HOUSTON – They had just finished their workout at Planet Fitness and hopped into their truck when the gunman opened the door.
“Get out or move over,” he demanded. Brenda Zamudio and her brother Alfredo froze, and the gunman jumped inside.
“He put the gun to my head and told me to drive,” Brenda said. “There were police behind us with their lights on. I just started going.”
For the next hour, dozens of law enforcement officers chased the Zamudios and their carjacker up and down I-45, sometimes topping 100 mph. The truck belonged to Brenda’s brother-in-law. Hers had flooded during Harvey.
The gunman held a pistol to Brenda’s head for the first half hour, shouting instructions.
“I said, ‘I can’t think with that gun to my head, please put the gun down,’” Brenda said.
The gunman obliged and answered Brenda’s questions about why he was running.
“He was like, ‘I got into it with my girlfriend and I messed up, I messed up, I started shouting. I’m not going back to jail, I’m not going back to jail,’” Brenda said. “Then he took the gun and put it to his head and said ‘I’m going to shoot myself.’”
Brenda persuaded the carjacker not to shoot himself in the car. Remarkably, the gunman then begged for Brenda’s forgiveness.
“Something clicked. Or God heard my pleadings to save my life,” Brenda said. The carjacker "said 'I’m sorry.'”
With law enforcement still in pursuit, the gunman suddenly took the wheel and switched places with Brenda. He said he would jump out of the car.
Shortly afterward, the carjacker crashed the truck at the intersection of West Road and North Freeway. The airbags deployed. The man ran off into the Shell gas station next door, and shot himself dead.
Officers initially treated Brenda and her teenage brother like suspects, Brenda said. They were handcuffed and held in separate patrol cars for hours.
Now back at home, both struggle to cope with the trauma, or even leave the house. The Zamudio family may never be the same.