SALT LAKE CITY — A man accused of kidnapping a 13-year-old Herriman girl and harboring her from police made his initial court appearance Wednesday.
Angel Vizuet Garcia, 55, of Draper, was charged late last week with child kidnapping, a first-degree felony; obstructing justice, a second-degree felony; and reckless endangerment, a class A misdemeanor.
He stood in the 3rd District courtroom just briefly Wednesday. He was advised of the charges against him and was ordered to appear again Feb. 12 in West Jordan.
Garcia is accused of picking up runaway Brooklyn Gittins after she sneaked out of her bedroom window and called him with a prepaid cellphone that he had given her several weeks earlier.
Police say he took her to his Draper home. Over the next 2 ½ days — as more than 1,000 volunteers scoured Herriman searching for the girl — Garcia allegedly kept her hidden at his house. At one point, she hid in a bedroom while police were at Garcia's door, according to investigators.
Unified police asked Garcia for permission to search his home, but he told them he had to pick up his daughter from school and told them to come back later, according to charging documents. He also allegedly told them he hadn't seen Brooklyn since July of 2012.
After the officers left, Garcia pulled his van into the garage, loaded Brooklyn inside, and took her to a field, police said. She was only wearing pajamas and socks at the time.
"It was extremely cold during the time (Brooklyn) was left in the field," the charges state.
The officers returned and were allowed to search the house. After they left, Garcia went back to the field and picked up the girl. "(Brooklyn) told police that when the defendant dropped her off in the field she was cold, it was snowing, and it felt like a couple of hours," according to court documents.
Late on the night of Jan. 10, Brooklyn asked Garcia to drop her off at Wal-Mart, 11328 S. Jordan Gateway (400 West) in South Jordan, where she called her family to be picked up.
Police noted that Brooklyn and Garcia used to live in the same neighborhood and said her family was aware of who Garcia was prior to the girl returning home.
Garcia told police after his arrest that when she called him the night she ran away, she was "upset," according to a police report. Investigators have declined to say what Brooklyn may have been upset about.
Whether the teen stayed with Garcia willingly was irrelevant, said Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, adding that because of the girl's age, she was a victim.
Pimmie Lopez, Garcia's neighbor, attended the hearing Wednesday and said the man is different than what media reports might suggest. Lopez said Garcia is a single father of two who lost his wife to cancer in recent years.
"We have seen him, day after day, being the type of father any child would be proud to have," Lopez said. "He walks his children to the bus stop every day. … In our experience, he is so thoughtful, so kindhearted, so willing to help other people."
Lopez believes that it was that instinct to help, coupled with an unfamiliarity with law enforcement and the legal system, that led to the Gittins situation. A search of court records showed the man had no criminal history.
"The charges are clearly serious," Lopez said. "But I do believe there is other information that needs to be brought to light."
Lopez said no information has been released that indicates Garcia harmed Brooklyn. He said fellow neighbors and friends are hoping for a speedy trial and the best resolution possible.
"There are several of us that are neighbors of his that consider ourselves very fortunate to know (Garcia)," Lopez said. "He just wanted to help a dear friend who he has known for many years. … As friends, we want to make sure that side is brought to light."
Lopez said he has lived in the neighborhood for about three years. He said he did not live there when Brooklyn did and could not provide more information about the relationship between her and Garcia.