Do you remember Jaycee Lee Dugard? Dugard was kidnapped and held hostage for 18 years, during which she gave birth to two daughters, Angel and Starlit. The girls are now 23 and 20 years old, but how have they adjusted to the real world? They were born in captivity, not knowing anything outside of their captor’s house and the lies he told them. But how have they been adjusting to the real world? And how do they feel about their father?
Eleven year old Jaycee Lee Dugard was walking to her school bus stop one day when she was kidnapped by a sex offender named Phillip Garrido. Her stepfather, Carl, witnessed the event and even tried to chase Garrido down before calling the police. She was held hostage in 1991 in a tent and shed behind his house. Garrido and his wife Nancy kept her there for 18 years. She as given the name “Alissa” and left chained to a bed for hours at a time. Garrido would often sexually assault her though over time this happened less frequently and she had more freedom. After several missed rescue opportunities, Garrido’s parole officer was notified when people saw Garrido and Dugard’s daughters acting strangely at a college campus.
Garrido ran a printing business but had a very troubling background - in 1972 and 1976 he was convicted for sexual assault and kidnapping crimes in federal and state courts. After a psychology evaluation, he was described as “a sexual deviant and chronic drug abuser”. Garrido often did crystal meth and other drugs that resulted in him going on sexual assault capades that would last for hours. Afterwards, he would often break down in tears and talk about how much he hated himself. Garrido even admitted to parking by elementary schools and masturbating to the school girls. Remarkably, he was given no psychiatric help or medication and even released early on parole. Garrido met his wife, Nancy, in prison and the two soon married. Upon his release, the couple moved into Garrido’s mother’s home in Antioch, California.
The first night Garrido took Dugard, he made her shower with him, dressed her up in different outfits, and put makeup on her to make her match his fantasies. Only 11 years old, Dugard was scared, alone, and powerless. She was often left by herself in the dark for days and only given leftover food scraps. As time went on, Garrido gave her a television and a pet cat to keep her company. She was even able to come inside the house sometimes. Even as she got older, Dugard never attempted to escape even though she was less than 100 miles from her home - she doubted she could run and the consequences of a failed attempt would be severe. Instead, Dugard tried to make the best of the situation.
Dugard was only 14 years old when she gave birth to Angel, her first daughter. She had watched videos on childbirth and labor before but still wasn’t allowed to leave the soundproof shed. She was angry and in a lot of pain but “then I saw her, she was beautiful. I felt like I wasn't alone any more. I had somebody who was mine. I wasn't alone”. Although born out of something horrible, Angel was a shining light for Dugard and gave her a reason to not give up and keep on living. She promised herself that she would never let anything happen to her. When Starlit was born, Dugard felt the same way. The girls had no idea at the time, but they would give meaning to Dugard’s life in a way she never expected.
Even with Angel and Starlit in her life, things were still hard. Dugard only allowed herself to think about her mother and her family one day a year, as anymore than that would have been too painful - as much as she found joy in being a mother, she was still a child and wanted her old life back. Another reason Dugard was afraid to attempt to escape was because Garrido and his wife had painted the world to be a very dangerous place. Dugard was afraid that Angel and Starlit might be killed, robbed, or kidnapped just like she was. Ironically, she felt the safest place for them was in the tent at the Garrido home. Garrido was crazy, but he did treat the girls well.
When she regained her freedom, Dugard and her daughters moved back to Southern California to live with her mother. Upon their release, Dugard’s aunt, Tina, said that the girls “always appeared and behaved like normal kids and looked healthy". Dugard was finally able to connect with her family again though they both realized things would never be the same after 18 years. Dugard remembered her life before being kidnapped and struggled to reintegrate with society - she had never gone to high school, spent holidays with family, had a boyfriend, drove a car, or had any normal experiences. While she was ecstatic to be released and see her family again, her daughters didn’t exactly feel the same way.
