An 8-year-old girl was found by law enforcement safe in Fresno more than 24 hours after she was abducted in Hanford by a man she did not know who claimed to be her father.
That man, authorities said, snatched the girl from an older woman who was caring for the girl in Hanford. The man, girl and her mother then fled to Fresno.
Fresno police arrested 23-year-old Jose Eric Gonzalez Tuesday morning at the Walmart in Pinedale in connection to the case. He will face kidnapping and child endangerment charges, King’s County Sheriff David Robinson said.
Shortly after Gonzalez was taken into custody, officers located the girl, Evangelina “Eva” Sanchez, at a home in the 4000 block of East Fillmore Avenue, along with her mother, Felicia Flores, who was hiding in a back bedroom.
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Flores, 33, will face child neglect and child endangerment charges, Robinson said.
Eva began staying with an unrelated “grandmother figure” in Hanford around Christmas and was not attending school, Robinson said. Flores previously met the woman when they lived in the same Fresno apartment complex.
The woman reported to the sheriff’s office on Monday that Gonzalez forced his way into her home claiming to be Eva’s father. But Eva hid behind the woman and said Gonzalez wasn’t her father and she didn’t know him.
“Eva had no clue who this guy was,” Robinson said.
Gonzalez then snatched up Eva and threw her over his shoulder as he fled on foot from the residence, Robinson said.
Investigators believe Gonzalez and Flores, who were in some sort of relationship together, then drove to Fresno with Eva and stayed overnight at the home on Fillmore Avenue, which Robinson called a “flop house.”
The sheriff believes the couple actively avoided law enforcement and was on the run since news of Eva’s kidnapping was shared on social media and through media outlets. Investigators also worked with Flores’ relatives, who reached out to her.
Flores hasbeen through in Kings County courts for various drug cases and is a drug user, Robinson said. Gonzalez is on probation out of Fresno County.
Eva’s biological father, who lives three hours away, has been contacted and is cooperating with authorities.
Although investigators have not yet located custody paperwork, they believe Flores was Eva’s primary caregiver.
Eva also has siblings who are in the care of other family members.
Robinson said Eva was friendly and talkative when interacting with detectives, who took her to lunch when she mentioned she was hungry.
That behavior raised concerns for investigators, he said.
“She’s been kind of a happy-go-lucky, easygoing kid,” he said. “Typically a kid ... who’s lived a sheltered life isn’t going to have kind of a nonchalant attitude about everything that’s going on. All indications are that this lifestyle is not surprising to her.”
Eva also was familiar with the process of dealing with Child Protective Services.
Investigators were interviewing Gonzalez and Flores Tuesday afternoon. They may face additional charges.
Search in Fresno for the girl
A tipster called Fresno police and said Eva was spotted at the Walmart on North Ingram Avenue with a Hispanic male, possibly in a white van. Lt. Joe Gomez responded and began searching for the suspect vehicle.
While Gomez was there, store clerks ran out reporting a theft. Police chased the suspect, who was pushing a cart full of merchandise.
The suspect ditched the cart and ran off, but police quickly caught him and handcuffed him.
The man ended up being Gonzalez. He was caught with about $200 worth of children’s clothing that allegedly was stolen.