A woman kidnapped nearly two decades ago when she was an 11-year-old on her way to school was discovered in the Bay Area this week after her alleged abductor aroused the suspicions of a UC Berkeley police officer, authorities revealed Thursday as they began investigating the bizarre case.
Authorities said Phillip Garrido, a registered sex offender, and his wife, Nancy, kept Jaycee Lee Dugard in a ramshackle warren of sheds, tents and tarps behind a fence in the backyard of a home in Antioch, northeast of Oakland.
They believe that Garrido, whom acquaintances described as a “religious fanatic,” fathered two daughters with Dugard, who is now 29. The girls are 11 and 15.
Dugard was reunited with her mother Thursday in an East Bay motel. The Garridos were being held in the El Dorado County Jail in Placerville. They are to be arraigned today.
Dressed in pink, Dugard was walking the few blocks to her bus stop in June 1991 when two people in a car snatched her from her South Lake Tahoe neighborhood. Her stepfather, who witnessed the abduction, leapt on a mountain bike in pursuit.
In the 18 years since, Dugard, whom the Garridos called Allissa, has never been back to school or to the doctor. Nor have her daughters, authorities said.
“It’s a miracle that we got her back,” Carl Probyn, her stepfather, said in an interview at his home in Orange as he displayed pictures of his stepdaughter. “How do you get 18 years back? . . . I just hope that she can have a decent life from here on out. Her life kind of stopped at 11.”
Neighbors and acquaintances said Garrido -- who was convicted of rape and kidnapping in 1971 and has been on federal parole since -- ran a print shop out of his house, introduced the three as his children and was religious but not aligned with any organized ministry.
A blog called “Voices Revealed,” registered to the 58-year-old Garrido, says God has given him the ability “to speak in the tongue of angels in order to provide a wake-up call that will in time include the salvation of the entire world.”
Garrido’s chance encounter with an officer at UC Berkeley on Tuesday unlocked the mystery of Dugard’s disappearance.
At a packed news conference Thursday in Placerville, El Dorado County Undersheriff Fred Kollar said Garrido and Dugard’s two daughters had gone to the campus to hand out fliers and hold an event of a religious nature.
“A UC police officer observed them and thought the interaction between the older male and the two young females was rather suspicious,” Kollar said.
Standard university procedure requires that anyone handing out literature on campus undergo a background check, Kollar said. During that check, the officer discovered that Garrido had been convicted of rape and kidnapping in Nevada, was incarcerated in federal prison in Kansas, and was later paroled to California.
“Federal parole in his particular case,” Kollar said, “lasts a lifetime.”
On Wednesday, Garrido went to the Concord parole office to meet with his parole officer. It is unclear, Kollar said, if he was ordered to show up or if he volunteered. But he arrived with his wife, Dugard and the two girls.
“During interviews with the three of them -- the two suspects and Jaycee -- sufficient information was determined from all three of them that Jaycee was who she was purported to be and that these two people only had information that the kidnappers could have known,” Kollar said.
The Garridos were arrested Wednesday.
In a rambling, sometimes incoherent, phone interview with Sacramento station KCRA-TV Thursday, Garrido said that he had not admitted to a kidnapping and that he had turned his life around since the birth of his first daughter 15 years ago.
“I tell you here’s the story of what took place at this house and you’re going to be absolutely impressed. It’s a disgusting thing that took place from the end to the beginning. But I turned my life completely around,” he said.
It was unclear Thursday exactly when Garrido was in and out of prison. Kollar said he was convicted in 1971 on the Nevada federal kidnapping and rape charges.
According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, he was also paroled from a Nevada state prison in 1999. His prior arrest history includes possession of marijuana.
Police on Thursday began to comb through the Garrido compound, which included what authorities called “a backyard within a backyard,” where Dugard and her two children apparently spent most of their lives. Authorities said they are unsure whether the three had ever left the property before this week.
Kollar said Dugard was cooperating with the investigation and described her as being in “good health, but living in a backyard for the last 18 years does take its toll.” Kollar said Dugard’s daughters were staying with her.
Helen Boyer has lived next door to the Garridos for nearly two decades and described the couple as “good neighbors.” She said she was surprised to hear that they had been keeping a woman in their backyard.
“They didn’t seem like that type,” said Boyer, 78. “I didn’t know anything was going on. I thought they were good people.”
Boyer said the only women she saw at the house were Nancy Garrido and Phillip Garrido’s mother, whom she said lived with the couple. Boyer said she would sometimes see two girls playing in the frontyard but assumed they were daughters of family friends.
The blog registered to Garrido says that he can use his mind to control “a voice or set of voices that are unearthly in nature” and that he distributed documents last year on the Berkeley campus that included signed testimonials.
One was signed by Deepal Karunaratne, an Antioch real estate agent who has used Garrido’s printing services for the last decade. He said that Garrido was affordable and that Dugard did most of the actual printing work. He described Garrido as a “crazy guy, crazy with religion,” who three years ago said “he was talking to angels and all these weird things.”
“One day I happened to be there at his place, and he told me to wear this device, like headphones,” Karunaratne said. “He asked me if I heard something. I said, ‘Yeah, I heard some noises.’ I didn’t know he’d used my name. I did not know that he was a registered sex offender. I’m kind of stunned.”
Ralph A. Hernandez, 61, a private investigator and former police officer who did some work for Garrido, said he was “a little bit eccentric” but of “above average intelligence.”
“I’m shocked. I’m very confused, if you will,” he said. He added that he did not understand why parole officers had not discovered Dugard or her children. “I don’t want to put it on the parole department. They make sure that they know what the family household is. Why didn’t they search?”
Probyn married Dugard’s mother, Terry, when the girl was 7.
He said the crime and its aftermath had “ended” his marriage. “Terry was close to her. It’s like having your heart ripped out.”
He said his former wife called Wednesday and told him Dugard had been found alive. The couple cried together.
Probyn said he had been considered a suspect and was interviewed several times by the FBI.
“I’ve never spent a day of my life in jail,” he said. “If I did this and got away with it, I’m some kind of a genius.”
Terry Probyn lives in Riverside County and flew to Northern California to be with her daughter. She called again Thursday afternoon with more news about Dugard and her ordeal.
Probyn cried as his former wife told him about what his stepdaughter endured. He said he asked her to stop as she told him that Dugard had been kept locked in a box behind the Antioch house. “I don’t want to hear anymore.”
After he regained his composure, he spoke of the girl’s life: “No schooling, no nothing,” he said. “I was hoping it wasn’t that scenario. This is pretty horrific stuff, to be treated like an animal.
“Those people,” he said. “I’ll never forgive them. It’s already devastated our lives.”
LaGanga reported from Placerville, Tran from Los Angeles and Esquivel from Orange. Times staff writer David Kelly contributed to this report.