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Taken: The Amber Dubois Story

Supervising Producer, Katherine Davis; Producer, Grace Kahng

For a year and a half, from the time 14-year-old Amber Dubois first went missing, "48 Hours" was with her anguished extended family. You'll learn how the strain of her disappearance wore them down and, for a time, tore them apart.

It has been 22 days since Amber Dubois disappeared, and the desperate search for the straight-A student is in high gear.

More than 400 volunteers are combing 200 square miles of countryside on foot.

The crisis has brought together a fractured family: Amber's mom, Carrie McGonigle; Amber's father, Moe Dubois; and Dave Cave, the man Carrie now lives with.

"Every morning she'd wake me up before she left for school and give me a kiss …and tell me she loved me," Carrie tells "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Troy Roberts.

"Amber lives at my house. And I come home to her every day. She's my daughter to me. She's my baby girl," says Dave Cave.

It's the spirit of a special child that keeps their hopes alive.

"My daughter Amber is my sweetheart," Moe Dubois says. "She's a little girl who always has a little smirk on her face, teases me all the time … gives me a hard time about my receding hairline. That's my kid."

"She loves to read," adds Carrie. "She has friends at school and stuff, but she doesn't go to the mall. She hates to shop. She doesn't wear makeup… she's a bookworm."

But as the days pass with no breaks in the case, the stress starts taking a toll on all three parents.

"This is tearing Carrie's heart out of her," Dave Cave explains. "She's just - I hate seeing what it's doing to her."

"It consumes you, you know," Carrie says. "You don't know where your daughter is, your child is. It just changes your whole, your whole world."

"I don't want to make it to a month," Moe says. "I want a hug tomorrow. I want a hug tonight. I want to see someone call us tonight and say, 'We've got her, she's coming home.'"

The mystery of Amber Dubois' disappearance began on the day before Valentines Day, Feb. 13, 2009.

"Amber, she'd been waiting for a year for this day. She's been into animals since she was still in diapers," Carrie says. "Her science project is to raise a baby lamb. She was all excited when I left that morning, she's like, 'Thanks Mom, I love you so much, thank you for the lamb.'"

Amber was last seen around 7 a.m. just blocks from Escondido High School.

"She was seen by two different parents walking up the street," Carrie tells Roberts. "She was walking by herself the first time… and the second time, there was a man standing next to her or a kid."

When Amber didn't show up at home by 4:30 that afternoon, her stepfather, Dave, went looking for her.

"I went to her first class and her teacher told me that she had not shown up to class and immediately I knew something was wrong," he says.

"I get a call from Carrie saying "I don't know where Amber is. [She's] hysterical. In tears," Moe recalls.

Her panicked family went into immediate search mode, retracing Amber's route to school, plastering the town with flyers and knocking on every door in the neighborhood.

Nobody in Amber's family is willing to give up hope - even the smallest member, Dave and Carrie's 7-year-old daughter, Allison.

"She'll hear people say kidnapped or abducted and she'll kind of freak out, you know. 'Amber's not kidnapped' and she wants to search, so we go on walks with the dogs and we go search for her sister because she wants to. She wants to participate," says Carrie.

Amber's father, Moe, puts his life on hold, taking a leave from his job as an electrical engineer in Los Angeles and moving to a nearby hotel with his partner, Rebecca Smith.

"Usually end my night by about two or three hours of crying," he says. "I have to have my point to release… If volunteers and everyone around here starts to see my frustration… then it'll trickle on through them."

As the days pass, hope begins to fade, replaced by a growing suspicion that Amber may have met with foul play in her own home.

Escondido police begin focusing on one member of the family in particular: Amber's stepfather, Dave Cave.

"How soon after her disappearance did you realize you were a person of interest?" Roberts asks Dave.

"I don't think it actually really set it for me for a couple of weeks," he replies. "The head searcher said, ' You can't be involved in the search because you do not want to be the person who finds Amber.' And I looked at them like, 'Why not?' And they said, 'If you're the person who finds something, they're going to pin it on you.'"

