By now you have probably read the remarkable story of Jaycee Lee Dugard, a twenty-nine-year-old woman who was kidnapped eighteen years ago by a couple named Phillip and Nancy Garrido. Jaycee was eleven at the time, and has been held in captivity ever since.
Dugard is another in a line of children abducted by strangers at a young age, sexually abused and co-opted into a perverse “family” situation, and held in various degrees of captivity (Jaycee’s appears to have been profound), then discovered by chance (or, in rare instances, through escape). I have written of the phenomenon before in some depth, but I will write about it again because it is so ghastly, and touches on fears so deep within us.
It is often said that there is nothing more awful to a parent than having a child die. And although that is generally true, there is something about these child abductions—in which the fate of the child remains unknown for a long time—that has an especially intense awfulness.
On the one hand, the child might still be alive. Although that would ordinarily be a good thing, the parents of a kidnapped child face the reality that, if true, that would mean that their precious child might be also suffering horrifically at the hands of an unknown but sadistic and perverted assailant.
Or the child’s suffering might have been intense but relatively quick, ending in brutal murder and burial somewhere in an unknown spot out in the wild world.
In any event, the parents of such a child face an extra measure of suffering at the hands of their own imaginations. And it doesn’t take an overactive one to imagine things that no parent should ever have to contemplate. Over the entire experience arches the element of the unknown; at any moment the child could be found relatively unharmed (although they are never truly unharmed) and returned to the family fold. As the case of Jaycee Dugard proves, even the passage of eighteen years does not preclude this possibility.
In the meantime, though, it’s necessary to figure out a way to get through the day. I hope that none of us ever has to experience anything remotely like what this torment entails for such parents. Spouses often cannot help each other; the marital separation that Jaycee’s mother and her stepfather Carl Probyn experienced is completely typical. If there are other children in the family, they are never unscathed, either.
Of course, Jaycee’s discovery is good news. She’s alive, for starters. She seems to be well physically. Now her abductor and his cooperative wife will be tried and sentenced. These are all good things. But, as Probyn says, there’s a lot ahead for this family. In the following video, he mentions that everyone will need therapy. That’s an excellent guess, but therapy is hardly a cure-all for the sort of deeply destructive experience all of them have undergone.
For Jaycee, her chance at a normal childhood and young adulthood was snatched away. Instead, she was raped and imprisoned, in addition to having borne her abductor/rapist’s children while she was still a child. They are now eleven and fifteen themselves, and have never been to school; the Garrido’s backyard tents are the only homes they have known. Now they will also learn (if they didn’t know already) that they were the product of a criminal kidnapping and subsequent rapes.
Jaycee’s parents will have to face hearing things about her captivity that will shock them beyond belief—but at least that’s better than the state of not knowing (and imagining the worst) for all those long and terrifying years. Now Jaycee’s stepfather Carl can finally throw off the extra added burden of having been under suspicion himself all this time; until her return, he was the last one to see Jaycee alive, and had actually witnessed her abduction by a man and a woman who threw her into a car and sped away.
Jaycee Dugard not only was abducted, raped, and held prisoner—she was (and probably still is to some degree) a prisoner of the mind as well. As Probyn said, she bonded to a certain extent with the Garridos. How could she not? In my previous post on the subject of kidnapped children who return, I reflected on the case of Steven Stayner:
I am reminded of another story, that of Steven Stayner, who was kidnapped in the early ’70s at the age of seven…by a pedophile, and kept for over seven years.
Stayner’s captor used sophisticated methods of “re-education” on him, convincing the boy that his parents had forgotten about him and didn’t want him back, sexually abusing him, and encouraging him to regard him as his new father. Stayner was only found when his kidnapper hauled in new prey, a young child for whom Stayner developed a feeling of compassionate protectiveness. He planned to guide the boy to a police station, but the child was fearful and wanted Stayner to go in with him. In doing so, Stayner himself was detained, and the entire story ended up spilling out.
But Stayner’s re-entry into his joyful family was fraught with psychological problems for all concerned, some of them detailed in an unusually fine made-for-TV film entitled, “I Know My First Name Is Steven” (the words Stayner voiced to the police when he was first being interrogated.) There was a book, as well.
The problems were not surprising considering the dreadful trauma and dislocation all had endured–the fact that they had lost a young child and yet a teenager was returned to them, one who’d seen and endured things no child should ever have to face.
Stayner married young and had two children, but tragically, was killed in a motorcycle accident when he was only twenty-four.
Another kidnap victim, Elizabeth Smart, appear to be doing well these days (if you can believe articles in People magazine). But Elizabeth was “only” in captivity for nine months.
Nine months! For Elizabeth and her parents, that time may have seemed an eternity, each minute a slow agony of anxiety and pain. Jaycee and her family endured eighteen years of that hard school.
Now comes another hard part: Jaycee’s re-entry into the world and the family that was torn apart. I wish them luck; they’ll need it.
[NOTE: As for the Garridos and their punishment, as a previous sex offender Garrido ought to get the maximum in California, whatever that is (I couldn't find the information).
In the video featuring Probyn, there is a part at the end that quotes Garrido as saying that this will end up being a "powerful, heartwarming story." He'd not talking about the family reunion, either---he's speaking of his own supposed redemption after the kidnapping/rape of the child. This sort of statement is hardly surprising; perpetrators such as Garrido are very good at coming up with self-serving stories of how the child "wanted it" and how they're all happy as clams now. My opinion is that, although in some sense Garrido is probably mentally ill, his mental problems should not stop him from getting the maximum sentence allowable by law. What he did was, quite simply, evil.
The law seems to have been remiss, however, in not noting the backyard arrangement by which the Garridos kept Dugard and the children confined. Garrido's parole officer apparently visited the home, but never investigated the rather odd setup there.
I also want to mention a terrible and grisly footnote to the Stayner case. His older brother Cary was convicted of the 1999 murder of four women in Yosemite. Although at one point Cary Stayner said he felt neglected by his parents after his brother's abduction, he also said that he had fantasized about murdering women while still a very young child, even before his brother's kidnapping. My best guess is that Cary Stayner's problems very much predated his brother's kidnapping, but that they may have been exacerbated by the family's travails.]