June trial date set for Hector Flores, Jr., man indicted on child endangerment charge after going missing with daughter in Big Bend National Park

FAR WEST TEXAS — A trial date of June 21 has been set for Hector Flores, Jr., a Fort Stockton man who was recently indicted on a child endangerment charge by a grand jury, after going missing for over two weeks in Big Bend National Park with his nine-year-old daughter. 

Flores pleaded not guilty to the charge and the case will proceed to a jury trial, which is currently set to take place in person in Pecos at the Texas Western District Court. The date and location of the trial are subject to change. The presiding judge will be United States District Judge David Counts. The court has met regularly since February, most recently on the morning of May 17, for status conferences on the case, held by U.S. Magistrate Judge David Fannin. 

Flores and his daughter entered Big Bend National Park on January 28, were officially reported missing on February 5 after park officials discovered their vehicle abandoned a quarter mile off of Old Ore Road, and were found over two weeks later on February 14, having traveled a great distance on foot and crossed the river into Mexico. 

Their disappearance resulted in a multi-day search including state and federal agencies as well as Mexican law enforcement. Upon discovery, Flores’ daughter, who is being identified in court documents by her initials L.F., was taken into custody by Child Protective Services (CPS). She is now living with her grandparents and Flores is being held in Brewster County Jail. 

Judge Fannin ruled Flores would be held without bond, citing his previous actions — pulling his daughter out of school, allowing his phone to be disconnected, abandoning forms of identification in the national park, avoiding detection and crossing illegally into Mexico — as evidence he was a flight risk. A suitable housing option for Flores was also not arranged in time. 

Arguing the case is Prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Greenbaum. Representing Flores is Attorney Shane O’Neal. The statute Greenbaum is bringing against Flores alleges he “intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence,” engaged in conduct that placed his nine-year-old daughter “in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment.” 

At a preliminary hearing held in late February, FBI agent Alice Downie, who assisted in the search for Flores and his daughter, testified that Flores’ actions appeared premeditated, as he checked out survivalists books and told friends he wanted to live off of the grid. 

L.F. reported to authorities that her and her father’s food supply ran out after three days of camping and hiking. She also reported they ate cactus fruits and utilized water purification tabs to drink found water. Downie also testified that the child’s clothing was not adequate for winter nighttime temperatures and Sean McCaffrey, park ranger with Big Bend National Park who participated in the search, testified it appeared as if Flores’ daughter had lost weight. 

In an interview with the Big Bend Sentinel, O’Neal said he believed the government was going to have a hard time proving imminent bodily injury. Upon discovery L.F. was not taken to a hospital and did not undergo extensive medical evaluation, he said. 

“We don’t feel like the government is anywhere close to being able to make its case here,” said O’Neal. 

The child endangerment charge is punishable by six months to two years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. The case is being brought in federal court because the incident happened on federal land in the national park. But, due to the Assimilated Crimes Act (ACA), the federal charge is based on state law. 

“Mr. Flores is very passionate that he doesn’t feel like he did anything criminal here,” said O’Neal. “He doesn’t want any kind of conviction that might affect his relationship with his daughter going forward.” 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas declined to comment for this article as the case is pending litigation.