She watched “The Silence of the Lambs” as a girl and so related to Jodie Foster’s character that she wanted to become an FBI agent and go after psychopaths.
Instead, Ally Jacobs became a police officer at UC Berkeley, handling mostly garden-variety cases until one day in August when she helped crack the case that ended the 18-year kidnapping nightmare of Jaycee Lee Dugard.
On Monday, the 1994 Santa Margarita Catholic High School graduate returned for alumni career day and told students that her brush with fame stemmed from trusting that voice in her head that told her that something wasn’t right about the man later arrested and charged with Dugard’s kidnap and rape.
“One day I woke up, went to work and did my job,” she told a rapt audience in the school gymnasium. “This guy comes in to work, a little off, with two kids, and after interviewing him I just got this weird feeling, and I followed up on it.”
Jacobs, 34, said she didn’t dwell on the details that led to the arrests of Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy, or the freedom of Dugard and her two daughters, who were believed to have been fathered by Garrido.
Rather, she used the case and the career path that led her to it to encourage students at the South Orange County campus to trust their instincts about right and wrong. And, along the way, to follow their dreams.
“If you take anything away from today,” she said, “just listen to your voice. It’s always right, it’s there for a reason. So, I listened to that voice, I followed up, went a little extra mile, and three lives were saved because of it.”
She also told them a story from her high school days when, as a semi-popular student, she turned in an ultra-popular star athlete who had stolen beer from a grocery store where she worked. The boy knew she had seen him but thought she wouldn’t tell anyone.
She did, and as the crowd applauded, she introduced Meredith Moody, the Santa Margarita art teacher who wrote her a letter praising Jacobs back then for not bowing in the face of potential social stigma. “I still have it,” Jacobs said of the note.
Afterward, two students said Jacobs’ message about right and wrong and following one’s dreams hit home. “She was really empowering,” 17-year-old Lindsey Mann said. “What she said about follow your dreams, follow your intuition. It’s interesting because in high school, you’re afraid to do certain things. High school is kind of like its own society, so people will judge you for doing things, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that society is right. So you have to listen to your own heart and follow what you believe.”
Courtney Stoddard, 17, said she would have been interested to hear more details of the Dugard case but liked Jacobs’ larger themes. “Especially how you might come across obstacles but to kind of push through them,” she said. “Like you don’t get the job you want or something else to help your career, but you keep trying.”
During a subsequent talk in a classroom session, Jacobs touched on the fame the Dugard case has brought her. “My life has changed because my anonymity is gone,” she said. “I was at Target the other day, and a woman stopped me and started crying and said she was a parent too. Of course, I got teary-eyed at that.”
Jacobs has been on CNN and met Oprah Winfrey and also will be featured in an upcoming Cosmopolitan magazine article. “It’s kind of weird being under a microscope, it seems, all the time,” she said. “Which is, to say the least, uncomfortable for me, but it’s for something so positive.”
She also said she someday hopes to meet Dugard’s mother. “It won’t be televised, I hope,” she said, smiling. “I’ll cry my eyes out.”