Starlit and Angel were 11 and 15 years old when they were rescued in 2009. Neither of them had ever attended school, saw a doctor, or spent any time by themselves. Until that moment, they had no idea Dugard was their mother, no idea their childhood’s weren’t normal, and no idea that Garrido had kidnapped and forced himself on Dugard. Given this information all at once, it would be an understatement to say that the girls were extremely confused and required regular therapy sessions. They loved Garrido and knew that he was their father and had been taking care of them. Carl explained that, “These girls are so fragile. They are upset about this because that's their father and he's in jail”.
Cheyvonne Molino, a business associate of Garrido, often saw Angel and Starlit at the house. She said that “in her presence the girls never acted robotically and didn't wear unusual clothing” - they appeared to be regular children. Angel and Starlit didn’t know the situation that they were in - they knew Garrido was their father but he told him that Dugard was their sister - not their mother. This why they were reluctant to leave and clung to Garrido upon their rescue. He was the only father they’d ever known and thought their life was normal - they even cried when he was sentenced to prison. Garrido says that “they slept in my arms every single night since birth. I never harmed them”.
Angel and Starlit were seen by many guests in Garrido’s home and he often took the girls with him to work at his printing business. His coworker said, “The girls were polite, they played with my daughter in my office, sometimes on the internet”. Dugard even helped with his business sometimes, seen in town with Nancy by several different people. When the girls were visiting the University of California, faculty members noticed how socially anxious and awkward they were. One of the people Garrido spoke with was Ally Jacobs. She noticed that “Garrido was the Lord in Angel’s eyes it seemed; she was just looking at him like he was a superstar". While the girls behaved as normal to everyone else, they were still living in a dingy shed and fed food scraps.
Starlit and Angel even attended a Sweet Sixteen birthday party for Cheyvonne Molino’s daughter, one of Garrido’s clients. The girls behaved as normal and weren’t nervous or eager to get away from Garrido. Starlit was very talkative with the other girls and asked a lot of questions about everything, while Angel was more reserved and seemed uncomfortable not being with her father. Molino recalls that, “The young girl did say a couple of things that seemed a little strange at the time. She told me her daddy had a church in the basement of their house". Garrido ended up picking them up and bringing them home just an hour after the party began, claiming they couldn’t handle all of the loud music and lights.
When Jacobs asked what Garrido was doing on campus with the girls, he replied that “I'm socialising them, showing them how it's done - interacting with people”. She found that to be a rather strange response and also realized Starlit had a bruise over her left eye. When Jacobs asked about it, Starlit quickly and almost automatically replied that it was just a birth defect. While the girls had interactions with other people and the outside world, they were always rushed, calculated, and not genuine. Coworkers and clients at Garrido’s printing business also found “that [his behavior toward the girls] was kind of kooky, but I just thought that's Phil”. The girls didn’t show any sign of abuse or miscare, even though they were sleeping in a tent outside every night.
A few months after their release, Carl said that Angel and Starlit were “doing fine - not fine, but fine for the situation. Jaycee is an excellent mother and they are bonding, playing little games like checkers”. The hardest transition has been understanding the man that Garrido really was - he likely never harmed the girls and treated them as any dad would, which makes their relationship very confusing. Knowing they were born out of a sexual assault is also a hard thing to come to terms with. One of their therapists understandably said that, “The scars on them will be enormous. Their norm has been inside that compound and anything outside it will seem terrifying. They have been reared on another planet, and nothing about their recovery will be straightforward or easy".
Dugard’s aunt, Tina, has also said that her daughters are “clever, articulate, curious girls who have a bright future ahead of them”. A whole team of therapists were “helping and protecting the girls” upon their release. Angel and Starlit often go on bike rides and grocery runs with their mother and just want to feel as normal as possible. They regularly go on family vacations with Dugard’s mother, Terry, and her stepfather, Carl. Dugard has wondered, “Do we scare our kids into never wanting to do anything or do we prepare them for the worst in life, never knowing if, you know, if it's really going to happen?". She has chosen to raise them in a positive way, encouraging them to overcome their past instead of suppress it.
