California highway standoff ends, with father arrested in missing family case

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(CNN) — [Breaking news update, posted at 8:20 p.m. Thursday]

The body investigators found in the trunk of a car near Montebello, California, was a mom whose husband and children had been missing for days, police said Thursday. Erica Perez was found dead inside an abandoned vehicle, Montebello Police Department Capt. Luis Lopez said. SWAT teams surrounded and arrested her husband on a highway Thursday. Their four children were recovered safely after the standoff.

[Previous story, posted at 4:01 p.m. Thursday]

California highway standoff ends, with father arrested in missing family case

(CNN) — A California highway standoff ended Thursday when SWAT teams surrounded and arrested a father being sought in an Amber Alert along with four of his missing children, Montebello Police Department Capt. Luis Lopez told reporters.

The four children — boys with ages from 6 to 11 — were recovered safely from the vehicle, Lopez said.

At one point, the father, Daniel Diego Perez, 43, appeared ready to jump off a high overpass after he left his car with two of his children and as SWAT officers closed in on him, footage aired by CNN affiliate KTLA showed.

Perez and his four children had been missing since Friday, but the children’s mother, Erica, is still considered missing, Lopez said.

Authorities are investigating a possible break in the mother’s disappearance, however. Police found a woman’s body in the trunk of another family vehicle, but authorities haven’t confirmed her identity, police said.

During the hour-long standoff, California Highway Patrol Officer Tommy Doerr described Perez as “a murder suspect, so we are taking every precaution possible.” But Lopez said Montebello police aren’t describing Perez as a murder suspect.

The standoff occurred in Santee, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of the U.S.-Mexico border, and Daniel Perez may have been heading to Mexico, where he has ties, Lopez said.

Police learned of Daniel Perez’s location when his vehicle’s LoJack radio tracking system was spotted in El Cajon, in San Diego County, where officers began chasing the car for about four miles, authorities said.

“We were all just so relieved, so happy that no one got hurt,” said Sgt. Rich Alvernaz, an El Cajon watch commander. “Obviously, it could have gotten very ugly, especially with those children in car. But the four children were unharmed, no officers were hurt, and the suspect wasn’t hurt. We’re just so glad it ended the way it did.”

As the standoff unfolded, two of the boys left the vehicle separately and walked to officers waiting a distance away, the footage showed. Later, two SWAT trucks boxed in the stationary car, and Perez then exited the car with the other two children.

As the officers moved in, Perez raised his leg over the barrier as if to jump from the overpass, but he reversed course and was apprehended by SWAT officers, the footage showed. Police also took custody of the two other boys.

Family cars

Daniel and Erica Perez own two black vehicles: a Toyota Camry sedan and a Honda, police said.

The body was found in a car that matches a family vehicle: a black Honda that has the same license plate number as the couple’s car, CNN affiliate KCAL reported.

Police would not say that the body is that of Erica Perez.

Police towed it away from where it was abandoned, at a hospital half a mile from the Perezes’ deserted home in Montebello, about eight miles east of Los Angeles.

On Thursday, the California Highway Patrol issued an Amber Alert for the four children. Daniel Perez had been last seen driving a 2014 black Toyota Camry with a California license plate of 7FDS891, authorities said.

The abducted children were identified as Jordan Dante, 11, Jaden Eric, 9, Tristin Devin, 8, and Alex Hayden, 6, the patrol said.

Family members told police that the Perezes’ marriage was rocky and marred by domestic violence. The couple has a fifth son, who is staying with his grandmother.

Erica’s sister, Pam Valdez, took journalists’ questions at a news conference late Wednesday but quickly broke down into sobs and pleaded directly with the children’s father.

“Please, Danny, bring the kids back. Just drop them off at a fire station somewhere,” she begged. “Don’t hurt them please. They’re innocent.”