Mother urged Calif. woman to report 2004 kidnapping

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SANTA ANA, Calif. -- A California woman who says she was kidnapped a decade ago by her mother's boyfriend lived a seemingly ordinary life with her alleged captor year after year, but she was too scared to go to authorities until she recently reunited with her mother, police said Thursday.

The woman, who vanished when she was 15, eventually married the man and started a family with him. Neighbors said she worked for a janitorial service, took Zumba classes and made trips to the beach and Disneyland.

Orange County prosecutors on Thursday filed five felony charges against the alleged abductor, Isidro Garcia, including rape and kidnapping to commit a sexual offense. He did not enter a plea, and his arraignment was continued until June 9. He was jailed on $1 million bail.

Mr. Garcia's attorney said the woman's claims of physical and sexual abuse are lies made up because the couple is separating. Neighbors in a working-class city south of Los Angeles described an outwardly happy family, while authorities and psychologists cautioned that both could be true -- Mr. Garcia could have been a doting husband who controlled his wife without physically restraining her through years of abuse.

The case began to emerge Monday, when the woman went two blocks from her apartment complex to police in Bell Gardens and accused Mr. Garcia of domestic violence. During that conversation, officers learned of her connection to a 2004 missing-persons case in Santa Ana, about 20 miles away.

Santa Ana police interviewed both Mr. Garcia, 41, and the woman and concluded that the husband had been sexually abusing her a decade ago and kidnapped her after a fight with her mother, who was his girlfriend at the time. After holding her captive, Mr. Garcia moved at least four times and gave her multiple fake identities to hide her from family and authorities, Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said.

The woman, whom police did not identify, told investigators that she often thought about escaping, but fear paralyzed her. She came to the United States illegally in 2004 and said Mr. Garcia used that to isolate her, telling her that her mother had given up searching, and that if she contacted authorities, she would be deported. Police said Mr. Garcia forced the woman to marry in 2007 and fathered a daughter, now 3, with her.

In April, the woman got in touch with her mother after finding her sister on Facebook to wish her a happy birthday, Cpl. Bertagna said. The mother showed the daughter old news articles to prove she had gone to police and filed a missing-persons report, he said.

The criminal charges all date to a three-month period in 2004 about the date she went missing, Aug. 3, 2004, according to the criminal complaint.

Los Angeles County prosecutors said Thursday that they declined to file domestic violence charges against Mr. Garcia in last week's Bell Gardens case because there isn't sufficient evidence.

Neighbor Ernesto Rios said Mr. Garcia told him about three weeks ago that his wife's mother had come from Mexico and was causing problems. Mr. Garcia told him his wife "just wants to be with her mom, and she got married with me, not with her mom." Reached by phone, the woman's mother said police told her not to speak with any media.

Mr. Garcia's attorney, Charles Frisco, said outside Thursday's brief court hearing that his client denies all the allegations, never hit his wife and would never have prevented her from leaving.

In Bell Gardens, several neighbors who knew the suspect as Tomas Medrano for the four years the couple lived there found the woman's portrait of him hard to reconcile with the friendly man they knew.

Psychology experts said it's not unusual for kidnapped victims to stay in an abusive relationship while appearing to have a normal life. Basic needs, such as food and shelter, are met. "We're built in a way to form an attachment to anyone who takes care of us," University of Oregon psychologist Jennifer Freyd said.


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