In a stunning breakthrough in a case that has captivated the country, authorities on Monday evening arrested a suspect on suspicion of murder and kidnapping in the disappearance of Sierra LaMar.
Antolin Garcia-Torres, 21, was booked into Santa Clara County Jail on one count of murder and one count of kidnapping.
"We believe we have probable cause that he committed the kidnapping and murder of Sierra LaMar," said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith at a late evening news conference.
The sheriff's office previously announced that a red Volkswagen Jetta may be connected to the case, and according to authorities, Garcia-Torres is the owner of the car, which was seized on May 8.
"We have a lot of physical evidence" Smith said. She said the public's safety is the main concern of her office, and, "we don't want to see anyone else hurt or any other little girls taken."
She said Garcia-Torres had been under surveillance by her department, but declined to elaborate.
Smith urged people not to give up the search for LaMar. "We ask that the public continue to look, and find Sierra for us," she said.
She said the news is very difficult for the family and that they have been appraised of what is going on. She added that they will be at a news conference scheduled Tuesday morning.
DNA evidence may have connected Garcia-Torres to LaMar's items that were found in the days after her March 16 disappearance, KTVU-2 reported.
The day after her disappearance, investigators found her cellphone a few blocks east of her school bus stop. And, the next day, her pink Juicy-brand bag was found, containing a neatly folded T-shirt and pants.
KTVU-2 reported that Garcia-Torres was arrested around 6 p.m. at a Safeway store on Tennant Avenue in Morgan Hill, where he worked.
Witnesses to the arrest told the television station that sheriff's officers took Garcia-Torres into custody at gunpoint. A broadcast showed him, clad in shorts and a tank-top with a chain connecting his wrists to his waist, being escorted away from the sheriff's office after an interview said to have lasted three hours.
Marc Klaas, who has been organizing volunteer searches since Sierra's disappearance, says he was given the same incomplete news after his own 12-year-old daughter, Polly, was kidnapped from their Petaluma home in 1993.
"I would say they're very angry now," Klaas said of the LaMar family, although he hadn't talked to them late Monday night.
"They've been told somebody murdered their daughter, but they can't prove it. That's how I felt. They needed to prove to me one way or another before I would accept anything, until they proved to me my daughter was dead."
After being dominated by fear and anger for the past two months, the LaMar family is now "possibly at the point where there won't be anything left to be afraid of," Klaas said.
Until Sierra's body is recovered, he said, his volunteers will continue with a scheduled search Wednesday "in hopes of still finding Sierra alive."
Monday's arrest marks a sad turn to a case that began after the teen from the Morgan Hill area vanished on the way to school, sparking countless volunteer searches as her family and authorities scoured fields, creeks, back roads and reservoirs in hopes of finding Sierra.
Over the past two months, critical developments in the case emerged but none was revealed to be a breakthrough -- until now.
Ten days after Sierra disappeared, the Sheriff's Office took her off the missing persons list and Monday's arrest suggested the worst.
"As difficult as it is, and as much as you want your child home and safe, you need a resolution. You need to know. There are far too many cases unsolved or cold that leave people in limbo from which they're unable to move forward," Klaas said.
"Imagine what it's like," he said, "to be told day after day that there's no real news? You get to the point you just need news. You need to know where is my child?"