How An OC Woman Was Held Captive For A Decade
More details have emerged in the case of a 41-year-old man accused of holding captive and sexually abusing a Santa Ana woman for a decade since she was 15.The story of the unnamed victim, who is now 25, finally came out when she showed up to a Bell Gardens police station on Monday, according to the L.A. Times. She told police her harrowing story about how her alleged captor Isidro Garcia drugged and kidnapped her, raped and abused over the past ten years, and eventually forced her into marriage and having his child. Her story bears a resemblance to the tales of the three women who went missing nine years ago before they were found in Cleveland living with Ariel Castro last year—though there are key differences.
Before she was kidnapped as a teenager, the woman had recently immigrated from from Mexico to join her mother and sister in Santa Ana. She didn't have papers and she spoke no English when she arrived. Garcia was her mother's live-in boyfriend, and he would use the family's undocumented status against her.
Garcia fixated on her from the time he met her in February 2004 and would buy her presents. Her mother suspected that he had been sexually abusing her 15-year-old daughter at the time, and it sounds like she was right: the victim says Garcia raped her while her mother was at work between June and August of that year. One day Garcia allegedly hit the mother during a fight, causing the teen to flee to a nearby park. Garcia followed her, where she complained she had a headache and said she wanted to go home. Santa Ana Police Anthony Bertagna told City News Service, "He told her that 'She keeps saying she has a headache and wants to go home, and he tells her, 'You can't. Your mom's called police and they'll deport you."
Garcia allegedly gave her five pills then, and she woke up in a garage in Compton, beginning an ordeal that would last 10 years. Police say he was apparently able to get away with his deeds by putting on a good front, moving around, forging documents and psychologically and physically abusing his victim.
Over the years, the woman says she would try to escape, but Garcia would find her, beat her, tell her he would get her deported and that her mother no longer loved her.
“The psychological part of this is … she is now taken away from her family, told that her family is not looking for her, told that her family doesn’t care,” Bertagna said. “He’s the only one there for her. She doesn’t know anybody.”
They moved around four times to different cities in SoCal, from Long Beach to Stanton to avoid police detection. He created fake Mexican ID documents, so he could give her a new name and change her age, so they could marry in 2007. He changed his name, too, going by Thomas Rodriguez Medrano, according to City News Service. They worked together on night shifts side-by-side as janitors, a way for him to keep her in his sight. They had a child together in 2012.
The woman says she gained the courage to speak to police after she contacted her sister on Facebook in April on her birthday. She gave a brief and emotional interview with ABC7 last night: "I'm so happy and God-blessed to be with my family. That's what I want all the time. All the time, I cry for them, more for my mom and my sisters."
She told the TV station that she gained the courage to come forward and turn him in in part because she worried that he could be a danger to her 3-year-old Guadalupe. She had also recently found out that her family in fact had been looking for her after she disappeared in 2004.
Neighbors were in disbelief when they heard the disturbing news—many of them thought of Garcia as a good father and husband. From the outside, they looked like a typical couple. The woman and Garcia had been living in Bell Gardens in a small, two-story apartment building for at least the past six years until his arrest, the Times reported.
Ricardo Ledesma, 43, a neighbor in the building told the Times he never saw any signs of abuse and noted that Garcia had thrown the victim a surprise birthday in the back of their building on May 5, with music and food. Ledesma said, "He was a hard-working man, he worked two jobs. He would do anything for her and their daughter." Another neighbor told Maria Sanchez told the Times in Spanish, "He treats her like a queen. He does his best to do whatever she wants."
Garcia's lawyer Charles Frisco told the Times that his client never held his wife against her will, "Practically everybody connected to the family...finds these allegations unbelievable. She had her own car, her own job. It's mind-boggling why she would wait this long...why is she coming forward now?"
Frisco also said outside of a court hearing today that the woman may have been motivated to lie because the couple was splitting up and she could have been afraid of a custody battle over their child or was hoping to obtain a visa for crime victims, according to City News Service.
However, another neighbor, Maribel Garcia, told KTLA that Isidro Garcia seemed controlling. She said he wouldn't let his wife and alleged victim, whom she knew as Laura Ortiz, go outside much. “She was out for like five minutes or so and he would pull her back in," she said.
And none other than kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart told The Associated Press that we shouldn't question why kidnapping victims don't try to escape sooner: "We don't know what these evil people are holding over them—whether it's their families' lives, their lives, whatever it is."
Police have investigated the woman's account, and the Orange County District Attorney is bringing a case against him. Bertagna cautions that people shouldn't jump to conclusions just because the alleged victim appeared untroubled to strangers: "People are giving the impression that she was an adult. She was a minor in a foreign country. That’s a very important part of this."
After police heard the victim's harrowing story, they arrested Garcia Tuesday where he was working in Commerce as part of a cleaning crew. He was charged today with one count of forcible rape, three counts of lewd acts on a minor and a count of kidnapping to commit a sexual offense; they were all felony charges. Garcia was scheduled to be arraigned in court today, but the hearing has been postponed to June 9. He is being held on $1 million bail, and could face up the maximum sentence of 19 years to life in prison if convicted.