NEW PORT RICHEY — Erica Wiggins didn't think the man suspected of murdering her mother would ever be caught.
"I didn't want to get my hopes up," said Wiggins, 22.
Her mother, Diane Yeager-Lombard, 51, was shot May 2008 on their porch on Bahia Loop in Land O'Lakes. The Pasco County Sheriff's Office quickly zeroed in on a suspect — Justo Arturo Moreno-Gonzalez, then 45, who had been working in her neighborhood installing cable lines and offered to help spread dirt on her property. He developed an infatuation with Yeager-Lombard, which was rebuffed — a motive for the killing, authorities said. But detectives couldn't find him after the shooting and heard reports he had fled to Mexico. Soon after Yeager-Lombard's death, Moreno-Gonzalez's truck was found abandoned in Texas, with evidence linking him to the murder, authorities said.
That was 2 1/2 years ago.
"I really didn't think that they would find him," said Wiggins, who now lives in Georgia with her husband, a Marine.
But then she got the news Monday:
They got him.
"It was very bittersweet," she said. "I need the closure. I need him off the streets."
Moreno-Gonzalez had been working as a soda vendor when authorities arrested him Oct. 28 in the southern Mexican town of Melchor Ocampo, officials said Wednesday. He was taken into custody by the Agency for Federal Investigations, an arm of the Mexican government that works with the U.S. Marshals.
"This has been a two-year manhunt," Miguel Lopez, a supervisory inspector with the U.S. Marshals, said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
Wiggins, an only child, said her mother was harassed by Moreno-Gonzalez for several weeks before her death. She said Moreno-Gonzalez would show up at their house and call at all hours, drunk, professing his love for her mother, who was petite and warm-hearted. Wiggins said her mother might have brought Moreno-Gonzalez a sandwich when he first offered to spread dirt on her lawn — just Southern hospitality, which Wiggins believes he misunderstood.
"He took her kindness for weakness," she said.
Shortly before her death, Yeager-Lombard told her daughter:
"Erica, he's starting to scare me," she said. "I have a feeling something bad might happen."
"Mom, don't talk like that," Wiggins remembers saying.
"I don't know, honey," Yeager-Lombard said. "I don't know.
"This seems pretty bad."
Two days before she was killed, Yeager-Lombard filed a harassment complaint against Moreno-Gonzalez. She told the deputy she feared Moreno-Gonzalez because he liked to drink and had a temper. He told her he served five years in prison for assault in Mexico, the report states. She told him to leave her alone, but he didn't. She told the deputy she hoped Moreno-Gonzalez "would finally get the message she was not interested in him."
After the murder, authorities suspected that Moreno-Gonzalez — who was born in Mexico and came to the United States illegally — went back and forth across the border, working under assumed names, as he eluded capture.
Pasco Sheriff Bob White applauded the arrest of the man he called "another illegal alien criminal." White has been outspoken in his support of an Arizona-style law that would give law enforcement officers greater power to investigate and detain anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.
On Wednesday, White repeated his concerns about illegal aliens bringing drugs into the community and "infecting our children" and "bringing that death and destruction into our county."
Authorities from both countries are working to bring Moreno-Gonzalez back to Florida to face murder charges, but Mexico may refuse extradition unless the U.S. government takes the death penalty off the table.
Wiggins said she is okay with that.
"If he's in prison for life, I don't like the idea that I'll have to pay taxes to feed and clothe and shelter him," she said, "but at least everybody will be safe from him."
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.