18-year-old suspect arrested after confessing to Texas 11-year-old's strangulation, sources say

ByLileana Pearson KTRK logo
Saturday, August 19, 2023
Suspect in 11-year-old's strangulation arrested, charged, police say
Juan Carlos Garcia-Rodriguez was arrested in Louisiana and charged with capital murder a week after 11-year-old Maria Gonzalez was strangled.

PASADENA, Texas -- The man accused of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in Texas before allegedly strangling her to death was arrested out of state, according to police.

On Saturday, authorities confirmed that the Shreveport Louisiana Police Department arrested 18-year-old Juan Carlos Garcia-Rodriguez, who is awaiting to be extradited back to Texas.

Sources told Eyewitness News that Garcia-Rodriguez "gave a full confession" after he was arrested in Shreveport.

"We want to say thank you to the Pasadena Police Department and to Louisiana police and any officials that participated in bringing this cold-blooded murderer into custody. This arrest has brought the family and community some peace. We are extremely thankful that he cannot cause this type of pain to anybody again. I ask for those who are in charge to give us justice. May he be burdened with the full weight of the law, for what he has done to my daughter," the victim's family said in a statement.

A key left nearby the remains of an 11-year-old girl at a Pasadena apartment complex was the "crucial" link that police used to identify the 18-year-old suspect, who was named a person of interest on Friday.

The Pasadena Police Department revealed the new detail on Friday, six days after Maria Gonzalez's father found her strangled underneath a bed last Saturday.

According to Chief Josh Bruegger, a key left at the scene that didn't open to the girl's unit, where she was left for dead, was located when investigators swept through last Saturday.

An urgent search is underway to find Juan Carlos Garcia-Rodriguez, who's a person of interest in the brutal murder of 11-year-old Maria Gonzalez.

Police used that key to try and match it with doors to other units at the Main Village Apartments at 1004 Main Street. While Bruegger didn't immediately explain how Garcia-Rodriguez was tied to the key, he said it opened to a unit where the suspect was staying, which is also where two other people resided.

In addition, the image that Pasadena police produced hours before the chief's Friday afternoon news conference came from body-worn camera footage when investigators interviewed Garcia-Rodriguez shortly after the girl's body was found. The chief explained they talked with and obtained DNA samples from 10 neighbors and witnesses, including Garcia-Rodriguez, as part of their investigation. Garcia-Rodriguez was described as "evasive with investigators," Bruegger said.

Bruegger went on to explain that his investigators learned Garcia-Rodriguez had been living at the apartment complex for three to four weeks when the murder took place. Garcia-Rodriguez, who is from Guatemala, was staying with people who were known to other people he knew, or "friends of friends."

When his roommates asked him to return his key, Bruegger said he told them he was "going to hang onto it," Bruegger added.

Bruegger said he was not considered a person of interest or under surveillance when he left town. Police did not realize the key found at the scene unlocked his unit until after his departure.

Garcia-Rodriguez's first documented encounter with U.S. Customs and Border Protection was in January in El Paso. He was released to his sponsors in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area. Bruegger said the department has been unable to make contact with his sponsors.

Police couldn't say whether the Garcia-Rodriguez and the victim knew each other, but the chief added they lived in close proximity.

Bruegger admitted the case had been a struggle for his department, mainly due to information being unearthed from other sources.

Strikingly, one of those things was an elaboration of how Maria was found. Bruegger confirmed the child's body was stuffed in a trash bag that was placed inside a clothes hamper, which was put under a bed.

Pasadena police chief gives update six days after girl murdered

Pasadena police Chief Josh Bruegger addresses how his investigators connected an 18-year-old to an 11-year-old girl's sexual assault and strangulation.

The horrifying murder

Last Saturday, the 11-year-old's body was found hidden under her bed, a young victim of sex assault. She had been alone in the apartment while her father was at work.

The last communication Carmelo Gonzalez had with his daughter was a text message that someone was knocking on the door. It wasn't until hours later that he discovered her body when he got home from work.

ORIGINAL REPORT: Father finds 11-year-old daughter strangled to death under bed, Pasadena police say

Police say Maria Gonzalez was killed while her dad was at work. Now, her father said he won't rest until her killer is caught.

According to Pasadena police, all apartment complex employees, including the maintenance staff, have fully cooperated with their investigation and at this point do not appear to be involved.

RELATED: Community rallies around family of murdered Pasadena 11-year-old as search for her killer continues

ABC13 spoke to the girl's father, as well as a community member who is stepping up to try to find a lead in the case.

Maria and her father lived at the Main Village Apartments. Police said they are from Guatemala, which is where Maria's mother still is, and had been in Houston for just three months.

Before living in Houston, they lived in Austin Texas, and Florida. Maria was not enrolled in the Pasadena Independent School District, police said.

The young girl was home alone on Saturday after her father, Carmelo Gonzalez, left for work at 9:45 a.m.

Speaking in Spanish, Carmelo told ABC13 he got a concerning text message from Maria minutes after he left. She reportedly told him someone was knocking on the door, and then, she stopped communicating. A while later, he asked family members to check on her, but they said they could not find her inside the apartment.

Five hours after receiving the text from Maria, Carmelo returned from work and found his daughter's body hidden under a bed, he told ABC13.

Maria's cause of death was ruled as asphyxiation due to strangulation and blunt force head and neck trauma, according to the medical examiner. Additional investigation determined that she had also been sexually assaulted.

Investigators said there did not appear to be any forced entry to the apartment.

Carmelo told ABC13 he doesn't understand how someone could do something this awful. He said he isn't going to rest until he figures out exactly what happened.

"It's just unfortunate that this happened, but I know somebody knows something," neighbor Shannon Arteche said.

Arteche lives nearby and, like many, was horrified to hear what happened.

Pasadena police detectives say, at this point, the father's whereabouts during the crime have been verified, and he is not considered a suspect.

A GoFundMe has been created to help the family with funeral expenses.