Fort Stockton man at center of Big Bend search charged with child endangerment

Hector Flores, Jr. Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

ALPINE — A Fort Stockton man who became the subject of a multi-agency, cross-border search after disappearing in Big Bend National Park along with his nine-year-old daughter has been charged with child endangerment and is being held without bail, court records show.

Hector Flores, Jr., 49, and his nine-year-old daughter — identified in court documents by her initials, L.F. — were located in the Mexican state of Coahuila on Monday, February 14, over a week after their abandoned truck was found in a remote part of Big Bend National Park, spawning a search by land and aircraft that involved state and federal agencies as well as officials and police on both sides of the border. 

After being detained by Mexican authorities, the pair were returned to the United States on Tuesday. The daughter was taken into the custody of the Child Protective Services division of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. 

Hector Flores, Jr. was arrested Tuesday and charged in federal court with child endangerment, a state jail felony in Texas, punishable by 180 days to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. U.S. Attorney Ashley C. Hoff has filed a motion to have Flores detained without bond, citing him as a flight risk and a danger to the community.

A recently unsealed criminal complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas and based on a sworn affidavit by Special Agent Alice D. Downie, offers more insight into the situation.

According to the complaint, Flores, who had moved to Fort Stockton two years prior, had taken a number of drastic actions in the days leading up to their departure into the park – around January 4, he pulled his daughter out of school and did not enroll her in a new one; around January 26, his phone service was disconnected due to non-payment; around January 27, he called into his place of work and reported that he would not be showing up for his shift, at which time he was fired. The next day, on January 28, Flores drove into Big Bend National Park.

Flores’ abandoned car was found on February 5 in a wash about a quarter mile off the park’s remote Old Ore Road, with the driver’s side door open and the windows rolled down, per the complaint. A number of documents were found inside the car: a Nevada ID card belonging to Flores, birth certificates and social security cards belonging to both father and daughter, and a legal document showing Flores to be the biological father of the child.

During the ground search that ensued throughout the area, searchers found personal belongings strewn within a few hundred yards of the car — clothing and toiletries for both an adult and a child, childrens’ toys and backpacks were found farther down the wash. Searchers found human waste, and locks of hair about six inches long that seemed to have been cut and were later found to match those of the child. Searchers also found a discarded animal cage, and it was later discovered that the child had a pet rat.

During the time the pair were in or near the park, temperatures dropped as low as 10 degrees Fahrenheit, reads the complaint, and the area experienced heavy rainfall.

On February 14, a day after Boquillas residents had observed the father and daughter near the Rio Grande, Mexican authorities performed a welfare check and found they did not have documentation to remain in Mexico. While park rangers took the child across the border to be handed over to CPS, she told the rangers they had run out of food and that she hadn’t eaten in four days. 

“Thank God we came across some kayakers, they gave us wraps to eat,” the child told rangers, per the complaint.

The complaint states that Flores “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, by act or omission, engaged in conduct that placed a child younger than 15 years in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment while in Big Bend National Park, a Federal jurisdiction.” He is being charged in accordance with Texas state law. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas declined to comment further. Shane O’Neal, the Alpine-based attorney assigned to represent Flores, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Flores is scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing on February 23 at the Western District of Texas’ Alpine courthouse.

Editor’s note: Previous stories published by The Big Bend Sentinel about the missing persons search for Hector Flores, Jr. and his daughter identified Flores’ nine-year-old daughter by name, as the National Park Service had identified the child by name. As the child, a minor, is now a part of criminal proceedings, The Big Bend Sentinel will be withholding her name in future stories regarding the case, and will refrain from publishing her photo.