“I’m the mom, I know when my sons are in trouble. And he wasn’t in trouble,” Torres said, wiping tears from her puffy eyes. “He was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Torres described her son as the kind of father who cooked for his wife after a long day at work, and who changed his 20-month-old daughter’s diaper without being asked.
Torres kept coming back to the fact that she believes in her heart that 21-year-old Garcia-Torres is innocent in Sierra LaMar’s disappearance.
Unless, she did acknowledge, Garcia-Torres has lied to her. Even if that is the case, Torres still isn’t sure she could ever believe her son could do something so horrible.
That sentiment resonated with numerous community members, who expressed shock after the news broke Monday night that Garcia-Torres of Morgan Hill has been identified as the only murder suspect in Sierra LaMar’s disappearance.
“I don’t know, what can I say? This is my son,” Torres said.
Garcia-Torres lived with his mother, wife and daughter in a small trailer on the northside of the park, where a bright pink baby stroller and an assortment of toys scattered in front of their home.
According to Torres, Garcia-Torres’ wife Francine works at a fast food Mexican restaurant in Morgan Hill and is expecting another baby in November.
Torres said she talked with Antolin by phone Monday night after he was arrested. He told her to “be strong for me, Mom. I’m going to need your help,” Torres said about their conversation.
Garcia-Torres’ arrest is just another event in a string of recent heartbreaks for Torres. Her other son, Garcia-Torres’ older brother, recently died from an alcohol induced heart attack, and the father of her two sons is in jail.
Garcia-Torres attended Live Oak High School, before transferring to Central High School, but ultimately dropped out in 2010. He met his wife Francine at Live Oak, Torres said.
Garcia-Torres has at least two prior arrests – one for interfering with an officer, for which he was convicted, and a felony assault that was not prosecuted, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith said.
Furthermore, he is also linked to at least one incident in a series of at least three assaults on women in the parking lots of two Safeway stores in Morgan Hill, on Tennant and East Dunne avenues, Smith said.
Garcia-Torres has worked at the Tennant Avenue Safeway store between 1.5 and 2 years according to an anonymous employee. It’s unknown at this time if he also worked at the Dunne Avenue location.
Safeway shoppers react
A 20-year-old woman named Michelle who declined to give her last name, shopped at the Tennant Avenue Safeway Tuesday morning where Garcia-Torres was arrested just the night before.
“I think this is ridiculous. He may have been involved, but he just couldn’t have killed her,” Michelle said.
Michelle said her friends know Garcia-Torres well, and that he is a person of good character.
“This is not who he is,” she said.
Richard Belson, 40, who works at Specialized Bikes nearby Tennant Station, said he was surprised the murder suspect is from Morgan Hill.
“For some reason, it’s extra creepy that it was a local guy,” Belson said.
Twenty-year-old Lachelle Ourricariet of San Martin said as a regular shopper at the Tennant Avenue Safeway, she recognized Garcia-Torres as a Safeway employee.
His booking photo on the news struck her immediately. She couldn’t believe after two months of wondering about the “sick” person who kidnapped Sierra LaMar, he turned out to be a local man who bagged groceries in the Morgan Hill community.
“He looked like he was smirking almost in that picture, and that angered me,” she said.
Temo Esquovsa, 30, a Morgan Hill resident who works at Central High School as a bilingual liason, said his wife, 21-year-old Miriam Esquovsa, took a Spanish class with Antolin her sophomore year at Live Oak High School.
“It’s pretty shocking, somebody so close from here doing that. My wife knew that guy. She never thought he would do something like that,” said Temo.
He said Miriam, who graduated from Live Oak in 2009 and works at Net Fitness in Gilroy, remembered Antolin as a “normal, “kickback soccer player, and nothing more than that.”
“When I saw him on TV, I thought he was a gangster,” said Temo.
When asked if he thought LaMar could still be alive, Temo’s outlook – like many other patrons entering and exiting Safeway on Dunne Avenue Tuesday morning – was a mixture of hope and sympathy tainted by reality.
“I hope so. My heart says no, but I hope she is,” he said.
Police think Sierra was kidnapped from just outside her home near the intersection of Palm and Dougherty avenues in northwest Morgan Hill shortly after 7 a.m. on March 16.
According to Smith, Garcia-Torres is the owner of the red Jetta that investigators believed was connected to her kidnapping. They released photos of the car about two weeks ago.
Detectives have had Garcia-Torres under surveillance since March 28. Her body has not been found, according to Smith.