Hector Flores Jr. pleads not guilty to child endangerment charge

ALPINE — Hector Flores Jr., a Fort Stockton man charged with child endangerment in federal court after going missing with his daughter in Big Bend National Park, pleaded not guilty last week.

Flores and his daughter became the subjects of a multi-agency missing persons search after disappearing into Big Bend National Park at the end of January, their car found abandoned in a remote part of the park. They were found weeks later in Mexico, in a remote farming community in Coahuila across the river from the park, having walked there on foot. Flores’ daughter told investigators that the pair had survived roughly two weeks without adequate food. 

On March 10, a grand jury indicted Flores on one count of child endangerment. Flores’ lawyer, Shane O’Neal, argued at the time that the government was “stretching” on the charge, telling The Big Bend Sentinel that his client had taken steps to try to ensure his child’s safety during the journey. “This statute is really meant to penalize people who abandon their children or leave their children in a car, which can cause fairly predictable, serious injury — or for cases of neglect,” he said. “There’s no indication that Mr. Flores was anything but a loving father who undertook something that is risky, but also took adequate measures to mitigate that risk.”

Speaking at Flores’ preliminary hearing in February, FBI Special Agent Alice Downie said investigators had found that Flores’ journey into the park seemed to have been planned in advance — he had checked out survivalist books from the library and told acquaintances he wanted to live off the grid. 

Flores’ case has been complicated by the fact that the charges are federal but “assimilate” a state statute, because the alleged child endangerment took place on federal land — Big Bend National Park. For that reason, Flores can be charged federally with what would otherwise be considered a state crime. In Texas, felony child endangerment is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. O’Neal said he is looking into how the state and federal laws entwined in this case could potentially complicate the process.

Flores is still currently being held in Brewster County Jail and his daughter is in the care of extended family. The child was initially taken into the custody of Child Protective Services upon being found.