LOS ANGELES -- A girl who was snatched seven years ago from a Los Angeles-area restaurant was raised by an Arizona couple who kept her out of school to hide her from authorities, officials said Thursday.
Amber Nicklas, who turns 8 this month, was abducted in 2003 and found Wednesday night in a home in north Phoenix that also served as a palm reading business.
The girl was emotional after being taken from the home but appeared in good health, police said Thursday. Investigators later discovered through interviews that she was kept out of school and could not read.
Amber remained in protective custody Thursday in Los Angeles and it was not clear if she would be reunited with her foster parents.
Authorities have not released any names or filed any charges but continue to investigate.
"This girl was taken away from the only parents and family that she knows yesterday," said Phoenix police Sgt. Trent Crump. "It was very traumatizing to the girl."
Investigators believe the couple were trying to hide Amber, noting that they changed the girl's name and birth date and she was found under a pile of clothes when authorities searched the home Wednesday.
Amber was 1 when she was abducted from her foster parents on Sept. 21, 2003, by three juvenile aunts during a visit to a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in the LA suburb of Norwalk, said Los Angeles County sheriff's Detective Jerry Saba.
The foster parents were distracted by two of the aunts and the third aunt got away with the child, authorities said.
Two of the aunts spent time in juvenile camp for the abduction, but authorities would not release details on why they took the child or if they remain part of the investigation.
It was not clear how Amber wound up in Phoenix, though there apparently was some sort of connection between the aunts and the family there.
"This family has an acquaintance with the abducting family," Crump said. "They know each other, and that's all I know about."
The man and the woman in the Phoenix home said they were from Romania and initially claimed to have adopted Amber, though their stories were inconsistent, Saba said. Amber spoke some Romanian, though English is her main language.
The break in the case came in November when Saba got a tip that eventually led him to Phoenix. Saba on Wednesday accompanied Phoenix police and the FBI to the girl's home, where a woman tried to hide Amber in a bathroom shower under a pile of clothes and towels, he said. A baby girl and older boy were also in the house.
Authorities confirmed Amber's identity by comparing her footprint to that on her birth certificate, said Los Angeles County sheriff's Capt. Patrick Maxwell. She was upset at the prospect of having to leave the people she thought were her parents.
"The detectives said to the 'parents,' if you really care about this child, you need to go in there and tell her everything is going to be OK," Maxwell said. "They did that."
The man and woman in the home where Amber was found were detained then released after questioning. A second woman was detained and questioned elsewhere in Phoenix. She was also released.
Amber was returned to the care of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Officials would not comment on where she would go next. Maxwell said her birth parents are "out of the picture" and he would not say if the foster parents were notified.