Pizza leads to hideout of young Texas runaway

Delivery to vacant home aroused suspicions

October 15, 1999|By HOUSTON CHRONICLE

HOUSTON Pizza was Jose Gamez's downfall.

For three months, the 14-year-old runaway had lived the high life, ensconced in a vacant-but-furnished house just doors away from his parents' own home.

While hundreds desperately searched the brushy banks of a bayou near the family's home, the youth dined on venison steaks, drank rum, trashed several rooms and -- some contend -- used binoculars to monitor the excitement from a bedroom window.

The deal began to unravel Sunday when Gamez ordered out for pizza. When the delivery van arrived at the supposedly empty house and a youth answered the door, suspicious neighbors called the law.

Sheriff's officers failed to catch the seventh-grader on their initial visit. But they were called again Monday morning after homeowner Wayne Heinke -- who lives in nearby Baytown but had come to investigate the previous night's activity -- heard footsteps in the attic.

"We heard him running across the attic," Heinke said yesterday as he supervised efforts to salvage his wrecked property. "The [deputies] were yelling at him a lot to stand still. They found him hiding under the insulation. When they handed him down, he was handcuffed. He curled up into a fetal position and cried."

After being examined at a nearby hospital, the youth was turned over to Harris County juvenile authorities. By yesterday, he had been returned to his parents, Manuela Troncoso and Jose Luis Gamez, and again was attending school.

The young runaway's half-brother, Jose Mondragon, 23, said the youth vanished July 9 as he was helping his mother clean the garage.

"She left him in the garage, and when she returned an hour later, he had just disappeared," Mondragon said. "He was only wearing shorts. Dressed like that, we knew he either was nearby or had been abducted."

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