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May 14, 2014 9:48 PM by Lupita Murillo

Chiricahua park employee recalls near-deadly attack

TUCSON - A park employee left for dead at the Chiricahua National Monument nine months ago, speaks out about her attack.

Karen Gonzales, 60, was viciously beaten in broad daylight in one of the park restrooms.

She suffered a brain injury and is now walking with a limp. She tells News 4 Crime Trackers, "I will never forget his face coming at me."

Gonzales was cleaning the women's restroom at the Faraway Ranch Campground when she heard a noise, looked up, and saw her attacker come at her with a rock.

The DNA evidence left behind identified 33-year-old Gilbert Gaxiola as her attacker. The Cochise Country Sheriff's Department confirms Gaxiola is an undocumented immigrant.

According to Cochise Co. Sheriff's investigators, Gaxiola hit her so hard, it broke the rock.

The Sergeant told her, he not only hit her with a rock but he slammed her up against the metal door.

Evidence of the dent remains on the door. Gonzales says her hands are still recovering from the injuries. "Maybe some of it was fending off the blows, I don't know. But I know I hit him." She says she also chased after Gaxiola.

During the attack, she says she heard her husband Bob's voice. Bob had just died two weeks before. They'd been married 34 years.

She remembers him saying "Oh dude, that rock is not big enough. You don't know how tough this woman is. Oh yeah, you'll knock her out and that's just temporary then she's going to wake up she's going to realize who did this to her and then she's going beat the ?$#@ out of you."

Detectives say Gaxiola dragged her back into the restroom, and then stole her truck. He was seen in surveillance video going through the drive-thru of two fast food restaurants, and a going to WalMart. "He stole my truck to get back to Douglas and he was caught the very next day with a drug load."

Detectives say he abandoned the truck in Douglas. Border Patrol agents arrested him for drug smuggling the next day.

Besides the scenic rock formations of the Chiricahua National Monument, the hiking trails are also used by drug smugglers. In the peaks, drug cartels place lookouts to warn of Border Patrol activity. "I had a gut feeling when I was up at the bone yard that someone was watching me, and he was."

At the same time, Gonzales believes she had people watching out for her as well. "I believe that when this guy did this to me my late son was here my late husband was here and Silas Cochise."

Silas was the great grandson of Cochise, the chief of the Chiricahua Apaches. He was also a friend of hers. "It's pretty amazing I survived. It makes me think that there is something else I have to do with my life. I'm still around for a reason. "

One of those reasons, she was there to hold her mother's hand when she passed just a few weeks ago. But it hasn't been easy, she's had her struggles. She said her son told her one morning, "Mom, I just wish one day you'd wake up and be glad you are alive. I started crying and I said me too, me too. But now I am, so I made it, I made it."

Gilbert Gaxiola is charged with attempted first and second degree murder, armed robbery, three counts of aggravated assault kidnapping, and auto theft. He goes to trial this summer.

Gonzales continues to recuperate and credits the love from her friends and family for helping her through this ordeal.

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