It does have repercussions for all of us in this day and age about how our children communicate with and interact with adults given the nature of our society. —Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder
SOUTH SALT LAKE — Police have made an arrest in the two-day disappearance of a Herriman girl that spurred a massive volunteer search effort.
Angel Vizuet Garcia, 55, of Draper, was arrested about 7:30 p.m. Wednesday for investigation of child kidnapping, harboring a runaway, obstructing justice and child endangerment.
Last week, more than 1,000 emergency responders, community activists and volunteers all participated in a massive search effort for Brooklyn Gittins, who disappeared the night of Jan. 8 from her house at 13912 S. Friendship Drive (5755 West). Detectives believed she climbed out her bedroom window.
Late on the evening of Jan. 10, Brooklyn called her family to say she was at Wal-Mart, 11328 S. Jordan Gateway (400 West), in South Jordan. But she "refused to answer questions" about where she was, according to a Salt Lake County Jail report.
On Wednesday, Brooklyn's mother called detectives to say her daughter was ready to talk, the report states.
On Jan. 8, Brooklyn called Garcia on a cellphone that Garcia had allegedly provided her.
"He came from his home in Draper to give her a ride to his residence," the report states.
Brooklyn knew Garcia through common friends prior to her disappearance and "significant" premeditation went into the kidnapping, Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said Wednesday night. He did not indicate what kind of common friends the 13-year-old girl and 55-year-old man had. Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal noted, however, that Brooklyn's family knew of Garcia prior to his arrest.
Garcia was aware of the extensive search effort and media coverage surrounding the case, and he moved the girl between several locations to avoid detection, Winder said. Police did not elaborate on the location of any of those hideouts.
On Jan. 9, Brooklyn told police she hid in a bedroom while Garcia answered a knock at the door. Police had come to the residence.
"She could hear the people at the door asking about her," the report states.
After officers left, Garcia allegedly drove Brooklyn to a Harmon's store on 700 East and dropped her off. She hid in a ditch "for what seemed like a couple hours" while Garcia picked up his children from school, the report states. When Garcia returned, police say he picked her up and they went back to Garcia's residence until Brooklyn asked to be dropped off at Wal-Mart.
When Garcia was interviewed by detectives on Wednesday, he told them that Brooklyn had run away from home and he picked her up after she called him and was "upset," the report states.
Whether Brooklyn stayed with Garcia willingly is irrelevant, Winder said. Because of the girl's age, she was a victim.
"It's outrageous and it's shocking to our community and certainly to the family," he said, adding that the nature of the kidnapping is a "scary situation," serving as a warning to families.
"It is a complex case, and it's a case I think the community will want to pay attention to," he said. "It does have repercussions for all of us in this day and age about how our children communicate with and interact with adults given the nature of our society."
Garcia told investigators that he was aware police were looking for Brooklyn, and even his neighbors knew of her because she used to live in that neighborhood a few years ago, according to the report.
As of Tuesday, Brooklyn had not returned to school. Winder said last week that Brooklyn was physically OK, even though she wasn't wearing shoes, a coat or her glasses when she left her home. Her mental and emotional state will have to be gauged over time as she comes to comprehend what transpired, Winder added.
Brooklyn's grandfather, Craig Hiller, described his granddaughter's demeanor following the incident as "OK" and "very subdued."
"I'm sure (she's) just trying to figure out what to do, being a 13-year-old girl," he said. "She's just kind of keeping to herself at this time."