Why didn't California 'kidnap victim' leave? We just don't know, says freed captive Michelle Knight

Neighbours say woman seemed happy, but Ohio victim Michelle Knight says people just can't tell

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 5:26am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 7:20am


So why didn't she just leave?

That's the question being asked increasingly in California after a 25-year-old woman came forward saying she had been kidnapped a decade ago and held against her will while being repeatedly sexually abused.

Doubters point out that, unlike in similar cases involving forced imprisonment in dungeon-like cellars, neighbours say she was apparently happily married to her captor, with whom she had a child.

But at least two high-profile victims who themselves spent years held captive have rallied to the unidentified woman's defence, saying no one who has not experienced it themselves can really understand what happens.

"Unless you were walking in her shoes, you have no reason to talk, none at all," said Michelle Knight, one of three women freed last year after being held captive for years by Ariel Castro in a basement in Cleveland, Ohio.

Isidro Garcia, 42, was indicted in Los Angeles last week on charges of kidnapping, raping and imprisoning the girl he allegedly seized when she was 15 and who walked into a police station to tell her story.

Garcia faces up to 19 years in jail for allegedly kidnapping his victim in 2004, keeping her effectively confined with a mixture of physical and mental abuse, and forcing her to marry him and have his baby.

"On two occasions, she tried to escape. He caught her, he beat her for her efforts," said Anthony Bertagna of the local police force in Santa Ana, southeast of Los Angeles.

But as reporters swarmed on the neighbourhood where she was allegedly held, the suburb of Bell Gardens, the stories local people told were confused, and appeared to contradict the police narrative.

There were reports that she had a car and drove her child to daycare; that locals knew Garcia and her as a "happy couple"; even that they had parties together in the neighbourhood.

"Practically everybody connected to the family … finds these allegations unbelievable," Garcia's lawyer Charles Frisco told the Los Angeles Times. He added: "She had her own car, her own job. It's mind-boggling why she would wait this long … Why is she coming forward now?"

The victim, identified by neighbours as "Laura", contacted her sister on Facebook last month, the first the family had heard of her since 2004. She then met her sister and mother, and walked into a police station.

According to police, Garcia told her for the past decade that her family had not been looking for her. He also warned the young woman, originally from Mexico, that she risked being sent back if she contacted police.

Some have suggested that she could also have developed Stockholm syndrome, in which kidnap victims develop empathy with their captors, even while suffering what can be horrific abuse.