Unemployed man who rescued kidnapped girl in Fresno gets full scholarship
"All my uncles are in construction. I'll get this license, then maybe we can put ourselves to work," said Perez, an unemployed construction worker who last week chased down a kidnapper and rescued an 8-year-old girl.
The story caught the nation's attention and thrust Perez and his cousin Flor Urias, who spotted the kidnapper's truck, into the media spotlight. The governor flew to Fresno to meet them. Fresno declared a "Victor Perez Day." A CNN Cadillac picked up Perez and took him to back-to-back interviews with national morning shows.
"After four interviews, I was ready to throw in the towel," he said. "I couldn't take it no more. I was really spooked."
He did what he'd been doing his whole life when he needed guidance. He went to talk to his Uncle Sam, Urias' dad.
"When I go to him, I know I'm going to get set right," said Perez. "He told me, 'God was with you when you saved that little girl. It's a blessing.' "
Perez realized his uncle was right when the mother of the little girl who was kidnapped knocked on his door.
"She told me in Spanish that I was her little girl's guardian angel. I had to breathe deep two or three times to not cry. I felt so grateful that I could help."
People have sent Perez letters and reward money. Urias was most touched by a woman in a nursing home who sent $8 because she had an 8-year-old granddaughter and it was all she could afford.
The day before the kidnapping, Urias and Perez went metal scrapping to come up with food money for the week. They split $42 between them and made a big batch of chicken soup for the extended family.
Building-industry experts estimate unemployment in construction to be about 30% in Fresno.
Victor, a single father of two boys, said he's a very good house-framer.
"If you saw any of my work, you'd be, 'Wow.' I know my profile doesn't fit the smart type, but I can read a blueprint. It's just there are a lot of really good people out of work right now."
In high school, he said he was taking advanced-placement classes before he "took a wrong turn" and dropped out at 16, so he's confident he can handle contractors state licensing school.
On a recent afternoon, Perez and Urias were ditching magazine photographers and raking their back yard, getting ready for a family barbecue.
Perez is still hoping for a job so he can work while he goes to school. Urias thinks he should just concentrate on getting the license.
"We made it one way or the other before, we can do it a little while longer," she told him, tapping him with her rake.
Both are puzzled that people are sending them money.
"The little girl's family needs it more than us," Perez said.
Gregorio Gonzalez allegedly held the 8-year-old overnight and sexually assaulted her. The girl's father recently lost his job as a landscaper and the family then lost their car. They are using the bus to take their daughter to counseling for the trauma she went through. They have three other children. The local paper, the Fresno Bee, is accepting donations for the family.
"I hope people don't forget their family," Perez said. "But me? I'm done. I'm really grateful, but I really need out of the spotlight now."
-- Diana Marcum in Fresno
Photo: Victor Perez. Credit: Diana Marcum / Los Angeles Times