A retired San Diego County Sheriff's Department detective who played a key role in the search for Poway teenager Chelsea King has died.
Former detective Chris Johnson passed away Tuesday and the King family mentioned on Facebook how heartbroken they were to learn the news.
Chelsea King was kidnapped on Feb. 25, 2010, while out on a run at Rancho Bernardo Community Park. It was Johnson's unfortunate duty to inform the King family that Chelsea's body had been found near Lake Hodges five days after her disappearance.
He spent 20 hours a day for 10 days with the King family.
"He became our protector, our rock, our friend and our hero," the King family said Wednesday.
From the missing person report to the search and the discovery of Chelsea's body to her funeral where he was a pallbearer, Johnson stood by the King family's side.
He retired from his 29-year career in law enforcement in June 2016.
His last official duty was providing security for graduation night at Poway High School, the school Chelsea attended.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department released the following statement:
"We are saddened to announce the passing of retired San Diego County Sheriff's Deputy Chris Johnson. He died of apparent natural causes Tuesday night (November 14th) in Michigan. Chris began his career with the Sheriff's Department in February 1988. He retired in June 2016, but returned to the department on a part-time basis. Chris will be missed by his family, friends and colleagues."
Every year, the community gathers for Chelsea's Run to remember the young woman and the run she was never able to finish.
The event serves as a fundraiser for the Chelsea’s Light Foundation, a non-profit organization created by Chelsea's parents, Brent and Kelly King, in memory of their beloved daughter. The foundation aims to support youth and spread positive change in the community.
On May 15, 2010, the man who killed Chelsea King was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
The following year, the King family worked to pass Chelsea’s Law in California, which enhances criminal sentences for violent sexual offenders who commit crimes against children.
The couple is working on taking Chelsea's Law to other states and encouraging lawmakers to adopt all or part of it. They are also working with the state of California to ensure the law stays strong.