Owner of Auto Shop Where Immigrant Teen Hid to Escape Detention Center Says He's Now Receiving Death Threats

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Gonzalez Auto Center in Homestead, Florida. The owner of the auto shop claims he is receiving death threats from people claiming he called the police on a 15-year-old immigrant girl who fled from a nearby detention facility. Google Maps/Screenshot

The owner of an auto repair shop in Florida is claiming that he is receiving death threats from people assuming he called the police on an immigrant teenager who fled from a Florida detention center and hid in the shop.

Francisco Gonzalez, the owner of Gonzalez Auto Center in Homestead, Florida, told The Miami Herald on Monday that he has been getting the death threats over the phone and nasty messages on his business's social media accounts after federal authorities found a 15-year-old Honduran immigrant hiding in the auto shop last Friday.

The teen, who was staying at the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children detention center for the past three weeks, escaped while facility workers were taking her for a routine doctor's appointment on Friday morning, The Washington Post first reported. The teen hid behind the auto shop, where employees tried to help her by feeding her and consoling her.

"We were giving her water and some food, but she stayed in that corner the whole time," said Elvis Lopez, a mechanic at the shop, told the Post. "She seemed pretty scared. She kept saying she didn't want to go back."

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The Gonzalez Auto Center in Homestead, Florida. The auto shop's owner says he is receiving death threats from people claiming he called the police on a 15-year-old immigrant girl who fled from a nearby detention facility. Google Maps/Screenshot

Gonzalez, a Cuban immigrant, told WSVN that the teen was hiding in the corner of the shop and did not see her at first when he walked by. She stayed inside the shop for over an hour on Friday morning, crying and refusing to move, according to the Post. Video surveillance showed the teenager being taken away in handcuffs, WSVN reported.

"I was walking back there when she came," Gonzalez told the news station. "I didn't know she was here."

The auto shop's Yelp page has been flooded with negative reviews, with some of the comments criticizing Gonzalez and his employees, claiming they called the police on the teen.

"This place is owned by the type of people who call the cops on crying children and who think immigrants should be locked in camps – even though his family came here in the 70s from Cuba," wrote Yelp reviewer Robert H.

Yelp reviewer Scott A. wrote, "If you have a conscience do not patronize this business."

Gonzalez told The Miami Herald that he did not call the police on the teen but eventually flagged down a police officer to indicate that the girl was hiding in the shop. Records obtained by the Herald show that Homestead police received a 911 call around 9:15 a.m. from employees at the detention center, who said the teen had run away from staff members who were taking her to an eye doctor appointment.

"Everybody thinks I called the police to come take the girl away," Gonzalez told the Herald. "That's not true. The shelter people called 911. Police were already searching the area and came right into the shop. Now, my elderly mom had to evacuate her home, and I have to walk in public with sunglasses and carry a firearm."

Newsweek reached out to Gonzalez, but an auto shop employee said he declined to comment and wants the situation to blow over.

The detention facilities across the U.S. that are housing undocumented immigrants who have illegally crossed the border have been criticized for conditions at the centers. In June, a Department of Homeland Security report found that inspections of the centers "do not ensure adequate oversight or systemic improvements in detention conditions, with some deficiencies remaining unaddressed for years."

Owner of Auto Shop Where Immigrant Teen Hid to Escape Detention Center Says He's Now Receiving Death Threats | U.S.