March 30, 2022 832 PM
ALPINE — On March 10, a federal grand jury indicted Hector Flores Jr. of Fort Stockton on one count of child endangerment. Flores and his daughter went missing in Big Bend National Park at the end of January and was later found in a remote farming community in Coahuila across the river from the park. The grand jury decided that in the course of their 20-plus mile odyssey, Flores had “intentionally … placed a child under 15 years of age in imminent danger … by not providing adequate food.” Flores and his attorney are now waiting to see if the case will go to trial.
Authorities were tipped off that Flores and his daughter were missing on February 5, when a park employee discovered his vehicle abandoned on the rough and remote northern end of Old Ore Road. Clothes, identification, several locks of hair and drug paraphernalia were scattered around the scene, per court documents. Investigators later found that Flores and his daughter abandoned the vehicle and made their way across the desert on foot, mostly traveling at night to avoid detection. Flores told his daughter that there was going to be an earthquake that would cause a tsunami, and Mexico would be a safe place to take shelter, according to the testimony of FBI Special Agent Alice Downie, who spoke at Flores’ initial hearing.
Downie further testified that Flores’ trek into Mexico appeared premeditated. He had checked out books from the local library on wilderness survival and had invested in equipment like water purification tablets. He had also told friends and family prior to his disappearance that he liked the idea of living off-grid in Mexico.
Per Downie’s testimony, Flores’ daughter said they had not eaten in many days. “Thank God we came across some kayakers, they gave us wraps to eat,” the child told rangers responsible for her transfer into CPS care.
Flores’ attorney, Shane O’Neal, disputed the charge.
“The indictment is what we expected,” he said. “I feel like the government is stretching on the endangerment charge, particularly given the fact Mr. Flores and his daughter didn’t require any medical attention. From my conversations with him, they were fairly well supplied. 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. 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.”
O’Neal said the daughter is currently staying with her grandparents, and that will likely be the long-term arrangement for her care.
Flores is still being held in Brewster County Jail. Flores and O’Neal made the decision not to appeal his bond to help court proceedings go more smoothly. O’Neal pitched a few options to the judge, such as letting Flores wear an ankle monitor and restricting contact with his daughter, or sending him to a halfway home in Midland. “He declined, and instead found no condition can assure Mr. Flores’ appearance [in court] or the community’s safety, which I thought was a bit of a stretch,” said O’Neal.
Flores has been indicted with one federal charge of child endangerment “assimilating” a state statute. O’Neal explained that because the alleged child endangerment happened within a national park — federal jurisdiction — 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 and Flores are currently waiting to see if the case will go to trial. No evidentiary motions have been filed yet, which O’Neal anticipates will come before a date is scheduled. Because of the hybrid state-federal nature of the charge, it may take awhile for the next steps to be determined.
“It’s going to be a slightly harder decision than your normal federal case whether to go to trial,” O’Neal explained. “There’s also an interesting question about whether we can let a jury decide on punishment because in state court, you can go to the jury for punishment, but in federal court, typically that’s prohibited.”
The U.S. District Attorney’s office, representing the federal government in this case, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.