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Q & A: A kidnap victim lives openly with captor in California, but goes unnoticed for years

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A woman who vanished as a teenager reappeared a decade later, telling police her mother's ex-boyfriend drugged and kidnapped her, forced her to marry him and fathered their child.

HOW DID IT HAPPEN?

Police say 41-year-old suspect Isidro Garcia was dating the mother of the victim and living with the family in Santa Ana, the urban centre of Orange County. When the mother became suspicious Garcia was sexually abusing her daughter, authorities say Garcia assaulted the mother, drugged the teen and fled with her to a house in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, about 25 miles away.

HOW DID THEY REMAIN CONCEALED FOR A DECADE?

Police say Garcia made elaborate efforts to conceal her name and age. He provided the teenager, who had entered the country illegally, with false identification and used physical and emotional abuse to prevent her from fleeing. The teen was initially confined in a garage, and the couple moved frequently to avoid detection. In 2007 Garcia obtained false identification papers for her from Mexico so they could marry.

DID THEIR LATEST NEIGHBORS NOTICE ANYTHING SUSPICIOUS?

Apparently not, and some were shocked by the news. They knew the suspect as Tomas Medrano and called him a devoted family man who doted on his wife and toddler daughter. The couple attended church and were known for elaborate parties. Next-door neighbour Maria Sanchez said in Spanish that "he treats her like a queen."

DID SHE TRY TO ESCAPE?

Yes, police say, at least twice, but she was severely beaten.

WHY DIDN'T SHE USE OTHER OPPORTUNITIES TO FLEE?

According to authorities, the victim was new the country, didn't speak English and saw no way out of her situation as she lived under sustained physical and mental abuse. Medical experts say captor-victim relationships can sometimes involve a "trauma bond" —situations where people ought to leave but do not. Victims become "infantilized, dominated. They end up being attached to the person who dominates them, much like a child," says psychiatrist Frank Ochberg.

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