POWAY, Calif. — Thousands of teachers, classmates and neighbors filled a high school stadium Saturday to honor a 17-year-old girl whose body was discovered in a shallow, lakeside grave as her parents vowed to dedicate themselves to protecting children from sex predators.
Dozens of doves were let go at the end of the nearly two-hour service for Chelsea King as many in the bleachers raised sunflowers with pale blue ribbons tied around the stems.
Family and friends told the crowd of Chelsea's big dreams, terrific sense of humor, sense of style, athleticism and thirst for knowledge.
They were profusely thankful for the massive search for her after she went missing Feb. 25 on a run at a San Diego park and for the outpouring of sympathy after her body was found five days later.
Tyler King, Chelsea's younger brother, recalled Christmas with his sister and how she teased him.
"I want to say I'm OK, but I'm not OK because the best thing in my life has been taken away from me," he said.
Speakers said Chelsea's heinous death galvanized people to prevent other children from falling victim to predators. A moment of silence was held for Amber Dubois, whose bones were found a last week north of San Diego more than a year after she went missing while walking to school.
John Gardner, 30, has pleaded not guilty to Chelsea's murder and attempted rape of another woman in December. He is also a suspect but has not been charged in the killing of Amber Dubois.
Gardner served five years of a six-year sentence for molesting a 13-year-old neighbor in 2000. He was on parole for three years, until September 2008.
Brent King, Chelsea's father, said his daughter's attacker would have picked another victim if she had chosen another park to go running on the afternoon she vanished.
"I will channel my rage and commit to spending my life to making our society safe from the incurable evil," he said to applause. "Known sexual predators are not curable ... If anyone – anyone – believes that this evil is treatable, let them live next door to you and your children, not ours."
Brent King recalled how he once spent hours breaking into the trunk of Chelsea's car because she locked two sets of keys inside, only to have them both discover that she was carrying a third set.
"As a father, as a parent, you dream of watching your children grow, experience, learn, challenge and embrace life," he said. "You never realize that, as a parent, you also sign up for pain."
Kelly King, Chelsea's mother, also openly grieved.
"I wake up every morning now and I have to remember how to breathe. As I get out of bed, I have to remember how to put one foot in front of the other," she said.
Kelly King said she draws inspiration by imagining a conversation in which her daughter urges her to stay focused on "very important things to do." She acknowledged Amber Dubois' parents, who attended the ceremony.
"We, as parents, have been thrown into a club no one wishes to be a part of," she said.
The program featured scanned images of papers that Chelsea posted on her bathroom mirror, with famous quotations in her own writing. One was from Eleanor Roosevelt: "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams."
Chelsea was a straight-A student at Poway High School ran on the cross-country team, played French horn in the San Diego Youth Symphony and was active in her school's peer counseling program. She was a tireless volunteer in school and community activities, whether working at a prom for special education students or packaging food for needy families in Africa.
She had applied to 11 colleges and aspired to a career that would combine her interests in writing and the environment.
A makeshift memorial outside the school with letters addressed to Chelsea showed how her life and death have touched Poway, a wealthy, tight-knit San Diego suburb.
"I'll never forget how much you have shaped the person I am today," wrote one friend.
Another friend recalled how upset Chelsea was after a breakup with her boyfriend in sophomore year.
"I'm glad my last moments with you were laughing and sharing stories," the friend wrote. "You brought tears to many but I know it's because you had such a big impact on many people and we really care about you."
One stranger wrote about desperately wishing to have met Chelsea.
"You wanted to change the world and you did, you brought our whole community together," the message read.
The invitation-only ceremony was held under heavy security. The family also held a service for about 150 people on Friday.