An arrest has been made in connection with the August 2013 assault on Willcox resident Karen Gonzales, the National Park Service (NPS) employee who was left for dead, in a restroom at Chiricahua’s Faraway Ranch, 38 miles south of Willcox.
Gil Gaxiola, 33, of Sinaloa, Mexico, was arrested for attempted first-degree murder, and five other charges, said Carol Capas, spokeswoman for Cochise County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO).
She did not have information on Gaxiola’s citizenship status.
In a statement issued Friday, Jan. 17, Capas said that Gonzales has been “assaulted by an unidentified subject who used a large rock to inflict serious and life threatening injuries.”
She was airlifted to University Medical Center in Tucson.
Gonzales, who is still recovering from the assault, told the Range News exclusively Friday, “I’m glad he is behind bars, because he can’t do that again.”
H. Lane Baker, NPS Superintendent of Southeast Arizona including Chiricahua National Monument, Fort Bowie and Coronado National Monument, said Tuesday, “We are all pleased with the interagency efforts that have led to the apprehension of this suspect. We will continue to work together as the case comes to trial. We must also continue to support Karen and her family and we are grateful that she is continuing to heal from the wounds she received during the violent assault.”
On Thursday, Jan. 16, the Cochise County Superior Court Grand Jury issued an indictment against Gaxiola on the following charges:
1) Attempted 1st Degree Murder
2) Attempted 2nd Degree Murder
3) Armed Robbery
4) Aggravated Assault (x 3 counts)
6) Theft of Means of Transportation
Capas said Gaxiola has not yet been arraigned for these charges, as of Tuesday.
At the time of the incident, the suspect took the government-issued silver 2009 Dodge Dakota pickup being used by Gonzales, said Capas.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Evidence Team processed the truck, and “items of evidentiary value” were released to Sheriff’s Detectives, and then turned over to the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) Laboratory for further analysis, Capas said.
On Dec. 30, 2013, the DPS Lab reported scientific testing was conducted on items from the stolen vehicle which resulted in a match when checked against a national database. Local, state and federal agencies were notified of the identification of a possible suspect in this case and information was developed indicating that the person identified was currently in Federal custody for charges by the Border Patrol, Capas said.
The Sheriff’s Office learned that the Border Patrol had apprehended Gaxiola on Aug. 29, 2013, in Douglas, she said.
Deputies had recovered the stolen truck the day before, about three blocks from where Gaxiola had been apprehended.
On Friday, Jan. 3, additional items were submitted to the DPS Lab and on Jan. 8, the lab confirmed a match with the evidence previously submitted with the suspect identified as Gaxiola, she said.
The Cochise County Attorney’s Office is working closely with the Sheriff’s Office in the prosecution preparation for this case and the suspect will be transported to Cochise County to appear in court on these charges in the near future.
Sheriff Mark Dannels said Friday, “We are extremely proud of our employees who put so much time and effort into tracking down this suspect who had the audacity to coldly and callously beat a federal employee almost to death before blatantly using her vehicle to go to a fast food drive-thru. This suspect undoubtedly has little concern for our laws or our citizens, as evidenced by his senseless actions and we look forward to adjudicating this case in a court of law for the peace of the victim and her family, as well as the satisfaction that we will have knowing a violent offender is off of the streets.”
“I would like to also thank all of the state and federal agencies for their assistance in this case and I look forward to their continued support and cooperation. The Gonzales family appreciates all of the kind thoughts and prayers and would like to maintain their privacy during this very stressful time,” he added.
On Aug. 28, 2013, Gonzales, a park guide for NPS, was found unconscious in a picnic area restroom near the Faraway Ranch.
Michelle Fidler, a public information officer for NPS, said that a park researcher, who is not an NPS employee, found the victim in the bathroom at 12:30 p.m. and ran back up the road to the headquarters (near the visitors center), where it was reported to NPS by 12:45 p.m.
The park researcher who found Gonzales reported that she appeared to have head trauma, and that it was unknown if she had fallen, Capas said at the time.
NPS emergency medical personnel responded and began treating Gonzales, she said.
Fidler said NPS called HCI ambulance of Willcox directly for assistance transporting Gonzales.
When HCI medical personnel arrived, it was determined that the best course of action would be for Gonzales to be airlifted to a Tucson hospital for further treatment, said Capas.
Fidler said at the time that NPS medical personnel are park rangers with emergency medical training and that Chiricahua National Monument has three law enforcement rangers (commissioned law officers). Two were at the park the day of the assault.
Fidler told the Range News that HCI transported Gonzales to the heli-spot nearby to be airlifted to UMC.
Joe Gonzales, Karen’s 26 year-old son, was at the Chiricahua National Monument the day of the assault. An NPS employee in Tucson, Joe temporarily took what had been his father’s position at the Chiricahua National Monument in order to spend some time with his mother in Willcox. His father (Karen’s husband ) had died on Aug. 13, 2013 of natural causes.
It was not until about 3:20 p.m., Aug. 28, 2013, that the Sheriff’s Office received a call about the assault, Capas said.
Fidler said the “Sheriff’s office was advised based on the fact that they could not locate the government vehicle in the area. Once the patient was airlifted, an Attempt To Locate (ATL) was issued throughout the county and the area was investigated as an assault and robbery.”
However, it wasn’t the NPS that reported it.
Joe had called his sister Lindsey Ellis, and told her to get ahold of the Sheriff’s Office.
Mike Ellis, Lindsey’s husband and Gonzales’ son-in-law, called a sheriff’s deputy to report it. The deputy said the Sheriff’s Office had not been notified of an assault or missing/stolen vehicle.
The ATL was given to all local law enforcement agencies and Ports of Entry for the stolen vehicle, which was identified as a silver Dodge Dakota truck with government license plates, Capas said.
Sheriff’s deputies tracked Gonzales’ cellphone, which was reportedly in the vehicle at the time it was stolen, she said.
It was also Ellis that gave the Sheriff’s Office the information that the cellphone had GPS and suggested they “ping it” to get a location, as well as the information he had on the government vehicle, said Ellis, who is an Arizona Department of Corrections officer for more than 13 years.
The cellphone led them to Douglas, where the vehicle was found at about 7 p.m., Capas said.
On Sept. 2, 2013, the Sheriff’s Office released a surveillance photo of the suspect.
The image is from a surveillance video at a Burger King restaurant in Douglas and was taken the afternoon of the same day the assault occurred, said Capas.
The grainy image showed what appears to be a man with dark hair in the driver’s seat of what the Sheriff’s Office confirmed to be Gonzales’ assigned work vehicle.
Joe Gonzales said the vehicle was taped by surveillance cameras at Burger King, McDonald’s and Walmart, all in Douglas, that same day. He added that the suspect had also used the cellphone twice.
The suspect apparently abandoned the vehicle before 7 p.m.. leaving his trash inside, Joe said.
Capas said on the night of Aug. 28, 2013, that a search warrant was being sought to process the vehicle for evidence.
A benefit account is still set up at the Cochise Credit Union, 170 N. Haskell Ave., in Willcox. Gonzales is still recovering. Those who wish to make a donation should specify that it is for the account for Karen Gonzales.