By Sandra Chereb
Monday, August 31, 2009
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif., Aug. 30 -- Some knew her, others only knew of her. But they will never forget the day 18 years ago when the blond, blue-eyed 11-year-old was snatched in broad daylight on her way to a bus stop.
Her scream. A frantic sprint on a mountain bike by her stepfather up the twisted mountain road as he tried to catch up to the Ford Granada and the unknown man and woman who had just ripped his family's lives to shreds before his eyes.
A world-renowned tourist destination, South Lake Tahoe on the Nevada-California line is dominated in summer by gamblers, boaters and beachgoers, and in winter by gamblers, skiers and snowboarders.
But beneath the facade of a tourist town, where workers come and go with each passing season, is a tight-knit community that never forgot Jaycee Lee Dugard, a little girl who loved the color pink.
Her mother, Terry Probyn, and stepfather, Carl, were relative newcomers to the Tahoe community.
"They were brand new to the district," Sue Bush, Dugard's fifth-grade teacher, said Friday. "I met them at parent-teacher conference twice." But the community shared their nightmare and embraced them, holding fundraisers and putting up fliers and pink ribbons to keep Dugard in their hearts after she was kidnapped June 10, 1991.
In 2001, 10 years later, more than 100 people marched on U.S. 50, the main highway through town, in a pink-ribbon parade to remember the little girl and to raise awareness of child safety.
Terry Probyn, who left Tahoe in 1998 and moved to Southern California, returned for the anniversary.
"Someone out there knows what happened," she said at the time. "We need peace. Give us that gift." It arrived, out of the blue, Wednesday night when she received a call from investigators saying her daughter had been found alive. Nearly two decades of questions, what ifs and suspicions against Carl Probyn were replaced by tears of joy.
Phillip Garrido, 58, and his 54-year-old wife, Nancy, were arrested last week on suspicion of abducting Dugard. They pleaded not guilty Friday to 29 counts, including forcible abduction, rape and false imprisonment.
Investigators said Dugard was taken to a house in Antioch, 170 miles from home, where she was kept hidden from the world in a secret, leafy backyard and lived in a shed compound.
In South Lake Tahoe, the shy girl last seen in a pink jacket and pink stretch pants is in everyone's hearts again, this time as a grown woman, now 29, and the mother of two children fathered by her alleged abductor.
Joy that she was alive was mixed with anxiety about her physical and emotional well-being, and sadness over the loss of youth and innocence.
"I used to drive by that bus stop all the time," Sue Pritchett, a retired South Lake Tahoe middle school teacher, said while talking with a friend in Dugard's old neighborhood. "I'm absolutely ecstatic that she's been found," Pritchett said. "But I hope she's okay."
On Friday, Sue Bush, Dugard's fifth-grade teacher at Meyers Elementary School, recalled the nightmare that day when one of her students didn't show up.
"We got the call just before class started," she said. "Some of the kids already knew about it because they had witnessed it at the bus stop. The kids were very agitated and upset.
"We brought in counselors, and during the week we wrote letters to Jaycee and her mom. We kept her chair and desk set up." The school, now called Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School, has a memory garden out front that started as Jaycee's Garden, said former principal Karen Gillis-Tinlin.
Butterflies painted on the walls symbolize students who have died. There are four; one was for Dugard.
James Tarwater, school district superintendent, said news of Dugard's reappearance was shocking and disturbing.
"I think about all the students I've had and watched grow during the last 18 years," he said. "You think of their potential." Potential denied Dugard.
Bush, her former teacher, agreed.
"We're all happy she's back. But it's a life ruined," she said sadly. "I hope in a few weeks, months, whatever it takes, I'll actually be able to talk to Jaycee and Terry," she added. "Terry never gave up hope."
Gillis-Tinlin said Dugard's rescue "is a wonderful ending," but more important, "a beginning of the next segment of her life." South Lake Tahoe, she said, will again bloom in pink bows and ribbons -- this time in celebration of a life renewed.