Dave, who was the last person to see Amber, walked "48 Hours" through what he says happened the morning she disappeared:

"Amber was up and ready to go to school on time without any prompting, because she knew she was getting her check to get her lamb," he says.

"About when I was finished getting dressed, Amber came into my room and said, 'Dave, have you got my check for the lamb?' And I said, 'I'll give it to you before I leave sweetie.' So she came up several times and I think it was the fourth time that she asked for the check. I said, 'Sweetie, I will give you the check before I leave, just go downstairs. You'll have the check. I promise. Just relax.'

"So I came downstairs and I sat down at the table… and I wrote out the check for the lamb… I sat the check down on the arm of the couch and Amber was sitting on the floor… she was eating a bowl of cereal. And I said, 'Sweetie, here's your check for your lamb. I'll see you later I love you." And I turned around and walked out of the door and went about my day."

That was the last Dave saw of Amber.

But it was what this man of routine did not do that quickly made him a key suspect. Dave Cave did not show up for work that day. He says he went to the gym and then home to do his taxes.

"When I came back to the house, she was gone. So I figured she went to school, she should have been at school by then," he tells Roberts.

While he was at home, Dave somehow did not get the message from the high school secretary alerting them that Amber - the girl with perfect attendance - had failed to show up at school.

"Fairly early on into the investigation, suspicion was swirling around your partner Dave," Roberts remarks to Carrie. "But eventually, you became suspicious as well."

"You know, Dave had come to my work that day and brought me some chocolate covered strawberries and some roses that day," she says. "It was for Valentine's Day - it was the 13th. Except that Dave doesn't celebrate Valentine's Day… And he stuck around for like 45 minutes that day. And I'm like, I had to ask him to leave. I'm like, 'Dave, what are you doing here. Go.'"

Another concern for investigators centers on some tension between Dave and Amber that led the family to counseling.

"Amber and I didn't always get along perfectly," Dave admits. "In a house there's rules. She's a teenager. She doesn't want to follow the rules. There's going to be a certain amount of conflict."

"They really didn't talk for the whole month before Amber went missing," Carrie says. "It was a constant bicker."

Dave claims the night before Amber disappeared, they finally called a truce.

"I know the night before she went missing we went out and went shopping and went to the bookstore and stuff and we had a really good time," he recalls.

Could Amber possibly have said or done something the next morning to set Dave off?

Escondido police are taking a hard look at Dave and the answers he gives police will raise Carrie's suspicions even further. Within days of Amber Dubois' disappearance, Escondido police start zeroing in on Dave Cave, the man the missing 14-year-old called her stepfather.

"When I went in for the original interview with police, they took pictures of my hands. Take your shirt off, picture of arms, my back, my chest… to make sure I didn't have any marks on me."

"Did detectives ask you the question directly - did you kill Amber?" Troy Roberts asks.

"They never… I don't think they used the word kill. They asked directly, 'Do you know Amber's whereabouts. Do you know anything about Amber's disappearance.' Things like that. And in the polygraph test they asked questions like that."

Dave took the polygraph exam eight times. "They had nothing to go on" he tells Roberts. "They're clearly looking for something to go on."

"But they kept on coming back to you," says Roberts.

"Statistics point at me. Statistics point at the male of the household that the child lives in."

"Did police ever come to you and say, 'We believe Dave may be responsible for Amber's disappearance,'" Roberts asks Carrie.

"Did they ever come straight out and say that? No. Did they hint that? Absolutely," she replies.

"Well this is someone that you trust, I would assume."

"Hmmm. I trust,"

"You loved him?"

"Uh-huh. He's the father of my child."

"But you also believed he was capable of murder?"

"I had doubts."

"Did Carrie ever ask you the question, 'Were you responsible for her disappearance?'" Roberts asks Dave.

"Oh, absolutely," he replies.

"She asked you - this is the woman you're in love with. And she suspected you as well?"

Dave nods yes. He acknowledges he doesn't know where their relationship is headed.

