A man who rescued an 8-year-old girl who had been abducted by a stranger says he was "beyond scared" as he forced the alleged kidnapper to stop his truck and hand over the child.
At about 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, Victor Perez, 29, recognized the truck from media reports about the girl, who was taken while she played outside a home in Fresno, Calif., at 8:30 p.m. Monday.
He gave chase in his own vehicle and repeatedly tried to force the alleged kidnapper's truck off the road. Eventually, Perez saw the girl's head in the truck's window.
"He kept getting away. He kept going round my truck. The last time I completely said, 'Either he crashes into me or he stops.' He stopped and pushed the little girl out," he told NBC station KSEE 24 News.
After being forced out of the truck, the girl ran to safety.
"The first thing she told me, 'I'm scared,'" Perez said. "She was shaking. I said, 'You're all right now.'"
Police later arrested Gregorio Gonzalez, 24, who they said was a member of the Bulldogs street gang.
The child was taken to a hospital and police Chief Jerry Dyer said she had been sexually assaulted. The police chief described her as "frightened, traumatized."
Perez told CNN that he saw a vehicle matching the description of the one used in the abduction — an older-model, reddish-brown Chevrolet with a white stripe on the side — as he stood outside his house talking with his cousin about the abduction early Tuesday.
"I thought, that could be the truck," Perez told CNN Tuesday night.
"I had a split-second decision to decide to call 911 or go after it," Perez told ABC News. "I decided to go after it while my cousin was dialing 911. I took a chance to go and ask a question to see if that was the man that we're looking for."
'That's not your little girl'
He got into his 1988 white Ford pickup, and began to follow. As he tried to cut off the truck, its driver reportedly told him, "I don't have no time," and claimed his battery was dying.
"The second time I reached him, the way he acted — yes, I was, for a split second I was nervous until I saw the little girl and all fear was out the window after that," Perez told ABC's "Good Morning America."
"I didn't have no fear. I wasn't thinking of me no more. I was just thinking we need to get that little girl to safety," he added. "I wasn't going to give up. ... I couldn't give up."
"I kept telling him, 'That's not your little girl.' We argued. We exchanged words," Perez told CNN, admitting that he had wondered whether the motorist had a gun. "I was beyond scared."
"He was hiding her — like pushing her down. I thank God he put me here to help out that little girl — that's for sure," he added.
On the fourth attempt, he forced the vehicle to stop.
An Amber Alert had been issued with more than 130 officers involved in the search.
Authorities released the victim's name when issuing the Amber Alert, but msnbc.com does not identify victims of sexual assault without their consent.
"I was at the same time happy and grateful that my daughter had been brought home," the girl's mother told a news conference. "During the night, the hours seemed very long."
Dyer, the police chief, said Gonzalez was on probation for a felony domestic violence conviction and had been arrested numerous times, including on suspicion of possessing a sawed-off shotgun.
Police said Gonzalez lives with his grandparents and that the pickup truck he was driving belonged to his grandmother.
Police said Gonzalez texted his grandmother to say the truck had been stolen. His grandmother responded by saying she saw on TV that the police were looking for it in connection with a kidnapping case.
Authorities said the victim was playing with six other girls when a stranger approached them and managed to lure her into his pickup.
Two adults who saw what was happening shouted for the girls to run away. But the man grabbed the victim and drove away as witnesses chased the vehicle, police said.
Fresno police said Gonzalez fits the description of a man who exposed himself to two girls earlier in the day.
"I've got to tell you, it was the highlight of my career seeing (the victim) and her mom unite in that hospital room," Dyer said. "Because we beat the odds today because in many cases, we don't find the child alive."
"If not for obviously Victor (Perez) being as brave as he is, we may have never recovered her," Dyer told CNN.