The body found in the trunk of a car in Montebello was that of the mom who vanished last week with her family, officials said Thursday, hours after her four sons were rescued and her husband arrested following a dramatic standoff along a San Diego highway overpass.
Daniel Perez was taken into custody Thursday, after an Amber Alert search culminated in an hour-long standoff during which officials say he appears to have considered tossing one of his sons off the bridge.
Deputies shot Perez with a bean bag and took him into custody, and his four boys were rescued unharmed, a day after the discovery of the body in the trunk of the family's car triggered the Amber Alert.
That body was identified Thursday afternoon as that of Erika Perez.
She and the rest of the family had been reported missing Tuesday and had not been seen since Dec. 5.
Lojack Signals a "Hit"
Relatives had reported the Perez family — Daniel, Erika and their four sons — missing to Montebello police Tuesday, four days after the family had last been seen.
The next day, a woman's body was found in the trunk of a Honda Accord belonging to the family the next day. The body was later identified as that of Erica Perez.
That discovery prompted an Amber Alert Wednesday for the missing children in the family's black 2014 four-door Toyota Camry, with the California license plate number 7FDS891.
Investigators learned of the Camry and activated its lojack system Wednesday evening, Montebello police Lt. Julio Calleros said. They activated the system, and around 8:20 a.m. Thursday, the lojack signaled “a hit” in the Fletcher Hills area, officials said.
As El Cajon police neared the Camry near Fayette and Vernon, Perez began driving away, police said.
They pursued him for about 20 minutes along westbound Interstate 8 near State Route 67 and went north on State Route 125 to eastbound State Route 52, where he stopped on the transition road just before 9 a.m.
Two of the boys in the car ran to police officers while a crisis negotiator talked with Perez, officials said. But when two armored BearCat vehicles surrounded the car, Perez got out and walked to the edge of the bridge.
“When the children came out of the car, in a sense that forced our hand,” San Diego County Sheriff's Capt. Dave Moss said.
At least 10 police cars blocked the highway before specialized SWAT vehicles moved in. The law enforcement officers wore body armor and carried assault rifles.
Several officers had their guns drawn from a nearby ramp at the interchange between two major routes north of El Cajon.
A crisis negotiator with the El Cajon Police Department began talking with Perez on a cell phone.
One at a time, the two older boys fled the car and ran toward officers.
Then, after the BearCats moved in, Perez exited the vehicle holding the hand of one child and his phone.
He walked to the edge of the ramp with another boy following him. Once at the side railing of the bridge, Perez paused for a second.
“We were fearful, based on his statements, that he may try to throw the children off the bridge or himself so we had to take action at that point,” Capt. Moss said.
Perez was shot once with a less-lethal bean bag gun then tackled to the ground by and taken into custody. He was not seriously injured.
The two children by his side were surrounded by deputies in SWAT gear and carried away.
Amber Alert Car Stopped Near Santee Images
The four boys and their father were brought to the California Highway Patrol office following the standoff.
Perez has not spoken since he was taken into custody, according to El Cajon Police Chief Jim Redmond.
Perez is considered a person of interest in connection with Erica's killing in Montebello. He's also facing kidnapping charges, Calleros said.
Lt. Calleros said the children were not harmed in the incident and will be reunited with family members.
One deputy was injured in the standoff.
In Santee, morning commuters were diverted as at least 10 police cars blocked the highway. Drivers along eastbound SR 52 were being diverted onto Magnolia Avenue and through the city of Santee. The area has reopened for traffic, officials said.
In a post-incident briefing, the consensus among commanders was that the incident ended as well as can be expected.
“These things often don’t end well,” said Redmond, who credited the cooperation and training shared between agencies in San Diego County for the positive outcome.