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Search For Md. Vendor Persists

Man Approached Victim Previously

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page B05

The search continued yesterday for a 25-year-old Mexican immigrant who was abducted from a Wheaton street corner while selling flowers Sunday afternoon, amid indications that she knew the man who took her.

Pasquala Hernandez-Hernandez has been missing since about 1:30 p.m. Sunday, when she was pulled into a red, two-door compact car with dark-tinted windows at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and Veirs Mill Road, Montgomery County police said.

Pasquala Hernandez-Hernandez has been missing since Sunday.

Her husband, Sergio Carrasco Maria, said yesterday that the man in the car had approached Hernandez-Hernandez about six times over two weeks, offering her small amounts of money. One time, the man, whose name Carrasco said he did not know, said he would pay Hernandez-Hernandez $1,500 a week if she took a job in his construction business, according to Carrasco. Though his wife accepted money from the man at first, she soon grew suspicious of him, he said.

"We were suspicious but never thought they would do this," Carrasco said in Spanish.

Carrasco said he and his wife were selling flowers on opposite sides of Connecticut Avenue on Sunday, when the man drove up to give his wife a soda. When Carrasco saw the man return a few hours later, he tried to cross the street to confront him but was too late, he said.

Carrasco, 27, and his wife had been living in Prince George's County and selling flowers in Montgomery for about two months, he said. They worked Sunday to Tuesday, about six hours each day.

The couple moved to the United States about four months ago to find work, leaving a 7-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter with relatives. They had planned to save money and move back in about a year, Carrasco said. "We were working for our children," he said.

Some immigrant advocates said yesterday they were worried that Hernandez-Hernandez's disappearance could be part of an organized attempt at forced labor. "This is a really vulnerable part of the immigrant community," said Elizabeth Keyes, an attorney for Casa de Maryland Inc., a nonprofit organization.

Montgomery police said they have no evidence that human trafficking is taking place in the county. "At this time, we have nothing that has taken us in that direction," said Lt. Eric Burnett, a police spokesman.

Montgomery officials said they have been concerned for years about the safety of flower vendors, who are required to get a permit to sell their products.

Though it is hard to keep track of the number of flower vendors in the county, Susan Scala-Demby, the county's permitting services manager, said she has noticed an increase in the past three years, which she said could be a result of the increase of commuters and possible customers. From July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004, the county received 25 complaints about flower vendors. It has gotten about 15 complaints this fiscal year.

Yesterday, there was little talk about the legality of what Hernandez-Hernandez was doing. Instead, a few of her friends asked people at bus stops at Connecticut and Veirs Mill if they had been there the day before. Representatives from Casa de Maryland and the Mexican Embassy also turned out to offer their support.

"We're so worried," said Lourdes Morales, who shares a house in Mount Rainier with Hernandez-Hernandez and other immigrants. "We're thinking they might do something bad to her."

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