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Aunt Shares Story of Reuniting With Jaycee

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OC Register: Terry Probyn took a brush to her daughter's blond hair and slowly combed through it - a tender ritual she had not performed in 18 years, when her girl, Jaycee Lee Dugard, was just 11.

missing tahoe girl
Reunited with Jaycee last week in Northern California, Probyn got to play mother again to the girl who was snatched away from her - touching her hair, kissing her face, delighting at the sound of her voice.

Tina Dugard, Terry's sister and Jaycee's aunt, sat and watched - disbelief mingled with joy.

"I remember thinking, 'Wow, she's French-braiding Jaycee's hair for the first time in 18 years,' " Tina Dugard said.

The reunification of Terry Probyn with her daughter - and her interactions, for the first time, with Jaycee's two daughters, 11 and 15 - played out in private as the chilling tale of Jaycee's alleged abductor, Phillip Craig Garrido, seized headlines worldwide. In an exclusive interview with the Orange County Register, Tina Dugard spoke for the first time publicly about how the reunified family is doing. She spent five days with Probyn, Jaycee and the two girls.

"There's a sense of comfort and optimism, a sense of happiness. ... Jaycee and her girls are happy," said Tina Dugard, who was 13 when Jaycee was born and very close to her.

Terry Probyn lived with her sister for 10 years before recently moving out.

"People probably want to think that it's been this horrible, scary thing for all of us," Tina Dugard said of the past several days as the family sought to reconnect in cloistered rooms, with law enforcement officials and counselors hovering - and media from around the world trying to interview them.

"(But) the horrible, scary thing happened 18 years ago, and continued to happen for the last 18 years. The darkness and despair (has lifted.)"

CHILDHOOD HELD CAPTIVE

Dugard pointed to a Barbie doll, still in its box, sitting on a table in her living room. It was a Christmas present for Jaycee the year she disappeared, 1991 - a present Dugard never was able to give her niece.

Jaycee was kidnapped earlier that year after her family moved to South Lake Tahoe, from Orange County.

"I kept thinking, 'Tomorrow. They'll find her tomorrow,' '' Dugard recalled. "Then it was, 'For sure by the weekend.'

"Then it was, 'By Thanksgiving. I know it won't pass.' And then, 'For sure it will be Christmas.' "

Instead of ripping open the box containing her Happy Holidays Christmas Barbie, Jaycee was thrown into her own airtight container: the squalid Antioch-area backyard of a convicted rapist and registered sex offender who would go on to father Jaycee's daughters, according to authorities.

Garrido, 58, and his wife, Nancy, 54, were arrested last week and charged in the kidnapping, rape and imprisonment of Jaycee Dugard. The couple has pleaded not guilty.

Tina Dugard would not comment on aspects of the ongoing investigation, such as how Jaycee and her daughters were treated by the Garridos.

She said Jaycee's daughters "know what's been going on," but they have not been allowed to watch television or read any coverage of the Garrido story.

She said she has not pressed Jaycee and her daughters to discuss life in the cluttered backyard collection of tents and shacks.

"Right now, it's about reconnecting," she said.

She wouldn't say whether the two girls, as some media outlets have reported, had believed Jaycee was their older sister.

They know Jaycee is their mother.

'EDUCATED' GIRLS

While in captivity, Jaycee was able to teach her girls to read and write. Dugard said she's not sure how, although photos of the compound show the three had access to books.

"They are educated and bright," she said of Jaycee's children, whose names have been reported as Starlet, 15, and Angel, 11. Dugard would not comment on whether those names are accurate.

"It's clear they've been on the Internet and know a lot of things," Dugard said. "It's clear that Jaycee did a great job with the limited resources she had and her limited education."

During her five-day visit, Dugard recalled staring up at the sky on a starry night with one of Jaycee's daughters, who proceeded to point out the names of constellations. Another daughter happened upon a plant.

"That's a nasturtium!" she blurted out. "It's edible. Do you want to eat it?"

FOUND

Dugard, 42, was making a dinner salad when she got a call from a sheriff's investigator in El Dorado County last Wednesday. He was looking for Terry Probyn.