Garrido will be in prison for the rest of his life and Starlit and Angel haven’t seen their father since his arrest in 2009. After learning the circumstances behind their situation, all love and empathy they had for him has seemed to vanish. Dugard said that, “I would hope they wouldn't want to, but as long as he's behind bars, and they're safe, then I wouldn't hinder their ability to make the choice to visit their father”. Needless to say, the young women are confused - the man they viewed as a role model while growing up turned out to be a monster who ruined their lives. Dugard says that she couldn’t be more proud of her daughters, describing them as beautiful, loving, and resilient.
Like their mother, the young women are choosing to stay out of the spotlight and not dwell on the past. When making new friends, they usually go by a nickname and don’t even tell them about what happened to them. In fact, it wasn’t until July of 2016 that photographs of them were released publicly. The young women were seen window shopping, eating ice cream, and having lunch with their mother. Family is very important to them and they just want to be as normal as possible. Unlike most young people, they relish in the experience of everyday opportunities they never had like doing laundry and walking the family dog. Angel has now graduated from college and Starlit is still in school.
Needless to say, Dugard, Starlit, and Angel share a deep family bond. They turn to each other for support and are the only reason they were able to handle the situation so well. Dugard said, “They saw his craziness and ups and downs and knew how unpredictable he was. To know it was OK to laugh about, you know, Phillip and Nancy and their…craziness…it helps". With only a fifth grade education, Dugard had to give birth and raise two daughters. She planted flowers to make a makeshift garden in the backyard and tried to emulate all of the mothers she had seen on television and in movies. Even though Starlit and Angel viewed Dugard as their big sister then, those memories bond them and provide them with an understanding no one else can have.
Garrido had told Dugard that he was a sick man and needed her so he wouldn’t harm himself or anyone else. He told her that she was helping him. Nancy was aware of everything going on, though it is not clear why she didn’t try to stop him. Dugard remembers that she acted jealous when Dugard would assault her, and insisted that Angel and Starlit refer to her as their mother and not Dugard. Garrido’s and Nancy’s sexual relationship is unclear, but he admits to having a sexual addiction and mental problems. In 1976, he kidnapped a young woman with blonde hair who bore similar features to Dugard. Garrido wasn’t stalking Dugard - “There was no connection to the family. He literally snatched her off the streets”.
Garrido is a peculiar man - while even he admitted kidnapping and raping Dugard was a horrible and vile thing to do, he views the birth of Angel and Starlit as a turning point in his life. Garrido said that “My life has been straightened out” since he started taking care of the two girls. The birth of the daughters also brought him and Dugard closer together, even though the girls were told that their mother was Nancy, Garrido’s wife. Garrido had never had any children and the girls seemed to fill a void in his life. Some argue that if he truly loved them the way he claimed, he would have turned himself in and let the girls go free. Others feel this love isn’t genuine and a kind of reverse Stockholm syndrome.
The longer a person is missing, the quicker the trail starts to grow cold - if someone isn’t found within a year of their kidnapping, they will likely never be found alive or at all. Dugard’s re-appearance, with two healthy daughters, was a huge breakthrough. Families all over the country were given hope that their loved ones who are missing might be found as well. Dugard’s stepfather “ had personally given up hope” and just hoped that one day her body would be found and they would be given some closure. Finding her alive and in physically good health was something no one expected. Dugard herself never gave up hope, knowing that one day she would be reunited with her family and be free.
For Starlit and Angel, it is “truly unbelievable that they can decide to jump in the car and go to the beach together”. After years of torture and lies, the girls can finally enjoy their lives the way they should have if they had had a regular childhood. They find strength and support in each other and have bright futures ahead of them. Dugard is also proud to live through them - they’re doing things she never got to do like go to college and have careers. Dugard has written two books, one titled A Stolen Life: A Memoir and a second titled Freedom: My Book of Firsts. Writing them was very cathartic for her and helped her come to terms with what happened. Maybe in the future, Angel and Starlit will also publish their story.