On a summer night a decade ago, a 15-year-old girl who had just arrived in Santa Ana from Mexico disappeared from a park near her mother's apartment.
Police launched a missing-persons investigation. But the case went cold — until this week, when she contacted authorities with a harrowing story of being abducted by her mother's boyfriend, repeatedly assaulted for years and forced to move around Southern California to avoid being found.
FOR THE RECORD
An earlier version of this post said the suspect, Isidro Garcia, was 41. He is 42.
Police say Isidro Garcia, 42, drugged and kidnapped the girl, beat her when she tried to escape and later forced her to marry him.
For years, authorities allege, he used violence and threats to keep her under his control, forcing her to work beside him and telling her she would be deported if she left.
Two years ago she had his child, according to police.
Police say the woman recently found her sister on Facebook and gained the courage to come forward.
Garcia and the woman, who has not been identified, had most recently been living in Bell Gardens. He was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of kidnapping for rape, lewd acts with a minor and false imprisonment. He could not be reached for comment. The case has been forwarded to the Orange County district attorney's office.
The case went largely unnoticed when it first happened. At the time, police say, the mother suspected Garcia of sexually abusing her daughter but had no evidence.
The girl arrived in Santa Ana from Mexico in March 2004 to reunite with her mother, who was living with Garcia in an apartment community that houses hundreds of immigrant and working-class families.
Police say Garcia physically abused the mother and began sexually abusing the daughter soon after her arrival.
The night of the kidnapping in August 2004, Garcia beat the mother and when the girl fled to a park, he followed her, Santa Ana Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.
"She said, 'I just want to go home, I have a headache,' " Bertagna said. "He tells her, 'You can't go home. You're here illegally and your mom called the police.' "
Garcia drugged the girl and when she awoke she was in a garage in Compton, Bertagna said.
She tried to escape but each time Garcia caught up to her, beat her and told her that her mother no longer loved her, he said.
Eventually, Bertagna said, "she becomes accustomed to this."
They lived in several Southern California cities, including Stanton and Long Beach. Garcia also obtained false papers from Mexico changing the girl's birth date so they could be married, Bertagna said. He forced her to work a night shift as a janitor alongside him to keep an eye on her, he said.
One woman who knew the missing girl's mother said the mother may have initially believed her daughter went with Garcia willingly.
Araceli Ochoa, a leasing agent at the Santa Ana apartment complex, said the mother came to her office deeply worried after the disappearance.
"She couldn't understand how her daughter could leave," Ochoa said in Spanish.
Silvia Suarez, 54, a former neighbor, recalled speaking with the mother shortly before the kidnapping. She suspected Garcia was having a sexual relationship with her daughter and the girl was making plans to leave with him.
"I spoke to her mom about God," Suarez said in Spanish. "She said she was having problems with her partner. She believed he was romancing her daughter."
Robert G. Lowery Jr., who oversees the missing children's division of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said the details that have emerged so far in the case are not unheard of.
"Unfortunately we've seen this in the past. The abductor holds them captive, rapes, beats and tortures them and conditions them to believe their family no longer wants them," Lowery said.
Ochoa said she was relieved the girl had been found. "I am very excited that they found her, but it's still a tragedy that she has to live with every day now," she said. "Each day with him probably felt like 100 years to her."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times