Woman was abducted and abused for 18 years in California
Twelve years ago, on August 26, 2009, Officer Todd Stroud reported to work at the Concord Police Department and, because of his experience as a school resource officer, was asked to look after a woman who was at the police station with her two young daughters.
That woman, he soon learned, was Jaycee Dugard who, 18 years before, had been kidnapped as she walked to a school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe one morning and had not been seen since.
Stroud, who clearly remembered the kidnapping and the national headlines that accompanied it, was floored.
“I was shocked,” he said.
Hours before, Dugard, the two girls, and Dugard’s captors, Phillip and Nancy Garrido, had gone to Concord to meet with Phillip’s parole officer; he had been released from prison a few years before she was kidnapped. At the parole office, Dugard told the officer that she was the girl who had disappeared in 1991. No kidnap victim in modern American history had been found alive after being missing that long.
Phillip Garrido was arrested, and Nancy, his wife and co-conspirator, was taken into custody soon after. The world would later learn that Dugard and her daughters, conceived after she was raped by Phillip Garrido, had been forced to live in a ramshackle backyard compound at the couple’s home in Antioch, which Dugard would later describe as a prison.
Stroud met the young girls, who were noticeably quiet and afraid, in a police interview room.
“I spent some time talking with them, getting them some food, and trying my best to make them feel a little more at ease,” Stroud said in an interview with this news organization. “I then met with Jaycee. I reassured her that her daughters were okay and being taken care of.”
Outside the police station, media outlets from around the country and the world were descending on the city, and it quickly became clear that Dugard and her daughters needed to be taken somewhere private and safe. Stroud and other officers snuck them out the back of the station in an unmarked car and took them to the local Hilton.
The girls, 14 and 11 at the time, and their mother came to their hotel room with only the clothes on their backs. But for Dugard’s youngest daughter, there was something badly missing: a 10-gallon heated aquarium containing the hermit crabs she was raising, and she wanted them back.
So Stroud, with the help of an officer at the Antioch crime scene and then-police chaplain Tim Grayson, retrieved the aquarium and put it on a food cart, covered it in towels from the hotel gym and wheeled into the family’s room, to their delight.
“I was declared ‘Royal Crab Carrier Number One’ and Tim was ‘Royal Crab Carrier Number Two,’ ” Stroud said.
It was at the hotel later that day that Dugard saw her mother, Terry Probyn, for the first time since the Garridos had shocked her with a stun gun and drove her away in their car. Probyn had rushed to Concord from Southern California after getting the news she had been hoping to get for nearly two decades.
“They opened the double doors, and Jaycee went walking through,” said Grayson, the former police chaplain, who is now a state Assemblyman. “We heard the shout of her mother, ‘My baby!’ and then her arms were open. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”
Today, Dugard and her nonprofit, the JAYC Foundation, help facilitate that same kind of family reunification for other trauma victims. Drawing from Dugard’s experience, the foundation also aims to provide safe, secluded spaces for victims to recover, holds workshops for caregivers, and puts a particular focus on animal-assisted therapy; Dugard turned to riding and caring for horses to help her heal.
“In the backyard prison Phillip and Nancy Garrido created, I didn’t really think too much about the next day, let alone the future,” Dugard wrote in an email to this news organization. “Just getting through the day was what was important to me. When we were rescued, and I started therapy, it was a combo of past, present and future that I thought about. Nowadays, it’s a lot more future.”
Not ‘the only thing that makes me who I am’
Phillip and Nancy Garrido, who orchestrated the kidnapping and for almost two decades kept Dugard’s captivity secret, even delivering her two children with no medical assistance, eventually pleaded guilty after going through a long string of court hearings in El Dorado County. Phillip Garrido is serving a prison sentence of 431 years to life at California State Prison-Corcoran in the Central Valley. Nancy Garrido is serving a sentence of 36 years to life at the California Institution for Women in Southern California.
Neither Garrido responded to letters sent to them by this news organization.
But the virtual isolation and sexual servitude they used to enslave Dugard is well documented in her first memoir, “A Stolen Life,” and in her testimony to a grand jury in El Dorado County. Dugard now addresses that experience with a resilience that has come to define her since she emerged from captivity.
“What happened to me will always be a part of who I am, but I don’t let that be the only thing that makes me who I am,” Dugard said. “I don’t let those experiences or those people, meaning Phillip and Nancy, define the relationships in my life now. When I do have something from the past pop into my head, I don’t shy away from it either, it’s important for me to acknowledge that thought or feeling and figure it out.”
When Dugard emerged in public, the impacts were far-reaching. The state parole system, which was supposed to thoroughly vet Phillip Garrido’s compliance with his parole conditions after he was imprisoned for an earlier kidnapping and rape in the 1970s, was lambasted for its lackluster home visits and minimal status checks. He had even been designated a model parolee. Videos of parole visits that later surfaced publicly showed Nancy Garrido badgering and frustrating agents to the point that they hurriedly left to get away from her, helping them keep their secret.
In her first memoir, Dugard criticized parole agents for lacking the curiosity that might have led them to discover her far earlier, sparing her the 18 years of torment she endured. After the exposure of those lapses, the state parole system revamped its practices, and the state paid a $20 million settlement to Dugard for the repeated failures to find her sooner.
But more broadly, Dugard’s story gave hope to other families still looking for their missing loved ones. A few years after Dugard gained her freedom, 53-year-old Ariel Castro was arrested in Cleveland, after it was revealed that between 2002 and 2004 he had kidnapped and imprisoned three women — Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — and held them captive until they were freed in 2013.
Committed to helping others like her
Stroud, now a Concord police sergeant in the final year of his law-enforcement career, says Dugard’s story continues to stay with him.
“I could see that strength early on,” he said. “She is, without a doubt, the most courageous, positive and resilient person I have ever met. Her ordeal would have broken most people, but not Jaycee.”
Dugard said she is proud of what she has accomplished in the decade since her survival story earned her worldwide fame. She has sent both of her daughters to college. She has traveled the world and given talks at Yale and Harvard. She has written two best-selling memoirs. Currently, tending to her garden and riding and caring for her horse, Cowboy, are her day-to-day pursuits.
Going forward, she says her primary concern is to continue building up the JAYC Foundation, which has helped or held workshops for hundreds of kidnapping, sexual assault and other trauma victims, as well as the law-enforcement officers who are often the first responders to those cases. To her, the foundation’s first-ever fundraising benefit scheduled for next month in Sonoma County, is a significant milestone.
“We need to raise more awareness that therapy is OK. It’s OK to seek help, you don’t have to go it alone,” she said. “We want to do more in Sonoma County where I did all my healing, and this fundraiser will hopefully help us provide animal-assisted therapy to many more at no or low cost to them.”
“It’s important for me to keep going and see how many more lives we can touch.”