PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) — "My name is Priscila," the letter begins. "And I am nine years old. I have suffered a lot. I thought being with my mother that everything would be different, but no ...

"From the time I returned to her, she would spank me and scold me, because I don't know when to go to the bathroom. Since the abuse, I have no feeling. My maternal grandmother hates me. I think everyone wants to do me harm."

Priscila was among the forgotten children of northern Mexico given a new lease on life thanks to the Guardian Angel Rescue Mission, an orphanage launched two decades ago through the efforts of Puebloan Ben Perea and other unselfish givers.

Tragically, young Priscila's hope for a fresh start was violently crushed before it had a chance to blossom.

"They raped and killed her," Perea said with a jaded matter-of-factness borne over two decades of doing God's work in a godforsaken land. "She was recuperating pretty good in the orphanage until she ran away.

"And that's when the bad people got a hold of her. She was missing for two weeks and then they found her body. She had been shot three times in the head."

Priscila's soul-crushing story is all-too-common in a part of Mexico besieged by poverty, abandonment, crime and misery. It's for that very reason that Perea, 80, and a retired contractor, made a vow to himself — and a promise to thousands of children thousands of miles away — that he would do all in his power to be a bearer of hope and happiness in the seemingly insurmountable midst of heartbreak.

"Twenty years ago, when I made the decision to take on this great responsibility and accept the challenge, it was the scariest moment of my life," Perea said. "I knew the odds were against me. But if not me, then who? There would never be a perfect time."

It was at the Guardian Angel Rescue Mission in Chihuahua that Perea — regularly arriving with food, toys, clothing, blankets, water and, perhaps most importantly, optimism — first crossed paths, and hearts, with Priscila.

And others like Irvin, Marcos and Alicia, youngsters who, despite a similar distressing start, saw their lives turn around through Perea's holy handiwork.

"I was brought to the rescue mission because I was abandoned by my mother and left with my great-grandmother," wrote Irvin to Perea. "I was too small and did not know why they brought me here.

"I am now 8. Immediately, I was happy to be here because there was food, clothes, toys and other kids to play with. Poppy Ben is nice to me and treats me like his very own."

Born in 2002, Marcos, too, was abandoned and left to fend for himself.

"I don't know where my mother is. I had never gone to school and did not know how to talk and would point at whatever I wanted," the youngster wrote. "I felt very out of place when I arrived.

"Now I feel at home, because I am treated well. I have food and I go to school. Sometimes we plant chili and flowers at school. And I have learned to pray and I enjoy going to church."

Although not mother-less, Alicia said she was sent to the orphanage to study, as her family had no money to pay for her education.

"I had to walk 30 minutes or so to go to school in the mountains," Alicia told Perea in a letter. "Many mothers would abandon their children at school. They would not return for them, because they could not feed and clothe them.

"I am happy here at the mission because I am fed well and I have all I need. Ben treats me like his own daughter."

In addition to his deliveries to the orphanage, Perea has, over the past few years, shifted his focus to an area where the need is much greater, the stakes much higher.

The hidden and nearly inaccessible mountain dwellings as many as 60 abandoned children are forced to call "home."

On a regular, almost monthly basis, Perea, oftentimes with fellow Puebloan Calvin Turner and others, makes the long and treacherous journey through drug cartel country and up into mountain ranges without roads.

There, truckloads and truckloads of donated blankets, water, food, clothing and other life-sustaining essentials have been handed out to the children, ages 8 to 12, who eagerly await the arrival of their earthly savior.

"The government won't go up there unless the military is with them," Perea said. "This is cartel country. It's dangerous, and there's not even a road. It's a trail.

"I've had guns pulled on me and my life threatened. But my love of children is stronger than fear. I won't stop going because these are children who have nothing, not even clean water. Many have been sexually abused. If it wasn't for us, they would starve."

Over the past 20 years, Perea has diligently honored his vow, regardless of the conditions or situation, without expectation of reward or recompense.

"God expects my arms to be outstretched and extended like his," Perea said. "My responsibility is to be the compassionate hand of God."

If there is a payment, it's the heartfelt words of children like Priscila — who, if just for a fleeting moment — knew that someone, somewhere, cared.

"Today, I give thanks to God for the persons that care for me," Priscila wrote. "For Sister Tencha and for Benjie. God bless you for doing so good to so many boys and girls like me. I love you."

Eternally grateful for the untold generosity of countless benefactors who have made his missions possible, Perea is hoping the giving will continue.

"What we need is a covered trailer," he said. "With my truck, we can only get so much food and things loaded in. A trailer would allow us to take so much more to the children."

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Information from: The Pueblo Chieftain, http://www.chieftain.com