Boulder, Colo. A former schoolteacher was arrested Wednesday in Thailand in the slaying of 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey - a surprise breakthrough in a lurid, decade-old murder mystery that had cast a cloud of suspicion over her parents.
Ramsey family attorney Lin Wood identified the suspect as John Mark Karr, 41. Federal officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the name, and one law enforcement official told The Associated Press that Boulder police had tracked him down online.
Wood said the arrest vindicated JonBenet's parents, John and Patsy Ramsey. Patsy Ramsey died of ovarian cancer June 24.
"John and Patsy lived their lives knowing they were innocent, trying to raise a son despite the furor around them," Lin Wood said. "The story of this family is a story of courage, and story of an American injustice and tragedy that ultimately people will have to look back on and hopefully learn from."
The attorney said the Ramseys learned about the suspect a least a month before Patsy Ramsey's death. "It's been a very long 10 years, and I'm just sorry Patsy isn't here for me to hug her neck," Wood said.
Karr was a teacher who once lived in Conyers, Ga., according to Wood. The attorney said the Ramseys gave police information about Karr before he was identified as a suspect.
Wood would not say how the Ramseys knew Karr. But JonBenet was born in Atlanta in 1990, and the Ramseys lived in the Atlanta suburb of Dunwoody for several years before moving to Colorado in 1991.
A source close to the investigation said Karr confessed to elements of the crime. Also, a law enforcement source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the AP that Karr had been communicating periodically with somebody in Boulder who had been following the case and cooperating with law enforcement officials.
Dist. Atty. Mary Lacy said the arrest followed several months of work, but she said no details would be released until today.
U.S. authorities said Karr was being held in Bangkok on unrelated sex charges, but Thai police Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul said he was unaware of any criminal charges the suspect faced in Thailand.
Karr was arrested in his apartment in downtown Bangkok at the request of U.S. officials and was being held until they arrived in the country, Thai police said. Suwat said he expected U.S. officials to bring Karr back to America in the next few days.
JonBenet was found beaten and strangled in the basement of the family's home in Boulder on Dec. 26, 1996. Patsy Ramsey reported finding a ransom note in the house demanding $118,000 for her daughter.
The image of blonde-haired little JonBenet in a cowgirl costume and other beauty pageant outfits has haunted TV talk shows ever since, helping feed myriad theories about her killer, and the case became one of the most sensational unsolved murder cases in the nation.
Over the years, some experts suggested that investigators had botched the case so thoroughly that it might never be solved.
Investigators at one point said JonBenet's parents were under an "umbrella of suspicion" in the slaying. And some news accounts cast suspicion on JonBenet's older brother. But the Ramseys insisted an intruder killed their daughter, and no one was ever charged.
In the months after the slaying, Patsy Ramsey went before the cameras, vigorously defending herself and her husband, chastising the media and blasting local law enforcement as incompetent.
In a statement Wednesday, John Ramsey said, "Patsy was aware that authorities were close to making an arrest in the case, and had she lived to see this day, would no doubt have been as pleased as I am with today's development almost 10 years after our daughter's murder."
The Ramseys moved back to Atlanta after their daughter's slaying.
Wood lashed out at the frenzy that long surrounded the case, and he accused the media of "the most obscene false accusations." "I think the public's mind was so poisoned against this family that no one was able for too many years to look at the evidence," he said.
Patsy Ramsey's sister, Pam Paugh, of Roswell, Ga., said the family was celebrating the news of the arrest. "We are elated. We are elated. If this is, in fact, the killer, then we have a very heinous killer off the streets to never harm another child," Paugh said.
In 2003, a federal judge in Atlanta concluded that the evidence she reviewed suggested an intruder killed JonBenet. That opinion came with the judge's decision to dismiss a libel and slander lawsuit against the Ramseys by a freelance journalist, whom the Ramseys had named as a suspect in their daughter's murder. The Boulder district attorney at the time said she agreed with the judge's declaration.
"Today is additional vindication of the family," Wood said.
DNA was found beneath JonBenet's fingernails and inside her underwear, but Wood said two years ago that detectives were unable to match it to anyone in an FBI database. It was not immediately known Wednesday whether investigators had any DNA evidence against Karr.