Girl, Missing for 8 Years, Is Reunited With Parents
Friday, August 25, 2006
STRASSHOF, Austria, Aug. 24 -- Natascha Kampusch vanished at the age of 10, on her way to school on March 2, 1998. On Thursday, Austrian police announced a happy breakthrough in the long, sad mystery: A young woman had sought help at a home on a quiet small-town street, identifying herself as the missing girl and saying she had been held captive, much of the time in a small cellar.
The missing girl's parents met with the woman and said they were sure she is their daughter. Police reported that DNA tests were pending, but that Natascha Kampusch's passport had been found in the cellar where the young woman said she was held and that she had a surgery scar like the vanished schoolgirl's.
Kampusch's mother, Brigitta Sirny, said on Austrian television that she was very proud of her daughter. "She said 'Mama Mausi' to me," Sirny said, recalling the emotional moment she met with the young woman and embraced. Mausi -- literally "little mouse" -- is a pet name some Austrians use in addressing their loved ones.
Kampusch's father, Ludwig Koch, his eyes glistening and voice wavering, said he never thought he'd live to see his daughter again. "Honestly, I didn't think that I'd still experience this," Koch said on Austrian television.
The man who allegedly held the girl killed himself Wednesday in Vienna by throwing himself under a train, a few hours after she sought help, police said. They identified him as Wolfgang Priklopil, 44, a communications technician.
Officers cordoned off the street where Priklopil lived in Strasshof, less than 10 miles northeast of Vienna, and released photos of a hiding place in his house.
Federal police spokesman Armin Halm said there was a bed and a toilet in the cramped space. Images on TV showed a small television in the room, which also had a sink and was littered with piles of books. Police said the girl was occasionally allowed to watch videos.
A female police officer, Sabine Freudenberger, said the young woman told of spending her days with her captor and even doing gardening. She described her as "quite chatty."
Freudenberger, one of the first officers to have contact with the young woman Wednesday, told Austrian television that the man apparently threatened her, saying that was probably the reason she didn't try to flee sooner. Freudenberger also said the girl indicated she had not been forced to do things but had acted voluntarily.
Police said the young woman had been examined by a doctor and did not have signs of physical injuries, but added that her condition was still being studied.
Investigators released few details as they worked to piece the story together. But state broadcaster ORF carried remarks from Erich Zwettler of the Austrian federal police saying the young woman escaped from her captor Wednesday when the door to her hiding place was left open, then ran into a nearby garden where she sought help from an elderly woman.
Strasshof is the kind of town where neighbors are friendly but tend to mind their own business. It is a semi-rural community where tidy houses adorned with flower boxes are mostly set close together. Children play freely in the streets and doors are left open.
Peter Drkosch, who lives near the Priklopil house, called the man an "eccentric" and told Austrian television that he and his wife sometimes saw the man with his mother. "A few times we heard a young voice," Drkosch added, saying he thought the voice was maybe that of a girlfriend.
Natascha's sister told Austrian television that her mother almost had a breakdown when police notified her Wednesday of the discovery of the young woman. She said her mother always held out hope that Natascha would come back one day. "She always said she was still alive," said the sister, identified as Sabina Sirny.
After the kidnapping, another girl told police she had seen Natascha being dragged into a white van. Police interviewed hundreds of van owners and also briefly interviewed Priklopil. Nikolaus Koch, a lead investigator, told Austrian television that Priklopil had a "sturdy alibi" at the time.