It was a car chase that lead to a little girl's freedom. And now an unemployed construction worker is being called a hero.
"Early Show" co-anchor Erica Hill reported when a stranger abducts a child, the clock immediately starts ticking. Officials say they have just 24 hours before the victim is usually killed.
In this case, it took just 12 hours for a Good Samaritan to help police find the missing little girl -- and the man suspected of kidnapping her.
Jerry Dyer, chief of police in Fresno, told the media, "One of the highlights of my career will be always remembered to see her mother reunited with (her) in that hospital room."
Hill said it was an improbable reunion, but the 8-year-old girl is back with her mom after a terrifying abduction and sexual assault.
CBS News is no longer identifying or releasing photos of the girl because she is a victim of sexual abuse. The photos and her name were used earlier in the interest of her safe recovery.
The reunion, Hill said, was made possible because Victor Perez -- who is being hailed as a hero -- was alert and willing to act.
Perez said, "I thank God that he put me to help out that little girl, that's for sure."
The little girl was playing with friends outside a home on Monday evening when she was approached by a stranger driving a 1975 Chevy pickup truck.
Dyer told reporters, "He grabbed her and forced her into the pickup through the driver's door and sped off."
More than 100 officers combed the area looking for her, but with no luck. The pickup was seen in a police surveillance video, which was broadcast by local media. On Tuesday morning, Perez saw that video on the news, and when he left his home, he saw that truck -- and decided to follow it, cutting it off not once -- but several times.
Perez told CBS News, "The second time I cut him off and the little girl stuck her head out and that's when I said 'OK, that ain't your little girl right there.'"
Dyer explained, "The suspect actually opened the passenger door and pushed the girl out of the car onto the roadway and then he sped off."
Perez stayed with the girl until authorities arrived. She was taken to the hospital where she was reunited with her grateful mother. Police later found the pickup parked behind an apartment complex. There they arrested 24-year-old Gregorio Gonzalez, a gang member out on probation for felony domestic assault. The girl's family hung signs outside their house, thankful that she was back home.
Gonzalez is being charged with kidnapping, sexual assault and false imprisonment.
On "The Early Show" Perez said he followed his instincts because he didn't want to leave the chance that it could be the same vehicle.
He said, "I just took that chance to follow the truck and told my cousin to dial 911, while I gave chase, and just to make sure if it wasn't him and, you know, I was never sure it was him because I couldn't see the passenger until I stopped him the second time I was able to see the little girl."
He continued, "When she was dropped off, I just stayed with her and the guy took off again. I didn't give chase no more 'cause the little girl was safe. So, the cops took over after that."
Perez said the girl was terrified.
"She said like twice, 'I'm scared, I'm scared.' And she asked me if she was going to be OK. I said you're OK for now and just waiting for the right people to get there to help her out."
Dyer said Perez is a hero.
"I think there's a high likelihood that Victor's involvement ultimately ended up saving her life. We know that the longer a victim who has been abducted is with the assailant, the more likelihood is that we're not going to be able to recover them alive," he said. "So, Victor's a hero and rightfully so, he's being recognized."
As for the label, Perez said he didn't feel like a hero.
"I just felt like I was doing my part living in the same neighborhood as the little girl, I just felt like everybody should step up in their own communities and, when something like this happens, come together and try to do your part to help out. And, you know, I just thank that God I was put in the right situation to do what I did. Thank the man above for that."
As for the little girl, Dyer said, "She is doing fine physically. I think mentally, she's going to be faced with a scar for a big portion of her life and she's going she's getting the assistance she needs but when you consider what the outcome could have been it could have been far more tragic, as tragic it was. We are very, very grateful and give thankful to God we were be able to be part of this and being able to rescue her. I know the mother and her family are very, very grateful for that, as well."
Perez said he hasn't spoken with the little's girl's family, but he said he shook her father's hand.
Perez said, "He was too nervous to even speak, so I haven't had a chance yet."
"Early Show" co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez said, "They owe you a debt of gratitude, as do we all. I think there is such a lesson for all of us for law enforcement not to hesitate with the alerts, the media to get them on the air as quickly as possible and for the public to be more like Victor."
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