Sheriff: Suspect linked by DNA to missing teen

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15-year-old Sierra LaMar (AP)

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A 21-year-old man in custody was linked to the kidnapping and murder of a missing teenager by DNA evidence found in her bag, authorities said Tuesday.

Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said Antolin Garcia-Torres’s DNA was found inside a bag belonging to Sierra LaMar.

Sierra’s DNA was also found on unspecified property belonging to Garcia-Torres, according to sheriff’s officials.

Smith said it appeared to be a random act of violence.

“We believe this is the worst kind of crime, a stranger abducting a young girl,” she said at a news conference attended by Sierra’s family.

Garcia-Torres was arrested Monday on suspicion of murder and kidnapping of Sierra, whose disappearance more than two months ago prompted hundreds of volunteers to turn out for organized searches.

Sierra hadn’t been seen or heard from since she left her home in Morgan Hill to go to school on March 16. Authorities believe she was kidnapped while walking to a school bus stop.

Smith said Garcia-Torres had been under 24-hour surveillance since March 28 and that evidence also linked him to at least one assault in March 2009.

Authorities identified other suspects during the course of the investigation and also put them under surveillance before focusing on Garcia-Torres, Smith said.

Garcia-Torres’s DNA had been in a law enforcement database following his arrest on suspicion of felony assault, according to sheriff’s officials. They did not provide details about that arrest.

Volunteers and sheriff’s officials searched the fields, open spaces and reservoirs near Morgan Hill since Sierra’s 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.

Investigators found Sierra’s handbag with clothing and a cellphone along the side of the road near her home shortly after her mother reported her missing.

Earlier this month, investigators located a red Volkswagen Jetta they said may have been connected to Sierra’s abduction given that surveillance cameras and witnesses put the car near the area where authorities believe she disappeared. Smith said late Monday that Garcia-Torres owns the Volkswagen.

Smith said Garcia-Torres has spoken to investigators. Sierra’s mother, Marlene, asked Garcia-Torres to reveal any information he has that could lead to Sierra.

“I would like you to come forward and say where she is and end this nightmare for us as a family,” she said.

Credit: The Associated Press.