WATSONVILLE- Two boys were held captive in Mexico for 18 months. Now, a local police officer is credited for helping ensure their safe return.
Watsonville Police Officer Elizabeth Sousa was working a normal patrol shift one day in November of last year.
Nothing out of the ordinary, until a woman called the police station. She pleaded for help. Her children were being held captive in Mexico.
The woman, who wants to remain anonymous, said her nine and eleven year old sons were born here in the US, but were staying with family in Mexico.
In 2011, the woman was living in Washington State. She was approached by a couple, Mexican nationals Jesus Salinas and Patricia Delatorre. They said they could go down to Mexico and bring her children back to the US. But, they would only go for cash.
"She paid them some money for tickets," said Watsonville Police Officer Elizabeth Sousa.
Rather than return the children to Mount Vernon, WA, FBI investigators believe the conspirators dropped them off in Juarez, Mexico.
"The gentleman called and said, 'Hey, there's been an issue.' In the meantime, I'm going to leave the kids with my mother-in-law," said Sousa.
For months, the mother pleaded with the kidnappers to tell her where the boys were being kept captive.
"On a weekly basis she was paying them," said Sousa. "She was afraid to come to us because she was illegal."
Sousa said the woman received regular death threats from the conspirators.
"[They said] you abandoned your kids, you don't want them. I'm not going to tell you where they are. If you come, something is going to happen to you," said Sousa.
Officer Elizabeth Sousa met the woman in November after she moved from Washington State to Watsonville in an effort to escape the threats.
Sousa worked with federal agents for four months to get the boys back.
"My main thing was getting to the border and seeing those kids walk through the door. I had seen photos of the boys, developed a close relationship with the mother, the boys knew of me as well. The night prior I didn't sleep, it was just getting to those boys. My main thing was getting to the border," recalled Sousa. "They got to fly on a plane for the first time. They got to sit in the cockpit."
Officer Sousa is now being praised for her efforts in the case to reunite the boys with their mother. Sousa said the whole experience was "unbelievable."
"As we landed, they were met with their mother and it was an unbelievable experience. All three of them hugged each other, they just sat there and cried. I definitely look at cases differently. Knowing all the hard work, all the time you put in, all the follow-up: it's all worth it in the end."
On January 4th, Salinas and Delatorre were arrested in Washington for kidnapping minor victims and two counts of unlawful seisure.
They both face 20 years to life in prison under federal indictment.
An arrest warrant was issued for Maria Guadalupe Valenzuela Castaneda, the woman accused of holding the children captive. Anyone with information about her whereabouts should contact the FBI at (408) 369-8000 (San Jose field office), or (915) 832-5000 (El Paso, Texas field office).