Up from the rabbit hole

Eighteen years ago, 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard was kidnapped near her home in South Lake Tahoe by an unknown man and woman.

Yesterday, the woman who had been Jaycee Dugard turned up alive, in reasonably good health, using the name Allissa Garrido — the 29-year-old mother of two daughters apparently fathered by her male kidnapper. She has lived for most of the past two decades in a warren of tents and shelters in the East Bay backyard of Philip and Nancy Garrido, the husband-and-wife team who snatched her in 1991. The vehicle in which she was abducted remains on the property.

I couldn’t make that up if I tried.

Jaycee Dugard’s kidnapping occurred during a rash of similar — and for the most part, unrelated — crimes against children in northern California during the late 1980s and early 1990s. If you were living here then, and especially if you were a parent, you remember the names: Steven Collins, Ilene Misheloff, Amber Swartz-Garcia, Michaela Garecht, and yes, Jaycee Dugard.

Even the most glass-half-full person on the planet could not have supposed that one of these children would resurface intact — physically, at any rate — nearly 20 years later.

By all accounts, Phillip Garrido is a strange creature — a convicted felon who espouses cultish religious practices on his website, and claims that he speaks to angels and possesses psychic powers. What resulted in his capture, and Jaycee’s resurfacing, is the combination of these elements: Garrido, accompanied by his and Jaycee’s two young daughters, was handing out literature on the UC Berkeley campus without a permit. When campus police discovered that he was a registered sex offender in the company of children, they turned him in to the parole board. An interview with corrections officials — attended by Jaycee and her daughters — quickly revealed the unbelievable situation.

I’m sure that in the days and weeks to come, we’ll learn more about what happened to Jaycee Dugard over the course of her absence — especially how her kidnappers conducted their lives in plain sight, Jaycee and her children living openly with them, and no one ever deduced the circumstances behind the scenes. I’ll be particularly interested to hear how Jaycee lived during the late 1990s while Phillip Garrido was in prison. How did her kidnapping remain hidden even then?

There will, I’m equally sure, be much conversation about the fact that though Jaycee lived an odd and somewhat secluded life — she apparently did not attend school after her capture — she also lived without apparent restraint. She was well-known, at least by sight, by others in the community where the Garridos lived and conducted business. Yet she did not at any point contact the family from whom she was taken, a family whom — according to police interviews — she remembers perfectly well. We’ll hear quite a bit about Stockholm syndrome and related mental phenomena, wherein people who have been kidnapped or taken hostage attach themselves to and identify with their captors.

Amid all of the discussion, we’ll never know the answer to the question of how one human being could do to another what Phillip and Nancy Garrido did to Jaycee Dugard, her mother and stepfather (since divorced — her stepfather, who reported having witnessed Jaycee’s abduction, was long considered a suspect by investigators), and by extension, her children.

We may never know what happened to the other children who never came home.

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Explore posts in the same categories: My Home Town, Ripped From the Headlines, Taking Umbrage

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