Six weeks after Amber goes missing, Carrie makes a heart wrenching decision. She packs up and moves out, taking Allison, the daughter she shares with Dave.

Asked why she decided to move out, Carrie says "I had to… Because I couldn't lay in the same bed with the man who I thought might have done something to my daughter. Did I think honestly that Dave premeditated this, that he could have? No. Did I think that maybe Amber bugged him five or six times about the check like she did and there was maybe a confrontation, maybe she fell down the stairs…I don't know. I can't tell you what went on through my head. But did I think that Dave planned to kill Amber? Absolutely not. Did I think an accident might have happened? Yeah. And he hid it? Yeah."

"I feel like I'm 100 years old. It's taken a huge toll on everybody. It's just destroyed everybody's lives," says Dave, who neglects his scaffolding business, which begins to crumble. "I was the driving force in my company and I quit driving… and we're paying the price… I don't know that we make it through."

Amber's father, Moe Dubois, loses his job and his savings financing the search. With no leads in the case, the whole family lives in a constant state of paranoia.

Dave says he is scared that something could happen to Allison.

"My daughter pretty much doesn't get out of my sight when she's with me," he says. "She doesn't go to the playground… without somebody sitting in that front yard… I've just, I've lost faith in people."

In August, six months after Amber vanished, Carrie's mother hires a team of live scent search and recovery dogs to retrace Amber's steps on the last day she was seen.

Photos: The Search for Amber
Learn More: VK9 Scent Specific Search and Recovery Unit

"My heart tells me she's still alive and we're going to find her," Carrie says at the time. "They followed the trail from our house up the freeway…"

The dogs lead searchers to Escondido High School and then along a 15-mile stretch of highway to the remote Pala Indian Reservation. It's a baffling clue.

"I've never brought her here," Carrie says while at the reservation, "and so I believe that she was brought here by whoever took her."

Carrie is convinced Amber is still nearby… and alive.

"She's probably within what - a 50-mile range I think. Which just drives me crazy, but then you look around here and look at how much land there is to cover, you know," she says. "I've gotta keep the faith. But it's hard."

After countless sleepless nights, on Feb. 13, 2010, Amber's family find themselves marking the one-year anniversary of her disappearance.

"We've decided to have a walkathon to help raise money to further her search efforts," Moe says. "It's a nightmare you know. Every day. You know, it never ends."

"We're back at square one," Carrie says. "You know, something's got to break in this case. I just don't know when or how, but somebody knows something."Almost a year to the day that Amber Dubois disappeared, her family wakes to the news that another promising teen is missing.

"My roommate came into my room and she said, 'Carrie, there's another girl missing... She's 17. Her name is Chelsea,'" says Amber's mom, Carrie McGonigle.

Chelsea King, an honors high school student, fails to return from her afternoon run near Lake Hodges - just 10 miles from where Amber disappeared.

Chelsea's grief-stricken parents, Brent and Kelly King, appeal for help.

"My immediate thought is I wanted to get in my car and drive over there and help search for her," Carrie tells Troy Roberts.

The next morning, armed with 3,000 flyers and hundreds of volunteers, Amber's family joins the search for Chelsea.

"I knew it was a very, very difficult time for them and whatever support we can give to them, the family, the group, we wanted to be there for that," says Moe Dubois.

"I said a prayer that she was found fast," says Dave Cave.

But while searchers combed the area, unbeknowst to the public, police had already discovered a vital clue. Chelsea's underwear and socks are found near a running trail. They are sent to a lab for DNA testing.

Then, just 72 hours later, the San Diego Sheriff makes a stunning announcement: "At approximately 4:20 this afternoon, investigators with the Fugitive Task Force arrested 30-year-old John Albert Gardner III."

DNA on Chelsea's underwear is linked to John Gardner - a convicted sex offender on parole with a criminal record dating back 10 years. Gardner had recently spent six years in prison for savagely beating and sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl.

Gardner is also identified by another woman, Candice Moncayo, as the man who attacked her on the same jogging trail just two months earlier.

