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Man who went missing with daughter in Big Bend indicted on child endangerment charge

Hector Flores Jr. has remained in jail since being arrested in February on claims that he endangered his young daughter’s safety as they traveled on foot across a rugged stretch of Big Bend National Park.

A federal grand jury last week indicted a Fort Stockton man on a child endangerment charge related to the multiple days in February the two were reported missing in Big Bend National Park.

Hector Flores Jr. was arrested on Feb. 15, shortly after he and his nine-year-old daughter were discovered just south of the national park in Mexico, about 20 miles from where authorities first found the father’s abandoned truck and began a lengthy search.

The indictment returned Thursday accuses Flores Jr. of placing the young girl in danger by “not providing adequate food” during the journey across the sprawling Far West Texas park.

Though the case is being handled in federal court since the incident took place inside a national park, court documents show that prosecutors are pursuing a state-level charge, which is punishable by 180 days to two years in jail and a possible $10,000 fine.

Shane O’Neal, defense attorney for the father, disputed the charge outlined in the indictment.

“They’re stretching to begin with to call this child endangerment, because that statute’s really meant to apply to people who abandon kids,” he said. “Flores did not abandon his kid.”

According to the Big Bend Sentinel, an FBI agent who investigated the case testified at a February court hearing that authorities discovered what they believed to be drug paraphernalia near the father’s abandoned truck. The agent also testified that Flores Jr. had checked out survivalist books from the Fort Stockton Public Library and had spoken to acquaintances about wanting to live off the grid, the Sentinel reported.

In an interview with Marfa Public Radio shortly after that court appearance, O’Neal raised questions about the government’s central claims that the daughter was in danger throughout the ordeal.

“They found Mr. Flores and his daughter in reasonably good health,” O’Neal said. “They didn’t require any sort of immediate medical attention, they made the journey fine.”

O’Neal specifically challenged the government’s assertion in court documents that the daughter told a park ranger she hadn’t eaten for days.

“It seems quite incredible that if they had gone four days without any sort of nourishment, that they wouldn’t [need] any kind of hospitalization or anything,” O’Neal said.

The federal judge overseeing the case in late February denied bond to Flores Jr., ruling that he would be a flight risk. The father was still being held at the Brewster County Jail on Monday, the county sheriff’s office confirmed.

Editor’s note: Shane O’Neal, the defense attorney quoted in this story, is a Marfa Public Radio board member.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.