Courts & Crime

How Good Samaritan's action saved a kidnapped Fresno girl

FRESNO, Calif. — A Good Samaritan who spotted a suspected kidnapper and cut him off in traffic was key to the rescue of an 8-year-old girl who was abducted here Monday night.

Fresno resident Victor Perez said he had been following the story of the girl's abduction and saw the suspect's pickup in front of his home a couple of blocks from the girl's house Tuesday morning. He said he recognized the truck from its description -- a red pickup with white stripes on the sides -- that he'd heard on a news program.

Perez said he jumped into his own pickup, chased down the suspect and eventually was able to block his path.

"I was yelling at him, but I kept cutting him off so he would get off the road," Perez told KFSN television.

"At first it was just like a simple question: 'I need to talk to you.' And he goes, 'No, my truck keeps messing up. I need to leave.' "

But as the man tried to drive away, Perez said, he took action.

"I just kept cutting him off," he said.

At first, Perez saw no sign of the girl in the suspect's truck.

But "the second time I cut him off, the girl put her head up. He was hiding her, pushing her down."

The suspect then pushed the girl out of the truck into the roadway and sped off. Perez, who stayed with the girl and called 911, said the girl told him she was scared. "I told her, 'It's fine, you're fine now.' "

"It was truly a miracle of God," said Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer.

The truck was spotted about 40 minutes later by California Highway Patrol officer Dustin Dimmer near Saginaw Avenue and Ninth Street, where Gregorio Gonzalez, 24, was taken into custody.

Gonzalez, a member of the Bulldog gang who was on probation for domestic violence and possession of a sawed-off shotgun, faces charges of kidnapping, sexual assault and false imprisonment.

"We are very fortunate," that the girl was found alive, Dyer said, adding that 40 percent of children abducted in similar situations are killed before police are even alerted. Within 24 hours, 90 percent are dead, he added.

From the time the girl was forced into the suspect's pickup in front of her home just after 8 p.m. Monday to her recovery at 7 a.m. Tuesday, officers swarmed the city and surrounding region. Amber Alerts and media updates focused the community on her disappearance.

About 130 police officers combed the city overnight as helicopters flew overhead. At one point, police went to Kamm and Thompson avenues near Selma to help sheriff's deputies check for the truck.

Mayor Ashley Swearengin called it "an incredible showing from local law enforcement," and said it was an "example of the community, law enforcement and the media working together."

The girl's mother was at the news conference to thank police for their efforts.

The girl was taken to Community Regional Medical Center, where she was reunited with her mother in what Dyer said was the highlight of his police career.

Dyer said the girl was not physically injured but is extremely frightened by the ordeal.

Dyer said Gonzalez took the girl to a rural area by a canal, sexually assaulted her and warned that he would hurt her if she tried to escape.

At one point during the evening, Dyer said, Gonzalez sent a text message to his grandmother who owns the truck and had reported the vehicle stolen.

The grandmother in turn messaged Gonzalez that she had just seen the pickup on a television news show.

Among the unanswered questions surrounding the abduction was why Gonzalez returned to within blocks of the abduction scene Tuesday morning.

Said Dyer, "It's really difficult to get into the mind of someone who would abduct a child."