Karr.
Tracey produced a documentary in 2004 called "Who Killed JonBenet?" A woman who answered the phone at a number under his name said he didn't live there anymore; his office phone mailbox was full.
It was widely reported, but not confirmed by authorities, that Karr taught in California until he was stripped of his teaching credentials following an arrest on child pornography charges.
• Raw Data: Statement by John Ramsey and Attorney
Sonoma County Chief Deputy District Attorney Joan Risse confirmed the child pornography charges and arrest warrant against a John Mark Karr, though she cautioned that she didn't know if he was the same person held in the Ramsey case. State records show Karr lost his teaching credential in 2002.
A woman who said she was the ex-wife of former Petaluma teacher John Karr told KGO-TV in San Francisco that they got divorced after his arrest. The woman, who the station identified as Laura Karr, said her ex-husband spent a lot of time reading up on the cases of Ramsey and Petaluma resident Polly Klaas, who was abducted and slain in 1993.
She said she does not believe her former husband was involved in JonBenet's killing and said she was with him in Alabama at the time of the homicide.
A search of public records indicates that a John M. Karr and a Lara Karr shared a Petaluma address as recently as 2001, but The AP could not independently confirm that they are the suspect and the woman identified by the television station.
Karr's brother, Nate Karr, said his brother's alleged involvement was a misunderstanding. He told Fox News his brother may have been implicated because of research he has done for a book about men who commit crimes against children.
"That is the only possible way we think he could have been brought into this," Nate Karr told Fox News. He said his brother lived in Alabama until around five years ago before moving to California and since then they haven't talked as much. Nate Karr said his brother was married about 13 years ago and has three children but he wasn't sure if he was still married.
District Attorney Mary Lacy said the arrest followed several months of work, but she said no details would be released until Thursday.
U.S. authorities said Karr was initially taken into custody in Bangkok on unrelated sex charges. But Thai police Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul said he was unaware of any criminal charges the suspect faced in Thailand.
Karr was arrested at his apartment in downtown Bangkok at the request of U.S. officials, and was being held until they arrived, Thai police said. Suwat said he expected U.S. officials to take Karr back to America in the next few days.
Karr's brother in an interview with WAGA-TV in Atlanta called the accusations "ridiculous, without a doubt."
Nate Karr added that suspicious e-mails cited by authorities related to a book his brother was writing. He declined to comment further, saying the family would have more to say on Thursday.
JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in the basement of the family's home in Boulder on Dec. 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey reported finding a ransom note in the house demanding $118,000 for her daughter.
The image of blonde-haired little JonBenet in a cowgirl costume and other beauty pageant outfits has haunted TV talk shows ever since, helping feed myriad theories about her killer, and the case became one of the most sensational unsolved murder cases in the nation.
Over the years, some experts suggested that investigators had botched the case so thoroughly that it might never be solved.
Investigators at one point said JonBenet's parents were under an "umbrella of suspicion" in the slaying. And some news accounts cast suspicion on JonBenet's older brother. But the Ramseys insisted an intruder killed their daughter, and no one was ever charged.
In the months after the slaying, Patsy Ramsey went before the cameras, vigorously defending herself and her husband, chastising the media and blasting local law enforcement as incompetent.
In a statement Wednesday, John Ramsey said: "Patsy was aware that authorities were close to making an arrest in the case, and had she lived to see this day, would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today's development almost 10 years after our daughter's murder."
The Ramseys moved back to Atlanta after their daughter's slaying.
Wood lashed out at the frenzy that long surrounded the case, and he accused the media of "the most obscene false accusations." "I think the public's mind was so poisoned against this family that no one was able for too many years to look at the evidence," he said.
Patsy Ramsey's sister, Pam Paugh, of Roswell, Ga., said the family was celebrating the news of the arrest. "We are elated. We are elated. If this is, in fact, the killer, then we have a very heinous killer off the streets to never harm another child," Paugh said.
Lib Waters of Marietta, Ga., visited the gravesites of Patsy and JonBenet Ramsey in the Atlanta suburb immediately after hearing news reports about the arrest.
Waters, who described herself as a longtime friend of the Ramsey family, taped a piece of notebook paper to JonBenet Ramsey's headstone that read: "Dearest Patsy, Justice has come for you and Jon. Rest in peace."
In 2003, a federal judge in Atlanta concluded that the evidence she reviewed suggested an intruder killed JonBenet. That opinion came with the judge's decision to dismiss a libel and slander lawsuit against the Ramseys by a freelance journalist, whom the Ramseys had named as a suspect in their daughter's murder. The Boulder district attorney at the time said she agreed with the judge's declaration.
"Today is additional vindication of the family," Wood said.
Wood said he and the Ramseys "have been totally amazed and impressed with the professionalism of law enforcement" under Lacy's direction. Lacy became district attorney in 2001.
DNA was found beneath JonBenet's fingernails and inside her underwear, but Wood said two years ago that detectives were unable to match it to anyone in an FBI database. It was not immediately known Wednesday whether investigators had any DNA evidence against Karr.