MORGAN HILL, Calif. — A 21-year-old former Safeway employee, the owner of a vehicle seen near where Morgan Hill's Sierra LaMar disappeared, has been arrested in the kidnapping and murder of the teenage girl.
Antolin Garcia-Torres was arrested Monday evening at the Safeway store in Morgan Hill where he once worked and transported to Santa Rita Jail, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said.
He lived near the LaMar home, but authorities do not believe the two knew each other. "It is my belief that this is purely random," Smith told reporters at Tuesday news conference. "This was a stranger abduction of a young girl."
He added that there were no other suspects in LaMar's kidnap and murder. Smith also revealed that Garcia-Torres has been linked by DNA to at least one of three sexual assaults in the Morgan Hill area in March 2009.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff said Garcia-Torres was linked to the disappearance not only by his red Jetta, but also by DNA evidence found in LaMar's abandoned backpack and other evidence found in the car.
Garcia-Torres had been arrested for a prior felony assault and while he was prosecuted, his DNA was entered into a database.
The backpack containing LaMar's clothing carefully folded clothing and other personal items had been found in a field near the missing girl's within 48 hours of her March 16th disappearance.
"We have evidence that leads us to believe and we have probable cause to believe that he has committed the murder and kidnapping. We are charging him with murder," Smith said. "It's very, very difficult to come to that position where we believe that she is dead."
Smith revealed that Garcia-Torres has been under constant surveillance by law enforcement since March 28th when investigators received forensic evidence .
"We had hoped he would lead us to Sierra," she told reporters. Authorities also studied video surveillance video from cameras located in the area and reviewed eyewitness reports to determine that the red Jetta with a distinctive black hood owned by Garcia-Torres was in LaMar's neighborhood at the time of the disappearance.
Deputies impounded the car on April 7th and a forensic team searched it for clues.
Sierra hasn't been seen or heard from since she left her home in Morgan Hill to go to school on the morning of March 16. Authorities believe she was kidnapped while walking to a school bus stop.
Volunteers and sheriff's officials have continuously searched the fields, open spaces and reservoirs near Morgan Hill since her disappearance. The KlaasKids Foundation, founded by Marc Klaas, whose 12-year-old daughter Polly was kidnapped from her Petaluma home and murdered in 1993, has been organizing volunteer searches on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
At a press conference that was released this morning, Sierra's Mother "Thanked" all of law enforcement and rescue team effort that have put in much time to serach for her daughter. But, that with this recent evidence, she will continue to remain "hopeful" that Sierra is found alive.