Advocates say young woman linked to crime spree is victim

Cindy Garcia was human trafficking victim

NATIONAL CITY, Calif. - Despite facing serious charges, local advocates say the young woman accused in a recent crime spree is a victim.

A missing person flyer released by the National City Police Department four years ago shows a picture of a then-14-year-old Cindy Garcia, who was held captive in Mexico.

Garcia is now accused of being an accomplice in a terrifying crime spree.

The Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition (BSCC) helped Garcia escape from human traffickers and return to the U.S. in 2009.

Documents from the BCSS show Garcia was first reported missing in March 2009 by her mother, Maria Altamirano. Garcia's mother told police Garcia previously run away on several occasions. At the time, she was believed to be with a man named Sergio Alcala, a known gang member. The documents say Alcala kept Garcia at a ranch where she was "forced to prostitute and sell drugs."

The documents show Garcia called her mother from Mexico several times asking for help. By the end of July 2009, the documents show Garcia was with a 28-year-old man named Eduardo.

After police and BCSS became involved, Garcia was eventually brought back to her mother.

BCSS Director Marisa Ugarte said Garcia was offered help, but her mother never took advantage of it.

"It would have been all the counseling she needed, progress for school, counseling in what happened," said Ugarte. "I don't think the mother had control over her or knew how to help her as a parent."

Four years passed before Ugarte saw Garcia. On Friday morning, Garcia was formally charged for her role in a crime spree that touched several parts of San Diego County within several days. Prosecutors say Garcia was an accomplice to Philip Martin Hernandez, who was killed in a shootout with police Wednesday night.

Ugarte said Garcia spoke to her about her days on the run with Philip Hernandez.

"All this time he's been forcing her," said Ugarte. "She has bruises on her legs and everywhere."

Urgarte said Garcia also told her how she and Hernandez were married after two years of dating.

"The fact that he took her at 16 ... that's two years," said Ugarte. "There's enough brainwashing, there's enough corrosion."

Ugarte said she hopes prosecutors will take Garcia's history as a victim into account while moving forward with charges.

"She is a victim, and she needs to be treated like a victim," saig Ugarte.

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