Image: Armando Gabriel Perez
San Diego Police Department
Police are searching for Armando Gabriel Perez, the estranged husband of a slain San Diego college student.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 10/14/2010 6:56:07 PM ET 2010-10-14T22:56:07

Mexican police searched Thursday for the estranged husband of a slain San Diego City College student after finding his car in a Tijuana neighborhood.

Tijuana police issued a public notice asking for help in finding Armando Gabriel Perez, a person of interest in the death of Diana Gonzalez, whose body was found Tuesday in a men's room at the downtown campus.

Fingerprint tests confirmed the identity of the 19-year-old Gonzalez, the mother of a 9-month-old girl, police said.

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The cause of death has not been disclosed. Police refused to describe her injuries, but San Diego police Capt. Jim Collins said the nature of the wounds made it difficult to readily identify her.

A student found the woman's body in a men's room at the downtown campus late Tuesday night. Her family had reported her missing a short time earlier when she failed to meet them at the school for a ride home following a night class, City News Service reported.

Last month, Gonzalez filed a police report accusing Perez of kidnapping her and repeatedly assaulting her while holding her captive in motel rooms for several days, Collins said.

Citing court documents, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Gonzalez had alleged Perez kidnapped her from the campus last month.

'Close your eyes and pray'
Perez allegedly choked Gonzalez until she lost consciousness and drove her to the motel, telling her, "Just close your eyes and pray. That’s all you can do now," the newspaper reported.

Authorities jailed the husband, and the police department's domestic violence unit investigated the case and forwarded it to the district attorney's office, which declined to file charges. Perez was released from custody four days later, Collins said.

Diana Gonzalez's sister, Janette, told San Diego NBC station KNSD-TV that prosecutors declined to pursue the case against Perez because of a lack of evidence.

"We did so much and nothing happened," Gonzalez's mother, Concepción Gonzalez, told the Union-Tribune of the efforts to keep her daughter safe. "They just kept saying, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry.' I said, 'Are we supposed to wait for him to kill her?'"

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office declined to tell the newspaper why it rejected Gonzalez's case.

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"Because of an ongoing investigation, we can’t comment on this case specifically," District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said Wednesday in a statement to the Union-Tribune. "I want to make it clear that the District Attorney’s Office takes cases of domestic violence very seriously. We work closely with victims and hold perpetrators accountable whenever possible."

Diana Gonzalez recently obtained a restraining order against her husband of about 10 months, but it had not yet been served on him at the time of her death, Collins said. KNSD reported that the couple had a court date scheduled for Tuesday, but authorities could not locate Perez to serve him with notice.

The pair met at a shopping mall in 2007, according to court documents.

Police believe that Perez might have fled to Mexico, since he apparently has at least one relative who lives in the Tijuana area.

Perez is believed to be driving a blue 1999 Ford Mustang, California license number 6GKA572, and should be considered potentially armed and dangerous, police said.

Gonzalez was taking general education classes at the college in the hopes of eventually pursuing a nursing degree, the Union-Tribune reported.

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School officials tried to calm students, saying they did not believe the killing was a random act.

"This appears to be a case of domestic violence that spilled over to the campus," City College President Terrence Burgess said in a statement released Wednesday morning.

Still, students who walked past the yellow police tape and crime scene investigators said the killing made them feel uneasy. Several classes were moved to other buildings.

"I'll now be using the buddy system to go to the bathroom because you just don't know," said Joelle Williams, a student. "You don't know if that person was in the women's bathroom waiting for her, grabbed her, and took her in to the men's bathroom, or what happened.

"Truly, I just think it's all a little bit crazy. I've been walking around the campus looking at people today, like, is it him, did he do it? You know? It's just kinda weird."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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