She then received a call from Terry's other daughter, 19-year-old Shayna, who told her Jaycee had been found.

"I don't know what I felt ... I just said, 'What?' I'm sure I repeated that word several times ... we both started crying hysterically."

Dugard's heart raced and her stomach churned all night.

She finally fell asleep for an hour, almost missing the early-morning flight from Ontario Airport with Terry Probyn and Shayna to reunite with Jaycee and meet her daughters. FBI officials met the three at an undisclosed location.

Probyn, 50, was the first to meet Jaycee and the girls - separately, in a room.

Then it was Tina Dugard's turn.

Jaycee Dugard threw open her arms.

"Auntie Tina!"

The two instantly recognized each other.

"I looked at her and I knew right away. After 18 years, you have a sense of, 'Could this possibly be true?' "

Jaycee instantly recognized her, she said.

"She absolutely knew who I was," Tina said. "She remembered me right away. ... It was one of the happiest moments of my life."

Tina can't remember what she told Jaycee.

"I went forward and cried and hugged her and held her as tight as I possibly could. It was surreal, and it was fabulous."

Tina said Jaycee and the girls looked healthy - although she declined to detail their appearances, saying she wanted to respect their privacy.

"She does seem like a 29-year-old woman," she said of Jaycee. "She's fabulous, and she's beautiful."

The girls have their mother's blond hair and bright blue eyes and big smile, she said. Shayna told her sister, Jaycee, that she was so happy to meet her - a girl she had known until then only through old photographs and family movies, and media accounts of her abduction.

There was an "instant connection ... it was almost a genetic connection ... an instant sense of family, for all of us," Tina said.

NORMAL THINGS

Over the next several days, the six - Tina and Terry, Jaycee and her daughters, and Shayna - did "normal" family things.

"(There was) laughing and crying and sitting quietly and holding hands," Dugard said. "All three are very tight. There was a lot of sitting next (to each other)."

She recalled the youngest daughter sitting beside her sister on a love seat and throwing her legs over her - just like a sister would do.

One night, they played the board game "Apples to Apples."

Tina and Jaycee watched the movie "Enchanted" on DVD, on another night. They talked about recent movies, and Jaycee said she wanted to see the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy, "The Proposal."

Jaycee read a lot.

"She likes mysteries," Tina said.

Tina drew pictures with Jaycee's girls.

They also played Nintendo DS. One of the girls loves the "Zelda" games, and both love "Super Mario Smash Brothers."

One day, Tina and one of Jaycee's daughters lay on the grass.

They stared at the clouds and saw fluffy cotton shapes.

"It was a beautiful day," Tina Dugard said.

The girls talked of their love of animals, and climbing trees.

Dugard, a teacher for 18 years who now teaches third-graders, would touch Jaycee and her girls a lot - as if to say, "you're real - you're really here."

HEALING AHEAD

Dugard declined to speculate on how Jaycee and her daughters will fare over the coming weeks, months and years - though she said counseling will play a part.

She is optimistic about the girls.

"I'm a teacher. I know kids. And I can tell you that they are a normal 11 and 15 year old."

For now, the family is focusing on the moment - and getting to know each other. "It's all about strengthening those bonds that really didn't weaken, but needed to be brought back together," Dugard said.

"We are all so overjoyed. My sister has spontaneous moments of joy. We'll be talking, and she'll just suddenly burst into happy tears, with a big smile on her face...

"The fact that (Jaycee) is home sinks in in little pieces...she's there, and we know she's there, but sometimes you're just taken aback by the joy, and it bursts out.

"I've had a lot of happy things happen in my life, but it's a different kind of happy, because it's a happy you don't expect."

For now, Dugard doesn't want to dwell on the dark, horrible things that authorities believe happened in Garrido's back yard.

"I may never know what happened (to Jaycee)," she said. "But she's home."

A trust fund has been set up for Jaycee Dugard and her daughters. Send money to the Jaycee Dugard Trust Fund, c/o View Tech, at P.O. Box 596, Atwood, CA 92811.

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
A Mother too :) September 3, 2009, 12:49 PM

Tears are overwhelming me reading this wish them the best of happiness forever.

MarquitaWall27 January 13, 2011, 4:41 AM

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