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Body Found in Trunk of Montebello Family’s Car Determined to Be Mother; Father in Custody

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A body found in the trunk of a car was determined to be that of the mother of four Montebello boys who were recovered safely following an Amber Alert, freeway chase and standoff that ended with the children's father in custody Thursday morning.

The entire Perez family was reported missing on Dec. 10, 2014, after they hadn't been seen or heard from in five days. (Credit: Montebello Police Department)

The entire Perez family was reported missing on Dec. 10, 2014, after they hadn't been seen or heard from in five days. (Credit: Montebello Police Department)

CHP officers arrested Daniel Perez on suspicion of kidnapping after he was tackled by deputies on the side of a Santee freeway at about 10 a.m. He was also called a "person of interest" in the death of an adult woman found in the trunk of the family's car.

The woman was determined to be his wife, 39-year-old Erica Perez, Montebello Police Department Capt. Luis Lopez said late Thursday afternoon.

Police had been desperately searching for the father and the four boys Thursday, one day after the body turned up in the trunk of the family’s car.

The grim discovery Wednesday evening -- made about a mile from the family's home -- prompted authorities to issue an Amber Alert for the boys.

Police had announced earlier in the day Wednesday that the children were missing along with their mother and father.

Related Story: Woman’s Body Found in Trunk of Missing Montebello Family’s Car; Amber Alert Issued for Kids

The victim was not initially identified, and the mother was still considered a missing person, Capt. Lopez had said Thursday morning.

Then, outside the police station at about 4 p.m., Lopez told reporters the body was confirmed to be Erica Perez's. Her death was being considered a homicide, but no information on how she died was being provided, Lopez said.

Both Erica and Daniel Perez were having affairs, family members said on Thursday afternoon. Just two days before she disappeared, Erica Perez had posted a photo on her Facebook page showing a man other than Daniel with the caption "My love" and a heart Emoji.

On Thursday morning, after the body was discovered in the family car and an Amber Alert was issued for the Perez boys, authorities were able to trace the car that Daniel Perez, 43, was driving by using the vehicle's LoJack tracking device.

An El Cajon police officer picked up a LoJack hit on the car at 8:20 a.m., the city's police chief said Thursday afternoon.

The officer attempted a traffic stop but Perez fled, El Cajon Police Department Chief Jim Redman said. A police pursuit began, and the California Highway Patrol eventually took over. Meanwhile, a hostage negotiator made contact with Perez on his cellphone, Redman said.

The pursuit ended in Santee on the eastbound portion of the 52 Freeway that leads to the on-ramp of the southbound 67 Freeway, and a standoff ensued.

At least 18 CHP vehicles were at the scene during the standoff, and it appeared multiple officers had their weapons drawn and pointed at the car from behind, aerial video showed. Two armed officers on an adjoining overpass also had their firearms positioned toward the side of the suspect's car.

Within minutes, two of the boys separately left the vehicle and walked back to officers stationed dozens of feet behind the car. They escaped, Redman said.

Eventually, two SWAT vehicles arrived and surrounded the car about 9:45 a.m., aerial video showed. Perez then got out of the car alongside the two remaining boys.

He headed toward the edge of the overpass, lifted a leg and appeared to be preparing to jump over.

His family, meanwhile, was watching in horror on live television.

"It was terrible. We thought he was going to jump off the wall," said Daniel Perez's tearful aunt Billie Holguin. "Those kids seeing all that there? No kids need to go through that."

Capt. Dave Moss of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department said the response of authorities was forced by the presence of the children when Perez exited the car.

"We were fearful, based on his statements, that he would throw the children off the bridge, or himself. We had to take action at that point."

A deputy fired a "less-lethal" bean-bag round at Perez, who faltered and was tackled by deputies and officers, Moss said at an afternoon news conference. One deputy had a minor injury afterward, authorities said.

An object -- possibly the cellphone Perez had been carrying -- appeared to have been tossed off the overpass and onto the roadway below, authorities said.

Perez was taken into custody on suspicion of kidnapping and as a person of interest in the body found in the car on Wednesday evening, later identified as that of his wife.

"The suspect has not said a word," a CHP official said at the afternoon news conference at that agency's El Cajon office. "He's in our in-custody room. He lay down and hasn't moved."

The Perez boys were unharmed and were taken to Montebello, police said. They were identified as Jordan, 11; Jaiden, 9; Tristan, 8; and Alex, 6.

“The kids are safe. They are not hurt," said Lopez, adding that finding the children had been the department's "biggest priority" since they were reported missing.

“The kids are innocent. We wanted them to be safe," he said.

Before the day's events, the four boys and their parents hadn’t been seen since last Friday, according to a news release from the Montebello Police Department.

Additionally, Perez did not show up to his workplace earlier in the week, and neither parent was answering phone calls or returning messages, the release stated.

Relatives who reported the couple and their children missing told police the Perezes' marriage was troubled, and the family had a history of domestic violence.

Montebello police confirmed there was a court conviction against Erica Perez in 2011.

"The domestic violence was on her part," Holguin said. "The records are here in Montebello, they know the situation ... she stabbed my nephew."

Family members also said the couple was both rumored to be having affairs.

During a search Wednesday, police received a tip regarding the whereabouts of a vehicle that belonged to the family, a news release stated. Investigators located the car -- a 2010 Honda Accord -- at Second Street and Harding Avenue, in an area not far from the family's home.

An Amber Alert was issued for four missing Montebello children on Dec. 10, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

An Amber Alert was issued for four missing Montebello children on Dec. 10, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

Around 5 p.m., officers opened the trunk and found the body of an adult female inside, police said in the release.

The family's home was searched, and police said they did not see any signs of a struggle at the residence.

Investigators said late Wednesday that Perez was traveling with his sons in a black 2014 Toyota Camry with a California license plate number of 7FDS891. The Amber Alert system was subsequently activated, and the vehicle information was flashed on billboards all along Southern California freeways.

During a news conference Wednesday night, frantic family members had issued an emotional plea for Perez to return the boys.

“Please Danny, bring the kids back, drop them off at a fire station somewhere,” said Pamela Valdez, the children's aunt. “Don’t hurt them … please, they’re innocent … don’t do this.”

Anyone with information was asked to contact the Montebello Police Department at 323-887-1313.

KTLA's Jennifer Thang and Kennedy Ryan contributed to this story.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect age for Daniel Perez. The story has been updated.

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