HANFORD — Evangelina “Eva” Sanchez, the 9-year-old who was reported missing out of Hanford on Monday, has been found safe and is now in the care of the Kings County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Dave Robinson said.
“Evangelina has been found and she is safe,” Robinson said. “She is here in our custody and she is doing great.”
Robinson held a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the Kings County Sheriff’s Office to give an update on the investigation.
Deputies previously said Eva was reported to have been taken by a man from a house in the 1000 block of Beulah Street on Monday around 10:45 a.m.
Robinson said the reporting party said a man entered the home with force, identified himself as Eva’s father, grabbed Eva and fled the scene with her over his shoulder. He said the reporting party had no idea who the man was and told deputies that Eva had said he was not her father.
Detectives began their investigation and were interested in the whereabouts of Eva’s mother, 32-year-old Felicia Flores.
Flores has some family in Kings County, but Robinson said early on in the investigation it became clear that Flores had a lot of activity centered in the Fresno area, so the investigation began to focus in that area.
Robinson said units were waiting near a known address to see if Flores showed up there, but she did not. He said that was an indication that she knew authorities were looking for her.
Robinson said the Fresno Police Department received a tip on Tuesday about a suspicious van in the parking lot of a Walmart near Herndon and Ingram avenues in Fresno.
When Fresno Police officers arrived on scene, a security guard pointed them in the direction of a suspect who was fleeing the scene with a shopping cart full of stolen items.
Fresno officers chased the suspect and were able to take him into custody.
“It turns out that suspect was our suspect, Jose Gonzalez,” Robinson said.
Robinson said the 23-year-old Gonzalez was Flores’ boyfriend. Once Gonzalez was arrested, he said Flores fled the scene with Eva in the van and took her to an unknown location.
Through continued investigation, Robinson said detectives and assisting units were able to come with a possible location for the pair in the 4000 block of Filmore Street in Fresno. He said Eva was seen near the front door of the residence and officers were able to secure her.
Robinson also said Flores was located hiding inside one of the bedrooms of the home and was arrested and taken into custody.
Robinson said detectives learned Eva had been in Hanford since around Christmas time and was not attending school. He said she was staying with acquaintance of her mother who has no biological connection to Flores or Eva.
Robinson said deputies have no indication to believe that Eva was the victim of any other crime.
Robinson said Eva’s biological father was cooperative from the very beginning of the investigation. He said the biological father does not have custody of Eva, and it is unclear who has actual custody of Eva because there seems to be no court records determining that information.
By all accounts, Robinson believes Flores was supposed to be the only person having care and control of Eva, but relinquished that to the acquaintance in December.
“The focus initially was just trying to find Eva, so we didn’t have a lot of time to do any research yet into the backstory,” Robinson said. “So we’ll focus our efforts more on that."
To Robinson’s knowledge, Flores did not have any warrants in Kings County. He said he believes Flores has possible outstanding warrants in Fresno County on a drug case.
“Her actions absolutely dictate that she is unfit to be a mother and unfit to care for this child,” Robinson said. “We will do everything we can to work with child protective services to make sure that Eva is placed in a safe and clean environment."
Robinson said he doesn’t know what items were being bought at Walmart, so he has no idea if Flores and Gonzalez were planning to flee and take Eva with them.
“We really don’t know the ‘why it got to this point’,” Robinson said.
Flores has other children, and Robinson said the department has been able to determine that all her other children are safe with other family members.
“Eva was the only one that wasn’t in a safe environment, as far as we can tell at this point,” Robinson said.
Robinson said Eva is doing well and is a typical “happy-go-lucky” 9-year-old. He said she has been positive and cooperative with officers and expressed that she misses school.
“It sounds like she’s eager to get back in school,” Robinson said. “We’re hopeful that CPS can help us place her in a safe environment and get her back in a more solid learning environment."
Robinson said he encourages anyone who needs help to seek out the various resources that are available to them and not get to the point where they put their children in danger.
Gonzalez is being booked on suspicion of kidnapping, Robinson said, and Flores will be charged on suspicion of child neglect and child endangerment. He said the office will look further into additional charges as the investigation unfolds.
Robinson said Gonzalez and Flores have to be interviewed and the incident investigated further, and assured that the department will release more information as it becomes available.
Robinson said he had many thanks to give to those who worked on the case the last 24 hours, including Kings County Sheriff’s deputies and detectives, Kings County Gang and Narcotics Task Force, Fresno Police Department officers, Fresno Methamphetamine Task Force, Fresno Sheriff’s Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium, Kings County District Attorney’s Office and the citizen who tipped-off police.
“Luck was on our side on this one,” Robinson said.