Police say Gregorio Gonzalez abducted the child while she was playing with friends outside a home Monday evening. Tuesday morning, a citizen who had seen surveillance video of the kidnapper's distinctive Chevy truck on television spotted the vehicle and began to follow it.
"A short time later, [the Good Samaritan] saw the girl stick her head up, evidently she had been on the floor board or laying down on the seat," Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer told reporters.
Victor Perez then used his car to cut off the truck and confronted Gonzalez about the girl.
"I told him, 'That ain't your little girl, man,'" Perez said.
Gonzalez then pushed the child out of the pickup and drove away. Perez stayed with the girl and called police.
Within an hour, California Highway Patrol Officer Dustin Dimmer spotted Gonzalez's truck. He approached and discovered the suspect crouched on the floor. With gun drawn, Dimmer arrested Gonzalez, who offered no resistance.
The little girl was taken to the hospital. She told police Gonzalez had taken to her to a wooded area along a canal bank. She was with him for several hours and police say during that time she was sexually assaulted.
Authorities said Gonzalez fits the description of a man who had exposed himself to two girls earlier in the day.
"I got to tell you that this was the highlight of my career, seeing [the girl] and her mom unite in the hospital room, because we beat the odds today because in many cases, we don't find the child alive," Dyer said.
Marc Klaas, president of Beyond Missing, Inc., advises parents to talk to their children, no matter how young.
"The kids should always talk with their parents before they go some place. They should always be outside with at least one other person, as this little girl was. If something feels wrong, it is wrong and they should put distance between themselves and whatever that is," said Klaas, whose own daughter Polly was the tragic victim of a Petaluma home abduction in 1993.
Klaas says it comes down to parents taking care of business, and while much needs to be done, progress has been made. "We now have protocols in place that didn't exist then. We have better control over these individuals and we have programs like the AMBER Alert."
"It's because of the use of the media that the Good Samaritan was able to spot that vehicle," Dyer said. "It's the truth."
Stranger abductions are rare, with only 125 or so per year in the United States. Still, Klaas advises parents to give cell phones to their children 10 years of age or older. He says it could be one more weapon to keep your child safe.
Police say Gonzalez staked out the victim, watching her for some time before luring her into the car.
Due to the kidnapping victim also being a sexual assualt victim, ABC7 has made the decision not to reveal her name or use her picture. We have removed any earlier posts containing this content.