Sheriff: Suspect linked by DNA to missing CA teen
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- A man was in custody Tuesday on suspicion of murder and kidnapping after his DNA was found in the bag of a missing girl whose abduction was believed to be a random act of violence, authorities said.
In addition, the DNA of 15-year-old Sierra LaMar was found in the red Volkswagen Jetta of suspect Antolin Garcia-Torres, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said.
The victim and suspect did not know each other, Smith said.
"We believe this is the worst type of crime, a stranger abduction of a young girl," the sheriff said at a news conference attended by Sierra's family.
Investigators found Sierra's pink, Juicy-brand handbag with clothing and a cell phone along the side of the road within two miles of her home shortly after her mother reported her missing in March.
Garcia-Torres, 21, was linked to the case after his DNA -- taken during a previous assault arrest -- was linked to clothing found in the bag. authorities said. He was not charged in the previous case.
Garcia-Torres was arrested Monday -- more than two months after Sierra's disappearance prompted hundreds of volunteers to turn out for searches and authorities conducting more than 12,000 hours of investigation.
Sierra was last seen leaving her home in Morgan Hill to go to school on March 16. Authorities believe she was kidnapped while walking to a school bus stop.
Her mother, Marlene LaMar, said the family is holding out hope that the teen is still alive. She pleaded with Garcia-Torres to disclose her whereabouts.
"Please, please give the information that you have to lead us to Sierra to help end this nightmare," LaMar said.
Garcia-Torres, also of Morgan Hill, had been under 24-hour surveillance since March 28. His vehicle was seized on April 7. The DNA evidence used to arrest him also links him to at least one assault in March 2009, Smith said.
Authorities had other suspects under surveillance while investigating the disappearance of Sierra but focused on Garcia-Torres after authorities interviewed him several times prior to his arrest at a supermarket where he used to work, Smith said.
"Right now, we believe he is the only person responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Sierra," Smith said. "These are very difficult cases to prosecute a homicide when you have not found the victim, but it has been done and I think we have adequate facts, in fact, strong facts to believe that she has been murdered."
Marlene LaMar isn't convinced that was the fate of her daughter.
"I'm not giving up hope. Her body hasn't been found," she said. "I believe there's a reason why she wasn't found."
Early in the investigation, a Santa Clara County deputy quickly put together the pieces on the disappearance that helped shape the course of the probe that involved about 100 local, state and federal officers, assistant sheriff Pete Rode said.
"He said, `This is not a normal missing child, this is not a runaway, this is not she's over at the mall with her boyfriend, she's with a relative,"' Rode said. "Some instinctive thing just kicked in in him and we went from there."
Garcia-Torres wasn't arrested after his DNA first surfaced in March for numerous reasons, including the possibility that he might lead authorities to Sierra, Rode said.
"At some point, I'm sure he became aware that we were watching him," Rode said, noting that they monitored Garcia-Torres going to work, at home and hanging out with friends.
Garcia-Torres' arrest came after lab results determined Sierra's DNA was in his car, Rode said.
"You don't want to lose him, but at what point in time do you risk having him flee and leave the state and possibly the country?" Rode said. "We did not want to take that chance."
Garcia-Torres could be arraigned as soon as Thursday.
Since Sierra disappeared, volunteers and authorities have searched fields, open spaces and reservoirs near Morgan Hill and plan to so again.