The alleged accomplice of a former firefighter who went on a violent crime spree that ultimately ended in his death during a police shootout in Barrio Logan spoke to NBC 7 from behind bars Thursday night.
Cindy Garcia, 18, is accused of being involved in a series of violent crimes with suspect Philip Hernandez, 40, that included two shootings, three robberies and the burning of three vehicles around San Diego.
Hernandez, of Escondido, was killed on Halloween night in an officer-involved shooting at the intersection of Cesar Chavez Parkway and Harbor Drive. Garcia, of National City, was taken into custody and booked into Las Colinas Detention Facility where she’s awaiting her arraignment.
On Thursday night, Garcia spoke to NBC 7 from behind bars about the crimes and her bizarre romantic relationship with Hernandez, a man old enough to be her father.
“We were in love,” Garcia said of her relationship with Hernandez.
Garcia said she met Hernandez at a park in National City when she was 16 years old. She said she was friends with Hernandez’s daughter, who is her same age.
Shortly after they met, Garcia said she went to police and accused Hernandez of raping her. Despite that, she said she wound up in a serious relationship with Hernandez.
“Because I fell in love with him,” she added.
Garcia said her family didn’t approve of their relationship, but that didn’t stop them from getting married at Lake Tahoe in June, when she was just 17 years old.
Hernandez, a former firefighter employed by the Riverside Fire Department from July 2002 to July 2012, had a criminal record. Garcia said that may have triggered his violent rampage across San Diego this week.
“I know he did some of it to get to the government. [For his] own reasons,” said Garcia.
Garcia said she didn’t know the exact reasons behind Hernandez’s criminal actions, but admitted she witnessed some of the violent crimes, including the shooting of a man in Hillcrest.
She also confessed to taking part in at least one carjacking, but insisted Hernandez did everything on his own, including the “execution-style” shooting of an off-duty San Diego Police Department officer in the head in Escondido Monday afternoon.
“It only scared me for a little bit, but I just wanted to be with him,” recalled Garcia.
The young woman said they both wore body armor because they knew police were after them, and Hernandez was not going to be caught alive. On Wednesday night, the pair were tracked down and Hernandez was killed by officers during a shootout.
“They shot him in my face – in front of me,” said Garcia.
During the Barrio Logan shootout and Garcia’s subsequent arrest, she was caught on camera by NBC 7 news crews laughing in the back of a patrol car.
She claims she was just nervous.
“I was more in shock than anything else,” she added.
Garcia said she was not on drugs during the couple’s crime spree. She also said she might be pregnant with Hernandez’s baby and began sobbing at the possibility during her jailhouse interview with NBC 7.
As of Thursday night, Garcia faces one count of carjacking, but investigators said more chargers could be added. Her next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 8.
Meanwhile, neighbors who know Garcia and saw her grown up in National City said the young woman has a troubled history. Neighbors told NBC 7 that they suspected Hernandez was a bad influence.
On Thursday night, NBC 7 went to the home of Garcia’s mother near the 200 block of F Street in National City. Garcia’s brother answered the door and said his mother was too tired to talk.
Neighbors told NBC 7 Garcia lived at the home with her mother, two brothers and two sisters up until last year. They said Garcia has a history of running away from home, dating back to when she was 13 years old.
A next door neighbor told NBC 7 that Garcia started seeing Hernandez about two years ago. Every time they visited her mother’s house, the neighbor said the couple would allegedly smoke marijuana outside.
Monday night is the last time neighbors recall seeing Garcia in the area.
Earlier that day, authorities said the couple’s crime spree began with a car fire in 2600 block of East Mission Bay Drive. An hour later, a man was shot in Hillcrest in the1200 block of Upas Street.
Then, around 9 a.m., a man was robbed in Mission Valley East. Hours later, veteran off-duty SDPD officer Les Stewart was robbed and shot in the head while using an ATM in Escondido.
A carjacking at a Sam’s Club in Oak Park followed. Later in Chula Vista, the stolen car was found on fire.
Finally, late Wednesday night, police caught up with Hernandez and his companion in a shootout Barrio Logan that left Hernandez dead and Garcia behind bars.
Investigators said a surveillance video captured from a Sprouts market in downtown Chula Vista is what set the wheels in motion for the couple’s takedown Wednesday. It recorded Hernandez and Garcia, along with their white utility van, in the parking lot near the grocery store.
A manager showed police the tape and the investigation continued from there until the late-night, officer-involved shootout.