Chrissy knew it wasn’t right to talk to strangers. Her mother always told her that.
But she couldn’t convince her 5-year-old playmate to stay away from a shirtless man who befriended them in an apartment complex on that warm sunny day in 1998. Then he flashed a handful of baseball cards.
"She had a thing for baseball cards," Chrissy said Thursday.
Her friend ran to the man’s gold car and Chrissy followed.
"I put my arm out, he pulled me in the car, shut the door and sped off," she said. "He said, ‘I’m going to bring you back.’ "
He did. Five hours after he drove her to a small house, took her into a bathroom and sexually assaulted her.
Last week, 12 years later, Las Vegas police arrested Fermin Ivan Perez, a 71-year-old with no prior criminal record, on 10 counts of sexual assault. They found him at his home in North Las Vegas, and linked him to the assault through DNA testing. They are still searching for Theresa Sever, who detectives believe was in the home during the assault.
Chrissy, who recounted the events to members of the media Thursday, recalls a woman in the home who spoke mostly Spanish, although she remembers hearing one question in English.
"She said, `Well, are you going to take her back?’ "
The arrest of Perez came as a relief to Chrissy, now 17, who has spent much of her life frightened of the most mundane activities — driving to school, grocery shopping, even walking to the mailbox. It also provided closure long sought by Sgt. John Scott, head of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police cold case unit, who as a young detective was handed the case more than a decade ago.
"I felt a great deal of satisfaction," Scott said Thursday. "It was quite an event. We all have children, and you do whatever you can to catch him."
Over the years, a strange feeling filled Chrissy when she drove past St. Viator Catholic Community on Flamingo Road near Eastern Avenue, but she never knew why. About two months ago, she and her mother again drove past the church. Ironically, they were returning from Sunrise Hospital, the same place Chrissy was rushed after the man released her in 1998.
This time, Chrissy saw the church from a different angle and noticed a small cottage in the back.
"I said, ‘Oh my gosh, mom, that’s where it happened,’ I knew it was that house," Chrissy said softly.
The two called the police, and Scott returned to the case. Detectives learned that the cook at the church, believed to be Sever, lived in the house in 1998. Her boyfriend, Perez, drove a gold car and also stayed in the home.
Scott pulled a 2002 photograph of Perez from the Department of Motor Vehicles and included it in a series of photos shown to Chrissy.
Asked how long it took to point to Perez, Chrissy said: "Right away. There wasn’t a question about it. Immediately when I saw his face. That face. Someone who does something like that to you, you don’t forget that face."
"It was dramatic," Scott said. "She came to this individual’s photograph and she was highly upset."
Eventually, Chrissy was taken to the home. She said she walked in and immediately knew that down the long hallway the bedroom was on the right, the bathroom on the left.
"I remember it like it was yesterday," she said.
Chrissy was staying with her friend’s grandmother when the kidnapping occurred. She said the man covered her head with a towel and began molesting her in the car. When they arrived at the house, she remembered the color of the rocks, the man opening a gate and a patch of grass.
The man dropped her off less than a half-mile from the church, but because her face was covered and she was terrified she wasn’t sure where she was. His final words to her was a threat to kill her family if she told anyone.
"When he dropped me off, I thought I was lost," she said. "I didn’t think I’d find my mom again."
The rapist pointed to a nearby apartment and told her the man inside would help her. Dazed, she didn’t fully understand him and knocked on the first door she saw.
"He (the resident) kept saying, ‘Who is it? Who is it?’ I was so scared I didn’t want to answer," Chrissy said. "I remember his face; he was in shock."
Detectives have no evidence that Perez molested any other girls, but they know that child molesters seldom attack just once. Chrissy said she spoke about her ordeal because it is important for her to publicly urge any other victims of sexual assault to come forward.
"It doesn’t matter who. It doesn’t matter what they said," she said. "It just makes you that much stronger to come forward. It’s not easy. Trust me, if I can do it, anybody can do it."
Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at apacker@review journal.com or 702-387-2904.17-year-old victim of 1998 sexual assault talks