A 25-year-old woman who vanished as a teenager from her California home has contacted police after 10 years, claiming she was held captive and sexually assaulted for nearly a decade.
The Santa Ana Police Department said Wednesday that they have charged her alleged captor, 41-year-old Isidro Garcia, of Bell Gardens, with kidnap for rape, lewd act with a minor and false imprisonment.
The woman’s mother reported her then-15-year-old daughter missing to the Santa Ana Police Department in August of 2004 after a domestic violence incident. The mother said Garcia, who was her boyfriend and living with the family at the time, was also missing, and that she suspected Garcia had been sexually assaulting her daughter.
Investigators say that Garcia followed the girl to a nearby park after one fight between the girl's mother and Garcia in August 2004. When Garcia caught up with the teen, she said she had a headache and wanted to go home.
Garcia began threatening the girl and gave her five pills that he said would help her headache but instead knocked her out.
When the girl awoke, she was locked in a garage in Compton, a city between Santa Ana and Los Angeles.
Santa Ana Police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna told The Associated Press that Garcia got false identification papers for the teen from Mexico in 2007 as part of his elaborate efforts to hide her age and name. Bertagna said Garcia got the papers so he could marry the girl.
The woman, whose identity is not being released, said Garcia locked her in a garage at night to keep her from running away and physically and mentally abused her. The two eventually got jobs at a cleaning service.
“Over the course of the following months and years, Garcia repeatedly told the victim her family had given up looking for her, and if she tried to go back to them, the family would be deported,” the police department said in a statement.
"Even with the opportunity to escape, after years of physical and mental abuse, the victim saw no way out of her situation," police said in a written statement.
Garcia allegedly did force the victim to marry him in 2007, and the two had a child together in 2012, according to authorities.
Neighbors were stunned, describing the couple as seemingly happy. They doted on their young daughter and liked to host parties at their apartment in the working-class community of Bell Gardens, about 20 miles from where she originally disappeared.
"He treats her like a queen. He does his best to do whatever she wants," next-door neighbor Maria Sanchez said in Spanish.
Other neighbors told The Associated Press that they knew the suspect as Tomas Medrano and described him as a devoted family man who worked hard to provide for his wife and daughter.
They said the couple was known in the neighborhood: He worked at a food-service company down the street from their apartment while she worked as a janitor at a nearby business. The couple attended church a block away, and they were known for parties where they would hire mascots and hold a raffle for children in the neighborhood.
"I'm astounded she waited so long to say something," said Rita Salazar, who lived across the street from the couple and said she never saw any signs of trouble.
Santa Ana police said the girl arrived in the U.S. from Mexico in February 2004 to join her mother and sister. She had entered the United States illegally and spoke no English.
Recently, she found her sister on Facebook and they started to communicate. She also learned that her mother had indeed tried to find her, going to a Spanish-language television station and newspaper in 2004.
She started reflecting on her own child's situation and realized she needed to leave, Bertagna said. On Monday, she went to police in Bell Gardens and reported that she was a victim of domestic abuse. She also told them of her abduction.
Police arrested Garcia on Monday during a traffic stop in Bell Gardens. On Tuesday, Santa Ana police arrested him on the kidnapping and other charges, and also interviewed him.
Garcia was expected to be arraigned Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.