Little in Life Unaltered for Kidnaping Victim : Val Verde: Realtor abducted while showing homes is happy to be alive, but can’t forget the experience.
Real estate agent Paula Harrington has led two lives since her kidnaping two months ago. Neither is the one she knew before the three-day ordeal.
On the one hand, the 26-year-old Val Verde resident is grateful to be alive, attending college, spending more time with her family and looking forward to having children. On the other, there are the nightmares and therapy sessions that have become a way of life.
Harrington has quit her real estate job--at least temporarily--because the memories of the man who posed as a customer in order to abduct her are too painful to bear at the office. Harrington and her family become nervous when she wanders too far from home.
“Home is my comfort zone right now,” she said. “I run out and do a few things and then I want to come home.”
Harrington was abducted at gunpoint June 29 while showing houses to a man later identified by authorities as Timothy Daniel Shue, 39. Two days later, she was found tied up in an Arizona motel room after having been sexually assaulted.
The man accused of abducting Harrington was arrested July 6 and is scheduled to stand trial on federal kidnaping charges Sept. 13 in Los Angeles. Shue has not been charged with sexual assault, but federal prosecutors have said such allegations could be introduced at trial and would add time to any sentence on the kidnaping charge.
The outside of Harrington’s house is still decorated with a few of the many yellow ribbons placed there by her co-workers during the kidnaping. Inside, cards from friends and strangers are displayed throughout the house, as well as the flowers sent by well-wishers.
Most of the time, Harrington is surprisingly cheerful.
“Someone may say that I’m not in touch with my feelings and I’m suppressing them, and at times I am doing that,” she said. “But on the other hand, I’m genuinely happy because I’m alive and I have a lot to live for.”
But Jody Traver, office manager where Harrington worked, said she has noticed a difference in her friend.
“Before she was trusting and open and very innocent,” she said. “Now, she doesn’t smile as much and she has worry lines in her face. It’s very, very difficult.”
Part of the joy of surviving the kidnaping is extinguished by cold realities. She and her husband, Chris, hoped to have a child during her respite from work. But a doctor said she will have to wait at least another six months until it is known whether she contracted AIDS from the sexual assault.
“He said the possibility I have AIDS is slim, but I have to be careful just in case,” she said.
Harrington said she returned to the Century 21 office where she worked about a week after her kidnaping and performed duties in the office instead of showing homes. But she said even that was too much to take.
“I just couldn’t do it,” she said. “I just felt a fear.”
Other employees at the office also suffered emotional distress, especially during the first month after the kidnaping, Traver said. “Many complained of not being able to sleep, not being able to eat, and they were tense and nervous all the time,” she said.
The small office has taken extensive security measures since--copying the driver’s license and license plate numbers of customers and having employees make detailed lists of where they are, when alone or with a customer, Traver said. Video cameras also are being installed inside and outside the office.
Her bosses have agreed to give Harrington a leave of absence until January. But she said she is not sure she will return. She said she is taking classes at College of the Canyons and may eventually pursue a liberal studies degree at a four-year college.
“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up,” she joked. “I thought I wanted to be a real estate agent, but it may take some time to get over (the kidnaping).”
Harrington said she is trying to stay busy to keep the incident out of her mind as much as possible.
For example, she goes to the Saugus Metrolink station weekdays to sell newspapers and coffee to riders--a job she also did before the kidnaping. She said some regulars know about her ordeal, but most never “associate the ‘real estate lady’ with the ‘coffee lady.’ ”
“If I have any quiet time at all, I instantly pick up a book,” she said.
But forgetting is not an option. Police and lawyers continue to interview her about the ordeal, expecting her to remember the details of what happened. She said that prospect is frightening because many of those details she hasn’t even shared with her husband yet.
Harrington said her husband has his own scars from the episode and is very protective of her now.
“I walk down the street while he’s on the phone, just to talk to a neighbor, and he’ll holler out the balcony (for me),” she said.
Traver said Harrington is handling the situation as well as any person could, but that the road back to a normal life will be a long one.
“She believed when got she got safely home it would be all be over for her,” Traver said. “But now she’s finding out the nightmare has just begun.”