She told her story to CNN's Larry King:

"He threw me to the ground and he pinned me to the ground and, like I said, I was screaming and he said, 'Shut up' and I said, 'No,'" she tells King. "And then I said, 'Well you're gonna have to kill me first,' because I thought he was trying to rape me. He said, 'That can be arranged.'"

Moncayo, the daughter of a world kickboxing champion, was fighting for her life.

"I took my right elbow and I bashed him in the nose," she continues. "And he grabbed his face and turned away from me and I got up and I ran faster than I think I have ever run in my life."

Under questioning, Gardner denies any involvement in Chelsea King's disappearance or the attack on Candice Moncayo.

Just 48 hours later, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is meeting with top cops when they get the news everyone has been dreading.

"We were all sitting around the table when every beeper in the room started going off," she recalls. "You could just feel the room change. And they were notified, each one of them, that they had found Chelsea. And that she was not alive."

News report: Devastating news from Lake Hodges after investigators announce they believe they have found the body of 17-year-old Chelsea King in a shallow grave.

Gardner is charged with the murder of Chelsea King and the attack on Moncayo.

Despite Gardner's arrest, Amber's family still doubts he has anything to do with her disappearance.

Carrie appears on CBS' "The Early Show" with Harry Smith the day after Gardner's arrest.

Harry Smith: Does it feel like to you that John Gardner might have abducted your daughter?

Carrie McGonigle: No, but I don't know if that's just denial.

Harry Smith : You think someone else may have done it?

Carrie McGonigle: Yeah, he seems a little sloppy in his - in what he does… As of yesterday they haven't found anything that linked him with Amber.

Watch the interview

Behind the scenes, a secret agreement is being hammered out. Gardner's attorneys are quietly reaching out to San Diego D.A. Dumanis, trying to save Gardner from an almost certain trip to death row.

"The discussion was, I think we can lead you to Amber Dubois," Dumains says. "We had a family that didn't know what happened to their daughter. And if we could bring Amber home, that was the most important part of this conversation."

With the blessing of Chelsea King's family, the state makes a deal: if Gardner will lead them to Amber, prosecutors will not pursue the death penalty against him for Chelsea's murder.

"It was a serious and heavy agreement," Dumanis tells Roberts. "And we made that decision and kept it very secret. …You don't know whether or not he's telling the truth. You don't know whether you're really gonna find Amber. And you don't want to raise the hopes or the fears of the family before you know."

Late the following evening, Carrie and Moe are summoned to the Escondido Police Station.

"The time - the fact that they asked us to come in immediately. We knew it was a very different call for sure," says Moe.

"And my heart just dropped," Carrie says, "I knew at that point. It wasn't going to be good." Thirteen months after Amber Dubois disappeared, Escondico police deliver the news her parents have been dreading.

"I knew when I got the phone call. I knew it was bad," Carrie recalls. "They said, 'We found remains last night and we were able to identify them…' to confirm that it's Amber's remains."

Carrie and Moe sat down with "48 Hours" correspondent Troy Roberts just hours later.

"I was still holding out," says an emotional Carrie. "But when they told me it was a sense of relief. Closure. Denial."

"It really hurt the most when they described the condition, her condition, and I wasn't ready to hear that," Moe sys. "They don't have all of her yet. Her entire body has not yet been recovered. We don't know if it's because of wild animals or what. But we just know our whole baby has not been recovered yet."

In a bitter irony, investigators finally locate Amber's remains near the Pala Indian reservation, just a mile from where the live scent dogs led Amber's family six months earlier.

And her family learns that Gardner, a convicted sex offender, had hundreds of parole violations which should have sent him back to prison months earlier.

U.S. Dept. of Justice Sex Offender Registry

"He should not have been on the street," says Dave Cave. "He didn't belong on the street."

But Gardner's confession clears up one mystery that's been haunting Amber's family: Dave is no longer a suspect.

"How'd you feel when he was cleared?" Roberts asks Carrie.

