(Max Whittaker) "I'm trying to make sense of all this hero stuff," says Victor Perez. He chased down a suspected kidnapper and helped free an 8-year-old Fresno, California, girl.
Thanksgiving Stories of Kindness and Courage: Victor Perez
NOVEMBER 25, 2010Sevil Omer, MSNBCIf someone had told Victor Perez at the beginning of the year that he'd soon find fame because of a heroic act, he would have laughed. He couldn’t even find a job.But the events of Oct. 5 were so unbelievable that the 30-year-old unemployed construction worker was left shaking and speechless.
"Never, ever in my wildest dreams would I think something like this would happen," said Perez, who is credited with saving the life of an abducted 8-year-old girl. "I'm trying to make sense of all this hero stuff.""True action hero"
California authorities hailed Perez as a hero after he chased down a suspected kidnapper and helped free an 8-year-old Fresno girl. Fresno's mayor declared Oct. 7 "Victor Perez Day" and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger described him as "a true action hero."Looking back on the frightening moments when he chased down and confronted the suspect, Perez said he felt that he had no choice but to act.
"I just had to do the right thing," he told msnbc.com. "My mom always told me that no matter what, you help people. Her message: 'Look out for one another.'"
The child's mother said Perez saved her daughter's life.
"He was heroic, very decided, and he risked his own life for someone he didn't even know," the victim's mother said in Spanish. She said her daughter, who was sexually assaulted during the ordeal, is recovering and undergoing counseling. Msnbc.com does not identify sexual assault victims as a matter of policy.
Police say 24-year-old Gregorio Gonzalez, a suspected gang member, abducted the child from in front of her Fresno apartment on Oct. 4, prompting a statewide Amber Alert.
"I think that man's intentions were to kill my daughter," the mother said.The morning after the abduction, Perez and his cousin, Flor Urias, were watching TV in Urias’ house in an east Fresno neighborhood that Perez described as so bad that "people with common sense" avoid it. A special report about the kidnapped child flashed on the screen. Perez saw a picture of the suspect's vehicle, a rust-colored truck. Recognizing the area where the abduction occurred, Perez walked outside with Urias and pointed in the direction of the crime scene. It was three blocks away.
Perez didn’t get a chance to walk back inside — a pickup resembling the suspect's vehicle drove by. Perez jumped into his white 1988 Ford truck, shouted to his cousin to call police and gave chase.
"Something more than human came over me," Perez said. "When I was next to his truck, I saw the little girl. I saw her eyes, I saw fear. I knew I had to do everything I could to save her from more harm."
Perez cut off the suspect's truck three times before he finally forced him to stop. The girl opened the pickup door and fled. Soon after, police arrested the alleged assailant.
Since then, Perez said he looks ahead to a better future: Get a contractor's license, spend time with his sons, Andres, 9, and Daniel, 13, and keep praying for the young girl's healing.
He said he has had offers for work and will accept a position once he earns his license. People donated money after a fund was set up in his name. He said he wants to use those donations to pay back arrears in child support.
"This has changed my life so much," he said. "I am a better Christian and I thank God for everything. I hope to God this child gets better."
© 2010 msnbc.com
Reproduced with permission of MSNBC, from Giving thanks for everyday American heroes: Meet 5 who answered the call, and hear what they learned from their acts of kindness and courage by Sevil Omer, November 25, 2010; permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.
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