Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday honored the heroic actions of an unemployed Fresno construction worker who rescued an 8-year-old girl from her kidnapper, a story that has captured the nation’s attention.
“He risked his own life and saved another. That’s an extraordinary thing,” Schwarzenegger said of Victor Perez at a Fresno news conference attended by local city and law enforcement officials. “I’ve played many action heroes in my career, but this guy is a true action hero.”
Schwarzenegger also credited Police Chief Jerry Dyer for quickly issuing an Amber Alert, obtaining surveillance video of the suspect’s truck and rallying dozens of officers to help in the search.
“I’m so inspired by this,” Schwarzenegger said. “There are so many negative stories about the economic crisis, unemployment and people losing their homes.... This is why this story is so important. To show that there are positive things going on in the world and good people.”
Schwarzenegger and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin presented Perez with proclamations for his bravery in chasing down the suspected kidnapper.
Perez, who has appeared on numerous television broadcasts, including ABC’s “Good Morning America,” spoke only briefly.
“I just want to give thanks to God and for everyone who came out today,” he said. “I also want to give thanks for the mother and daughter getting back together.”
The third-grader and a 6-year-old friend were playing in the driveway in front of their apartment complex about 8:30 p.m. Monday when a man, whom police later identified as 24-year-old Gregorio Gonzalez, told them he would buy them gifts if they came with him.
Neighbors who saw the man talking to the children shouted at the girls to run. Gonzalez allegedly grabbed the 8-year-old and forced her into an older rust-colored Chevrolet pickup with white stripes.
Authorities issued an Amber Alert. Police helicopters scanned the city. Alerts flashed on freeway signs and appeared during television shows.
On Tuesday morning, Perez turned on his TV to see if there was any new information about the case. Police had released surveillance camera footage of the truck, and as Perez and his cousin Flor Urias watched the grainy black-and-white images, Urias looked out their living room window and saw what she thought was the suspect’s pickup making a U-turn in front of their house.
Perez jumped in his 1988 Ford pickup and gave chase. He caught up with Gonzalez and forced him to the side of the road. Gonzalez threw his hands over his head in anger. When his hands shot up, the girl’s head popped up over the dashboard and Perez saw her.
Gonzalez sped off. Perez kept trying to force Gonzalez to the side of the road, finally pulling his truck directly into Gonzalez’s path. Gonzalez pushed the girl out the passenger-side door and fled.
Police say the girl told them Gonzalez took her to a wooded area near a canal where he sexually assaulted her.
Gonzalez had previously been arrested on charges of possession of a sawed-off shotgun and domestic violence. He was on felony probation.