Man arrested after woman found 10 years after kidnapping in Santa Ana
41-year-old held in California on suspicion of abducting teenager, forcing her to wed and bear a child; neighbours say couple seemed happy
Associated Press in Los Angeles
A woman who disappeared as a teenager a decade ago has been reunited with her family after she contacted police and told them her mother's ex-boyfriend drugged and kidnapped her in 2004, forced her to marry him and fathered her child.
Isidro Garcia, 41, was yesterday charged with kidnapping for rape, lewd acts with a minor and false imprisonment.
Police in Santa Ana, California described a decade during which the victim - abused mentally, physically and sexually by her captor - was moved at least four times and given multiple fake identities to hide her from family and authorities.
"I was very afraid about everything because I was alone," she said in an interview with KATV.
According to the police, Garcia told her that if she tried to contact her family, the police would deport her to Mexico and that he was her only hope. She was locked up at first, but she eventually began to lead what appeared from the outside to be a normal life.
"Even with the opportunity to escape, after years of physical and mental abuse, the victim saw no way out of her situation and lived a life with Garcia under sustained physical and mental abuse," a police statement said.
Neighbours were stunned, describing them as a seemingly happy couple who doted on their young daughter and liked to host parties at their apartment in the working-class community of Bell Gardens, 32km from where she originally disappeared.
"He treats her like a queen. He does his best to do whatever she wants," next-door neighbour Maria Sanchez said.
The woman, now 25, whose identity is not being released, first contacted authorities on Monday - the same day Garcia was first arrested. Police said she came forward to police after finding her sister on Facebook.
Santa Ana police spokesman Anthony Bertagna said his department's investigation concluded that the girl arrived from Mexico in February 2004 to join her mother and sister in Santa Ana, about 50km southeast of downtown Los Angeles. She had entered the United States illegally and spoke no English.
Garcia was her mother's boyfriend. After one fight between the girl's mother and Garcia in August 2004, the girl's mother left the house and the girl went to a nearby park.
Garcia followed the girl. When he caught up with her, she said she had a headache and wanted to go home.
Garcia began threatening the girl and gave her five pills that he said would help her headache but instead knocked her out.
When the girl awoke, she was locked in a garage in Compton, a city between Santa Ana and Los Angeles.
The mother "filed a police report and for 10 years [police] did due diligence", said Bertagna. "But they were changing their names and dates of birth and physical locations so that made it exceedingly difficult."
In 2007, Garcia received documents from Mexico that gave the girl a new name and date of birth. Using those documents, he married her. He fathered a girl with her in 2012.
Garcia secured two jobs for them on a night cleaning crew so he could keep watch over her. She tried to escape twice but was severely beaten.
Recently, she found her sister on Facebook and they started to communicate. She also learned that her mother had indeed tried to find her, going to a Spanish-language television station and newspaper in 2004.
She started reflecting on her own child's situation and realised she needed to leave, Bertagna said. On Monday, she went to police in Bell Gardens and reported that she was a victim of domestic abuse. She also told them of her abduction.
Police arrested Garcia on Monday during a traffic stop in Bell Gardens. On Tuesday, Santa Ana police arrested him on the kidnapping and other charges.