"I felt, well I felt relief, you know, of course," she replies.

"Did you feel a little guilty?"

"No, no. It's my daughter."

But Dave is still struggling to understand why Carrie ever had doubts about him

"There's hurt that will never… that will never pass. I've had things said to me that are more hurtful than anything that's ever been said to me in my life," he says. "People that should have had 100-percent faith in me didn't. And that's a hurt that's never gonna go away."

Friends and family gather three weeks later as Amber is laid to rest.

"I carry Amber close to me," Moe says. "She's by my side and she always will be."

"I feel a sense of closure," Carrie says. "I think he feels devastated, where my anger is going to keep me going to bring justice for Amber."

On April 16, 2010, in a San Diego courtroom, John Gardner pleads guilty to the slayings of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King and the attack on jogger Candice Moncayo.

But Gardner's guilty plea is not enough for Carrie, who feels the need to confront her daughter's killer face to face.

Carrie says she needs answers. "How he got Amber. I needed to know if she cried for me, if she begged for her life."

Authorities won't let Carrie see Gardner, so she takes to waiting at the entrance to the jail, sparking a confrontation with Gardner's mother, a psychiatric nurse.

"It pisses me off that the mom didn't go public and say, 'I'm sorry, you know, my son is a monster. He's still my son, I still love him because he's still my son. But I'm sorry, I reach out to the families and apologize for his behavior.' You know, she just runs. And I just think that's weak," says Carrie.

Asked by a reporter outside the jail why Gardner's mom wouldn't let him visit with Carrie, Gardner's sister, Sharon replies: "She wouldn't let Gardner do anything," and continues on to say, "We're sorry. We're sorry beyond you don't even know."

Then, just two days before sentencing, Carrie is granted a meeting with Gardner.

"I had been coached by Escondido Police Department… that if I showed rage, if I showed anger I wouldn't get the answers I wanted," she explains. "And so when I went in there I had a mindset of just, I'm going in to ask the questions.

"The biggest thing was how did he get my daughter. How was he able to get Amber in his car. And when he finally told me how it happened, it made sense then."

According to Gardner, he was driving in the neighborhood at about 7 a.m. when he spotted Amber walking alone down an empty side street.

"She wasn't anywhere where any of us thought she was… she was not anywhere near the school," says Carrie.

In an exclusive interview with "48 Hours," convicted killer John Gardner explains exactly how he abducted and murdered Amber Dubois.

"I passed her driving down the street. And that's the first time I saw her," Gardner says.

"I pulled up next to her with the windows down on the car. I had the knife out and visible. And told her that I also had a gun. And to get in the car or it was going to be a lot worse.

"She actually looked at me in kinda shock and disbelief and asked me if I was kidding. And I raised my voice and yelled, "No. Get the F in the car."

"I can see the whole thing," Carrie says. "How she looked at him and how she was scared when she saw him."

"I drove to the remote area and on driving I put the music on. She wanted to hear music so that she could pretend she wasn't there," Gardner continues.

During the 40-minute ride to the Indian reservation, Gardner says a terrified Amber badgered him, begging him to let her go.

"She asked me why I was doing it, what was wrong."

"But she wasn't crying. She never cried," Carrie says. "And she just kept going, 'Why are you doing this? Why are you doing this?' and asking a lot of questions."

When we got to the Pala area …I turned into like a little plateau dirt area that was just off of that road… and that's where everything - the rest of it took place."

"And he took her to the location, he raped her and then out of the blue, he doesn't know why, he just grabbed the knife… he ran over and stabbed her," Carrie explains.

For a half an hour, Carrie listened spellbound as Gardner filled in the missing pieces of her daughter's last day on earth. But surprisingly, instead of breaking her, Carrie says it gave her strength.

Asked how she felt when she left the meeting with Gardner, Carrie tells Roberts, "I felt great. Because, I had, in my opinion, I had complete closure… I got the answers I was looking for… I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, which is something that I hadn't seen for 13 months."It's sentencing day for John Gardner and Amber's mother, Carrie McGonigle, has prepared a victim impact statement for court.

