The case of the missing teenager Amber Dubois of San Deigo took a tragic turn when her skeletal remains were discovered last Saturday afternoon in north San Diego County. Her dental records identified her. The police received a tip from a member of the public—not from John A. Gardner III, the man charged with the murder and rape of Chelsea King. Police did however confirm that the week Amber DuBois went missing on her way to school last year on February 13, Gardner was in town visiting his mother. After Gardner was released from prison, he was on probation until 2008 and during his probation he was required to wear a GPS device that allowed the police to track his movements. After his probation ended, he was no longer required to wear the GPS device but he was still a registered sex offender who had to register his new address if he changed his residence, which he complied with—at least to the satisfaction of the police.
The public and family members of Amber DuBois and Chelsea King have focused a lot of their anger and blame on the criminal justice system in general—of not heeding the psychiatrist’s recommendation of a longer sentence and the inherent flaws in Megan’s Law and sex offender’s registry, which is all fair and understandable, but one person that got very little mention was his mother. It was she, after all, who he was visiting when he committed these offenses. She has to be aware of his proclivities and violent nature.
The argument here is where does her responsibility begin and end? Legally, her responsibility ended when her son turned 18, which just means that she is no longer held responsible for his actions, wrongdoings and whereabouts. But what of her civic duty to society? If she knows that her son is dangerous and violent—regardless of age, and he is under her roof for no matter how short of time, isn’t it her civic duty to keep an eye on him? To be aware and vigilant of his whereabouts?
It is plain for all to see now that John Gardner used his mother’s home, which is a residential suburb and near an elementary school as a hunting ground for his next victim. She lives in a middle-class suburb of San Diego, which was relatively safe until Gardner went on his rampage. If there were one person that could have stopped John Gardner, it would have been his mother. If she had been more vigilant, she could have alerted police that her son, a registered sex offender was staying with her when Amber DuBois went missing, especially since Amber DuBois fits the profile of the kind of victim that he normally goes after. Gardner was sent to prison for beating and molesting a 13-year-old girl, Amber DuBois was 14 years old when she went missing on her way to school. Gardner’s mother, by allowing him to ‘visit’ frequently, allowing him to come and go as he pleases without any accountability or monitoring of his whereabouts, she is indirectly allowing her son to wreak havoc on the community.
Law enforcement do not have endless resources and cannot do everything on their own, this is one area where a vigilant public can save families a lot of heartache. People shy away from civic duty and neighborhood watch these days because no one wants to be labeled the ‘nosy neighbor’ who spies on everyone. With dwindling budgets for law enforcement, early release of inmates, a sex offender registry system that is voluntary (it’s up to the sex offender to update his information), perhaps reinstituting a neighborhood watch is not such a bad idea. This is not to pry into anyone’s privacy or business, but simply keeping an eye out for anything usual, maybe it’s someone who doesn’t live in the neighborhood showing up at odd times—like when the kids are getting out of school, or a house sitter for a neighbor while they are away for the weekend that seems shady and shifty. The gut instinct is very powerful and it’s usually right.
Gardner’s mother is obviously not responsible for the heinous crimes of her son, but she is culpable—she knows her own son’s proclivities more than anyone. Against her better judgment, she looked the other way.