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Schwarzenegger honors heroic actions of man who rescued girl in Fresno kidnapping

October 7, 2010 | 11:39 am


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 and a certificate honoring his courage and bravery in chasing down the suspected kidnapper.

Perez, who has been on numerous television broadcasts, including “Good Morning America,” spoke briefly, saying that he was simply happy to see the young girl and her mother reunited.

“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 truck with white stripes.

Authorities issued an Amber Alert, which quickly escalated to a statewide bulletin about a small girl last seen wearing a purple "Winnie the Pooh" sweatshirt. About 130 officers were put on the case, and helicopters scanned the city. Alerts flashed on freeway signs and appeared during television shows.

Tuesday morning, the first thing Perez did was turn on the 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 an old rust-colored pickup with stripes making a U-turn in front of their house.

Perez was already out the door giving chase in his 1988 Ford pickup. He caught up with Gonzalez and  forced him to the side of the road. Gonzalez threw his hands over his head in anger.

He had been holding the little girl down. When his hands shot up, her head popped up over the dashboard and Perez saw her.

Gonzalez sped off, at one point driving on the sidewalk.

Perez kept trying to force Gonzalez to the side of the road, finally pulling his truck directly in Gonzalez's path. His plan was to rush the driver's door. But 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 and at one point threatened to "physically harm" her if she did not get back in the truck. Seven witnesses identified Gonzalez.

Gonzalez had previously been arrested on charges of possession of a sawed-off shotgun and domestic violence. He was on felony probation.

-- Diana Marcum

Photo: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger honors Victor Perez, who chased down an alleged kidnapper and helped free an 8-year-old girl. Credit: Mark Crosse / Associated Press