"Today, after 15 months of the most agonizing pain worry, anger and grief, I am supposed to address the court and put into words the impact of the criminal acts this stranger brought upon my loving daughter," she tells the court. "I will never forget the pain that you have caused or the loss that I feel. I will never forget that you stole from me God's most precious gift."

Gardner is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the first-degree murder of Amber Dubois.

Just after receiving his formal life sentence, Gardner continued his exclusive interview with "48 Hours Mystery."

"I am the most dangerous type of a sexual predator… I will kill. I know I will… I am the type that needs to be locked up. Forever.

Gardner says he's been violent since he was a child and has taken countless medicines.

"I was on about 16 to 20 different medications throughout my life," he says. "Lithium, Tagretol, Melarel…"

These are drugs usually prescribed to control severe psychiatric disorders, but Gardner says nothing has helped him control his rage.

"I've done things to my family members, I've hurt them, I've hit people, I've beaten people, I've done a lot of things that I regret in my life and I wish I could take back. But I still do the same things over and over again," he tells "48 Hours."

"I'm on meds right now and you can see the anger in my eyes just trying to talk… I get angry, I blow up, I explode. I don't know how to describe it. I feel like I'm out of control with myself at times and I go and I do things that I regret for the rest of my life."

Gardner claims he's haunted by the memories of his victims.

"It's like torture…. I hurt so many people in such a bad way. And I have to live with that knowledge."

But he has trouble saying he's remorseful.

"Honestly, I do have remorse - the word remorse. I regret it completely. I don't even know the meaning of that word remorse. I say regret. I regret everything that I've done," Gardner explains.

San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis believes the tears Gardner shed in the courtroom were just an act.

"I think he's a sociopath… I don't think any sociopath is capable of remorse," she says. "I think what we saw was Mr. Gardner trying to make us feel that he had remorse and the true Gardner came out when Candice said, 'How's your nose?'"

It was a brief but revealing moment and it came when Candice Moncayo gave her statement in court. She is the jogger who survived her encounter with Gardner by punching him in the nose and outrunning him.

I came here to stand as a witness for Chelsea and Amber… I came to watch as justice is served for the horrifying acts he has committed …And finally, to ask him how his nose is.

Gardner reacts angrily and mouths to his attorney, "She didn't hit me."

"And just like that. The rage in his eyes. That's the real Gardner," says Dumanic of Gardner's reaction.

On May 17, 2010, John Gardner was transferred to Corcoran State Prison.

"I'm probably gonna twiddle my thumbs in some solitary confinement and beat myself up for however long that I'm around… and eventually it will happen. Eventually someone will come and get to me," he says.

Gardner says the sooner death comes, the better.

"That will be a release for me. I'm going to torture myself more with the memories that I have and how much I beat myself up about it than death itself. And I'll probably - it's either going to be that or I end up killing myself, one of the two. I can't stand to be confined. I'm like an animal. Just like they said. I'm an animal."

"How do you begin to move forward in this new normal of your life?" Roberts asks Amber's mother.

"I'll never forget, you know," a teary-eyed Carrie replies. "I'm taking things slow, you know. Enjoying time with Allison, Amber's little sister."

Remarkably, today Carrie says she's finally able to forgive the man who killed her daughter.

"I have to say it's Amber making me forgive him. I don't know… but I have to forgive in order to live my life," she says. "I could sit here and be angry at the world, but what is that going to get me? How is that going to benefit my 7-year-old daughter that I have to raise still?"

And at least for now, Dave and Carrie will be raising their daughter together. They're in counseling and living together again.

"There are times when everything is nice and mellow and there are times that everything isn't quite so nice and mellow," Dave says. "And that's the way it's gonna be."

"We can only go one day at a time," says Carrie.

"That's pretty much it," adds Dave. "One day at a time."

Moe Dubois helped pass three new California laws to improve tracking sex offenders and speed up police response in missing children cases. Learn more at More

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