A woman who disappeared as a teenager a decade ago was reunited with her family after she went to 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 arrested on suspicion of kidnapping for rape, lewd acts with a minor and false imprisonment, the Santa Ana Police Department said.
Police 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.
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.
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, 30km 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 day Garcia was first arrested. Police said she came forward after finding her sister on Facebook.
Santa Ana police captain Anthony Bertagna said his department’s investigation concluded the following:
The girl arrived from Mexico in February 2004 to join her mother and sister in Santa Ana, 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 she went to a nearby park.
Garcia caught up with her and drugged her. 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. But they were changing their names and dates of birth and physical locations so that made it exceedingly difficult,” Bertagna said.
In 2007, Garcia got documents from Mexico that gave the girl a new name and date of birth. Using those documents, he married her at a courthouse. 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 had to leave, Bertagna said.
The case comes just over a year after kidnapping and rape victims Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, three women who had gone missing separately about a decade earlier while in their teens or early 20s, were rescued from a house in Cleveland.
A prominent psychiatrist who helped define Stockholm syndrome, in which victims of abduction begin to sympathise with their captors, said determining why a victim resisted possible escape even when an opportunity was available was not an exact science.
Dr Frank Ochberg said the relationship could sometimes involve a “trauma bond”, whether it was a physically abusive marriage or a kidnapping victim. People in this situation became “infantilised, dominated. They end up being attached to the person who dominates them, much like a child”.