ESCONDIDO, Calif. – When 17-year-old Chelsea King went missing last month San Diego, Maurice Dubois had a sinking feeling that his 14-year-old daughter had fallen victim to the same killer.
Amber Dubois vanished walking to school on Feb. 13, 2009, about 10 miles from where Chelsea was last seen in running clothes at a park. Amber's father noted their similar builds — 5-foot-5, thin, blue-eyed.
"We're hoping they're two separate isolated incidents," he said last week. "In the back of our minds we know the possibility is so strong there is a connection."
Authorities found Amber's skeletal remains early Saturday in a remote, rugged area of Pala, a small town in the Pala Indian Reservation, which stretches more than 12,000 acres in north San Diego County, said Escondido Police Chief Jim Maher. The county medical examiner's office confirmed the remains were Amber's through dental records, he said.
Police did not say if the discovery was linked to Chelsea's accused killer, John Albert Gardner III. Maher did not answer questions during a brief news conference Sunday.
"This is an ongoing murder investigation and any details, no matter how slight, would be inappropriate to reveal at this point in time," he said.
Amber's parents, Maurice Dubois and Carrie McGonigle, appeared distraught at his side. Maurice Dubois briefly thanked everyone who searched for Amber, particularly volunteers.
"They were the most dedicated people you could ever imagine," he said. "Without them, we couldn't have done anything."
Gardner, 30, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murdering Chelsea and raping or attempting to rape her and attempting to rape another woman in December, a potential death penalty case.
A spokesman for the San Diego County district attorney's office, Paul Levikow, declined to comment Sunday on the investigation into Amber's death.
Gardner was registered as a sex offender in Escondido, a north San Diego suburb, from January 2008 to January 2010, with some gaps, police say.
He served five years of a six-year prison term for molesting a 13-year-old neighbor in San Diego in 2000; he saw her at a bus stop and lured her to his home to watch movies. He completed parole in September 2008.
Amber was last seen walking with a man about 200 yards from Escondido High School by a woman who used to drive her to middle school, according to her father. Another neighbor reported seeing her about 300 yards from school. She never appeared on school surveillance cameras.
Amber, who was active in Future Farmers of America, left home with a $200 check to buy a lamb. It was never cashed.
There was no physical evidence recovered, hindering early search efforts, her father said. Calls reporting sightings of the girl came in, but none panned out.
In contrast, physical evidence was quickly recovered when Chelsea went missing, sparking a massive, round-the-clock search. Gardner was arrested three days after the disappearance outside a Mexican restaurant in Escondido.
Gardner is being represented by Michael Popkins, a public defender who declined to speak with reporters after Wednesday's arraignment. No one answered the phone at the public defender's office Sunday night.
Chelsea's death sparked outrage in her hometown of Poway, a wealthy suburb near Escondido.
A court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Matthew Carroll, recommended the maximum sentence allowed under law for Gardner in 2000, calling him an "extremely poor candidate" for treatment and a "continued danger to underage girls in the community."
He faced a maximum sentence of nearly 11 years in prison under a plea agreement, but prosecutors urged six years.