Rev. David Beronio interview - Audio excerpts:
LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (CBS 8) - The minister who performed a Lake Tahoe wedding ceremony between a 40-year-old former firefighter and a teenage girl said the groom was "extremely possessive" of his young bride.
The newlyweds are accused of going on a bloody crime spree in San Diego County last month following the filing of sex-crime charges in Riverside County against the groom, Philip Martin Hernandez.
"They called my wife the day before to do a last-minute wedding, which is not unusual in Lake Tahoe because love is in the air," said Rev. David Beronio.
News 8 obtained the wedding license and records that allowed Cindy Garcia, 17, to get married to Hernandez in Douglas County, Nevada on June 14.
Garcia had to produce her birth certificate and driver's license to the county clerk's office before Rev. Beronio could perform the ceremony.
"The license, of course, declares what the age is and as long as they have a state license there is no problem in marrying the couple," said Rev. Beronio, 66.
The teenage girl's mother, Maria Altamirano of National City, had to sign a notarized "consent for marriage under 18 years of age" form, giving permission for her underage daughter to get married to Hernandez, who is 23 years older.
Hernandez met the girl in April while both of them were living in National City, according to court records.
"The wedding was requested and the location he (Hernandez) said was at the top of the mountain, Spooner Summit, but way off the beaten track," according to Rev. Beronio.
Around the time of the wedding, a warrant was issued for Hernandez's arrest for allegedly having sexual intercourse with Garcia as a minor in April and May, when the couple was living in an apartment in Blythe.
Hernandez had been working as a firefighter with CAL FIRE but later left the agency for unknown reasons.
"They were in a pickup truck and they had a number of camping materials in the back of the truck. They had sleeping bags and looked like they had been camping for days," said Rev. Beronio.
The minister said he got bad vibes from the couple, after he followed them to a remote area of the forest about three-quarters of a mile from the highway. The couple was whispering near their truck, which led Beronio to fear for his safety.
"I was looking for protection the entire walk with regard to tree limbs and things that might help," Beronio said.
"He was extremely possessive. He kept her away from me the whole time. He kind of stood in front of her the whole time," said Beronio. "She didn't talk. During the vows, she kind of shook her head and giggled. It was just a very unusual wedding right from the start."
"She was holding his hand, looking at his eyes. There was no coercion on his part as far as I could see; just a very unusual couple," said Rev. Beronio.
On October 31, Hernandez was killed in a shootout with police after he and Garcia allegedly went on a crime spree two days earlier that included the shooting of William Barton, 20, in Hillcrest, followed by the robbery and shooting of off-duty San Diego Police Officer Les Stewart in Escondido.
Officer Stewart has since been released from the hospital. Barton remains hospitalized with brain injuries, according to his father.
Beronio, the wedding minister, believes he, too, may have been robbed or assaulted by the couple if not for a pair of bears that appeared in the forest during the wedding ceremony.
"During the service there were two bears grunting close to 200 yards to either side of us," said Rev. Beronio. "Whether it was mating season or not I don't know but they seemed to be grunting, going back and forth."
"They (the couple) asked me what the noise was and I said, ‘Those are bears,' and they wanted to get out of the forest very quickly. I was very happy to know that we were getting out of the forest very quickly," recalled Beronio.
As News 8 first reported last week, Cindy Garcia was the victim of sex trafficking at the age of 14, when she was kidnapped and taken to Mexico.
The San Diego County District Attorney's office has charged Garcia with armed robbery, carjacking, and making criminal threats. She faces up to 19 years in prison if convicted.