Jaycee Lee Dugard

So unless you've been living under a rock for the last 2 years, you know the name Jaycee Lee Dugard. (Incidentally, I'm always shocked by how many people have NOT heard of her considering what a huge news story this was in 2009 and through the present.) Anyway, on June 10, 1991 eleven-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard left her house in Lake Tahoe, California to walk to the bus stop. She didn't get very far before a car pulled up with a man and a woman in it. The couple, Philip and Nancy Garrido, tasered her and abducted her. They took her to their home in Antioch, California where Philip Garrido kept her as a sex slave for eighteen years. She had two of Garrido's children while in captivity. Garrido was a convicted, registered sex offender on parole. Parole officers visited his home 60 (that's right, sixty. S-I-X-T-Y, 6-0) times while Dugard was being held by Garrido and none of them thought to look in the backyard where they would have found Dugard and her children living in a gathering of shacks and tents. Dugard has said that she even spoke with one of these parole officers but apparently a young girl living in the home of a registered sex offender who had no children didn't set off any alarm bells. In 2006, a neighbor called 911 to report children living in the backyard. A sheriff's deputy came to the home, spoke with Garrido at his front door and left. In 2009 Garrido took his two daughters, then 15 and 11 to the UC Berkley Campus to get permission to hold a religious event on campus and two female campus police officers thought there was something not quite right about him. They did a little digging, found out he was a paroled sex offender and contacted the parole board. His parole officer asked Garrido to come to the office which Garrido did. Garrido brought his whole "family" with him--wife, Nancy, Jaycee and their two young daughters. It was there and then that it finally came out that Garrido had abducted Jaycee from Lake Tahoe eighteen years earlier.

Last night, Diane Sawyer's interview with Jaycee Dugard aired on ABC. My fiance and I watched the entire thing. By the end my eyes were red from weeping, my insides were all twisted up and I really wanted to do horrible things to both the Garridos and all the law enforcement people who failed this woman. My fiance had a more manly response. His hands shook with rage. At times he had to walk away. We have a daughter and since she was born, stories like Dugard's are far more difficult to watch than they might have been before we had a child of our own. You better believe we covered our child with kisses this morning before we left the house--to the point where she was pushing us away with heavy sighs and saying "Mommy!" or "Daddy!" in an exasperated tone. What we also felt was amazement at this incredible, courageous woman who endured the unimaginable and not just for a little while but for the better part of her life. Not to mention her mother whose own grief and outrage brought on a fresh wave of tears for me every time she spoke to Sawyer. Jaycee Dugard's memoir comes out tomorrow and it will be auto-delivered to my Kindle. It seems a strange thing to say that I can't wait to read it but it's true. Why? Because I am absolutely enthralled by someone who could endure what she has and be able to get out of bed in the morning, be able to function on the most basic level, let alone smile and send the world a positive message of hope. To me, she is nothing short of miraculous. I am in awe of her.

Sawyer mentions that Dugard has gone into great detail in her memoir and in the ABC interview she asks Dugard about why she decided to do that and Dugard's response was: "Why not look at it? You know, stare it down till it can't scare you anymore."


For me, as a reader, a mother and a member of society, I need to hear Dugard's story. She deserves that after so many societal failures helped keep her in captivity for almost two decades. Her story is a lesson to all of us--you get to pick which lesson most resonates with you: is it courage? Hope? Caution? Reform in our prison system? In our parole system? New investigative requirements when a child goes missing (i.e. check out sex offenders within a 200 mile radius?) Make more time for your kids? I think there is so much you can take away from hearing about Dugard's life. A lot of those things resonate with me. Also, reading a memoir that will likely give me nightmares and make me not want to let my child out of my house until she's 30 will be me staring down my own worst fears as a parent and as a person. More than that, I think Dugard teaches us to keep things in perspective. Because after watching that interview, you better believe that my own worries about the economy, my transportation needs and where to go on vacation--if at all--this summer seem ridiculous in contrast to the types of things this woman went through.

