A 27-year-old Chula Vista man was arrested Saturday night for the rape of a woman near Balboa Park Thursday, and he is also a suspect in an attempted kidnapping earlier the same evening a few blocks away, according to San Diego Police.
Ismael Hernandez, Jr. was taken into custody without incident by SDPD detectives at about 9:20 p.m. Saturday in the 700 block of Broadway in Chula Vista.
"We worked throughout the day (Saturday) to develop information and to look at any other possibilities, and we were certain that Mr. Hernandez was the suspect," San Diego Police Capt. Brian Ahearn said.
Hernandez was booked into San Diego Central Jail shortly after 3 a.m. Sunday on suspicion of 10 felonies, including rape by force; kidnapping for rape; penetration by a foreign object; oral copulation by force; three counts of attempted sexual assault; using a dangerous weapon during an assault; making a criminal threat; and false imprisonment, according to Ahearn.
The San Diego County Sheriff's Department Jail website indicates Hernandez was scheduled to be arraigned in Superior Court on Wednesday.
Detectives received information from numerous sources in building their case, including surveillance video, tips to Crime Stoppers and calls from people who know Hernandez. But it was the victims who provided the key evidence, according to Ahearn
"They have been steadfast through this whole process," Ahearn said.
"They're survivors, they have been very actively involved in our investigation working very closely with investigators in a very, very traumatic situation where they have been up basically working all night," he said. "Their participation in the investigative process has been really a huge difference and a huge factor in leading us to Mr. Hernandez."
The reported rape was at about 10 p.m. Thursday. A woman was walking alone in the 600 block of Eighth Avenue from her workplace to her car, and was accosted by a knife-wielding man who forced her to walk into Balboa Park.
The suspect reportedly threatened the victim at knifepoint before sexually assaulting her.
The woman was then forced at knifepoint to walk to the 1600 block of Ninth Avenue, where she was sexually assaulted for a second time. The suspect then fled the area, a crime bulletin with a composite sketch was released by SDPD, and the case was covered extensively in the local news media.
That's when an additional victim came forward to report that someone had attempted to kidnap her also, according to police. Detectives were investigating this alleged crime as well, with Hernandez as their prime suspect, Ahearn said.
The first victim of Thursday night was confronted shortly before 10 p.m. near Cedar Street and Sixth Avenue, a few blocks away from where the rape victim was abducted.
The woman was approaching her car carrying take-out from a nearby restaurant when she noticed a man in the reflection of her car's window approaching her from behind.
"Mr. Hernandez walked up to the victim and repeatedly made some statements that indicated to her that she was going to be victimized," Ahearn said.
The victim turned to face him, squirmed away and created some distance between them, according to Ahearn.
"She was alert, she was frightened, she was scared and she took the food that she had purchased and tossed it toward Mr. Hernandez to use as a distraction," Ahearn said.
The woman was able to get away and run back into the building from which she came. Her boyfriend responded, they looked for the suspect, but did not call police at the time.
It wasn't until news of the second incident became public that they contacted police.
Hernandez was arrested less than 48 hours after the rape was reported and it was the community's involvement that made the difference, according to Ahearn.
"The information in this case was accurate, it was timely, and it played an absolute huge role in ensuring that a suspect was arrested," Ahearn said. "This is a victory for the citizens of San Diego who got involved in the process and provided information to the department."
Ahearn said this is an isolated case and that Balboa Park is a safe place for people to go and recreate and experience the culture.
"What the city of San Diego and the residents and the visitors saw is how the system works," Ahearn said. "When information is provided, the police department has the tools and the resources and a relationship with the community members to get information and to get information quickly."
The case is ongoing and detectives are still seeking more tips, leads and evidence, Ahearn said. Additional charges may be sought against Hernandez, he said.
"Victim number two is a mother so to be able for her to celebrate Mother's Day knowing the suspect has been apprehended and that her and the other victim were instrumental in that process," Ahearn said.
"I can't speak of the trauma that they're going through, but I just want them to know that they played a huge role in helping us," he said.
"I hope that she can take some consolation in knowing on this Mother's Day, she was instrumental in taking him off the streets."