Detective in Chelsea King's Murder Case Retires

San Diego County Sheriff's Detective Chris Johnson informed the King family of Chelsea's death

San Diego County Sheriff's Detective Chris Johnson, who played a key role in the Chelsea King murder case, worked his last shift Thursday night. 

He spoke exclusively with NBC 7 about the case and his career as a detective.

Six years ago, it was Johnson's unfortunate duty as a detective to inform the King family that Chelsea's body had been found near Lake Hodges in Rancho Bernardo.

He spent 10 days -- 20 hours a day with the family.

He was a protector, confidant, friend and a shoulder to cry on through the family's darkest hours.

For the first time, he shared his feelings about the case that broke the hearts of parents across the country, including him.

From the missing persons report, to the search and the discovery of Chelsea's body, to her funeral where he was Pallbearer, Johnson stood by the King family's side.

"They wanted us to bring Chelsea back to them," Johnson said.

Chelsea went missing in 2010 after she went for a run after school at Rancho Bernardo Community Park. Her disappearance led to a massive search effort in the San Diego community.

She was murdered by convicted sex offender John Gardner.

Her body was found beaten to death and buried in a shallow grave.


We spoke to Chelsea's mom Kelly and dad Brent King over the phone from their home in Chicago.

Kelly says during that time, Detective Johnson was the only one that could make her feel safe.

"He held my hand when we had to go through crowds. I knew that no one, no one in my family could come to further harm, " she said.

Brent says during the search, there was this moment where he asked Detective Johnson to tell him first, if his daughter was found dead.

"He said, 'Do you want to hit somebody? Do you want to hurt somebody? Do whatever you want to do. Do it to me. I'll be here for you, whatever you need,'" Brent told NBC 7.

"I said the sheriff's on his way over, then I hugged him and cried," Detective Johnson said.

Images: The Chelsea King Memorial

It seems appropriate that Detective Johnson's last official duty was providing security for graduation night at Chelsea's alma matar, Poway High School.

The King case was only 10 days of his 29-year career in law enforcement but it was the hardest and at the same time, the most rewarding assignment.

"Undoubtedly, absolutely positively, yes. And I would do it again, " Johnson said.

He told NBC 7, he became a detective to help steer young offenders back to a positive path.

In his retirement, he intends to continue to work with at-risk kids through the county's Start Smart program for teenage drivers.

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