So what does this have to do with writing? Because normally this is a writing blog. Well for one thing, I think Dugard is remarkable enough to warrant her own blog post. Just because. But for me, her story held special meaning in terms of writing. You see, since I was a little girl, I've been obsessed with missing children. Very strange, I know. But when I was eleven years old, Jacob Wetterling went missing in Minnesota--in a small, safe community in Minnesota. Wetterling was my age. I remember well the news coverage devoted to his disappearance. How eerie, creepy and disturbing it was--when you're eleven you're still quite impressionable. Wetterling was riding his bike home from a movie rental store with his brother and a friend one evening when a masked gunman forced them to the side of the road and off their bikes. He told the other two boys to run and he abducted Jacob. There has been no sign of Jacob since. That was 1989. Jacob's mother, Patty has never given up hope that Jacob might be recovered. She started the Jacob Wetterling Foundation to help educate communities on how to keep their kids safe. The story goes that the Wetterling family never moved or changed their home phone number in case Jacob were to return.

This story has haunted me for years, not to mention the stories of Steven Stayner and more recently Shawn Hornbeck and Elizabeth Smart. But for me, the Wetterling case is like my own personal "who really killed JFK?" If I could ask the Great Unknowable Universe or God a few questions one day, one of them would be what happened to Jacob? The Wetterling story was the one that made me wonder year after year, "What HAPPENS to these kids?" and "What if you accidentally ran into one of them and you had no idea?" and thus the premise for my "first" book was born. That's exactly what Finding Claire Fletcher is about--a guy running into a woman who turns out to have been missing for ten years. Finding Claire Fletcher is my fictional exploration of what happens to a girl who is abducted and what happens to the unsuspecting schlub who runs into her seemingly by chance. Of course I've taken liberties with the story. The unsuspecting schlub is really a police detective. Also the book is meant to be a suspenseful read--so that people might enjoy reading it, especially with such dark content. But back to my original question: what does this have to do with writing? Sometimes our stories start out with questions. No outlines, no elaborate plot, not even characters necessarily but just questions. What if scenarios. Sometimes they make the best books.

So what do you think of Dugard? What are your what-if obsessions? Has any of your work grown out of questions?


  1. I have the same weird fascination with these stories. I know about the Wetterling case too. Those disappearances haunt me. I remember when they found Elizabeth Smart and then Shawn Hornbeck (and Stayner before them) and thinking how shocking it was that they were still alive. Usually the kids are used and then thrown away.

    It's probably a healthy thing for Dugard to share the details of her story. There is healing in getting the truth out there. She does seem sort of normal, though, doesn't she for having gone through that? At least on the outside.

  2. I have a similar case buried away in my memory. A newspaper boy went missing in Des Moines, not far from where I lived. He was one year younger than me. I still think about him to this day.

    I'm not as familiar with these cases. I know the general gists, but your post shed some light on this for me. Wow.

    Thanks for sharing. I wish I had seen the interview.

  3. Well I'm glad I'm not the only person who feels haunted by these types of things. Yeah Jaycee does seem quite normal but I think that's what makes her so amazing--that she could come out on the other side of hell as a beautiful, warm, intelligent woman capable of having some semblance of a normal life. That's her triumph. As I recall, Steven Stayner was reported to have a lot more trouble reintegrating although back then kidnap/molestation victims were viewed very badly. Incidentally, Stayner's abductor kept him as a sex slave for 7 years and he only served five years in prison. A disgrace.

  4. First, what a great post, Lisa. Well thought out & executed.

    Second, as for the lesson learned, I think the ineptitude of the parole authorities speaks for a greater problem we have in this country, the lack of a work ethic, the desire to do a job well. If any one of those officers had had an ounce of desire to do their job well, Jaycee would likely have been found early on.

    And as for your questions, I think Ms. Dugard is a remarkably well-spoken young woman who's far braver than I could ever be.

    And, as you well know, my book also came from a question I wanted to answer. But the truth is, my question won't be answered in reality, as yours has been. Your book hit on so many of the issues Jaycee spoke of.

    Well done, the both of you.

  5. These stories are always so disturbing - it's human beings being the worst they can possibly be. I remember the story of the Austrian girl who endured the sam thing - by her father, and was eventually discovered 24 years later. This was all over the news last year or the year before. Was awful.

  6. Lisa, this is a topic that touches me deeply. I had plenty of friends that were sexually abused, both children and adults. There is no excuse for such an atrocity to happen. Yes, it makes me angry. For that reason I've taken such great care in perfecting erotic scenes in my writing. Sex is about love for consenting adults. It shouldn't be forced and definitely has no place with children. What the hell is wrong with people?

  7. Lisa, just read your comment on Nancy's site. Will let you know when I need a critique partner too. Would love to piece out some of my stuff sometime and see what everyone thinks...a little paranoid...that's all. Thanks for the offer. :)


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