South Florida first responders return home from Peru

Sgt. Jessenia Munoz arrives at Miami International Airport early Monday morning

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A Miami-Dade police officer and Miami-Dade Fire Captain were two of a few hundred Americans stranded in Peru amid political unrest, that returned home to South Florida on Monday.

After days of anxiously waiting in Peru, Sgt. Jessenia Munoz arrived at Miami International Airport well before the crack of dawn Monday, receiving a flood of handshakes and hugs from her family and fellow first responders.

“We appreciate all of the media coverage and, finally, we’re home,” Munoz said.

Munoz described the feeling of limbo being stuck in her hotel near Cusco.

Tourists were unable to leave after airports were close and train service cut off.

“It was just frustrating not having an answer, not being able to move, not do anything,” she said. “I hope that whoever was able to leave was able to leave, but supposedly things are going to start up again (Monday).”

After reaching out to US officials without any luck, Munoz’s family reached out to the local police union for help.

The South Florida Police Benevolent Association helped provide security.

“I know she (Munoz) was nervous about it, so we were concerned that she’s over in another country right there,” South Florida PBA President Steadman Stahl said. “The only recommendation they could make to her was to go back to your hotel room and stay inside, so we were concerned with that.”

Stahl told Local 10 News’ Trent Kelly that Munoz was provided with armed protection but wishes the government could’ve assisted more to help get her out.

“We didn’t know what the civil unrest was going to turn to, so we got hold of a company that can go out there and can give her armed protection, that stayed with her at the hotel. Stayed with her on the transport,” Stahl said. “It’s our police family out there and the firefighters, it’s US citizens over there. I just wish the government could have done a little more to get in there and get our citizens out.”

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Capt. Brian Vega, also stranded in Peru, arrived Monday evening and was grateful to be back home with his family.

“A lot of emotions coursing through me right now,” said Vega.”I am just glad here for my children my wife and my parents.”

For Vega, escaping a town near Machu Picchu involved dashed hopes of an air evacuation Saturday followed by a race to board a rail car when train service suddenly resumed.

His journey to return home followed with a trek along the tracks in the thick of darkness due to a boulder on the rails blocking further train access.

Vega’s Wife Heydi and his mother Teresita Vega both said that they were grateful to have him home for the holidays.

“We were very happy able to get him home before Christmas,” said Heydi Vega.

The state department released a statement to Local 10 News saying they are in touch with U.S. citizens in Peru:

“At this time, we are not aware of any U.S. citizens still seeking assistance in departing Aguas Calientes, near Machu Pichu.”

Related link: Latest update by U.S. Embassy in Peru

About the Authors:

Trent Kelly is an award-winning multimedia journalist who joined the Local 10 News team in June 2018. Trent is no stranger to Florida. Born in Tampa, he attended the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he graduated with honors from the UF College of Journalism and Communications.

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."