Alex Tresniowski
September 14, 2009 12:00 PM

The two girls, white as ghosts, walked shyly into the birthday party at 7 p.m. Starlit, 15, and Angel, 11, wore blue sundresses and sandals, mingled with other girls and listened to rap music. “They fit right in,” says Cheyvonne Molino, 35, who invited the sisters to her daughter’s 16th-birthday party in early August. “When their dad picked them up around 9:30, I walked them to the car and I asked them if they had fun. And they both squealed, ‘Oh, yes!'”

On that night, perhaps, everything seemed innocent—but Molino soon learned the two girls were trapped in a horrific living nightmare. On Aug. 26, police in Concord, Calif., discovered that 29-year-old Jaycee Dugard—kidnapped in 1991 when she was just 11—was still alive and living with her alleged abductor, Phillip Garrido, 58. Angel and Starlit are Jaycee’s daughters, apparently fathered by Garrido, a registered sex offender who police say raped her repeatedly over the years. Jaycee and her daughters—who had never been to school or seen a doctor—seemed to have spent much of their lives in a cluster of filthy tents and windowless shacks hidden by trees and tarps in the backyard of Garrido’s home outside Antioch, Calif., where he lived with his wife, Nancy, 54, and his ailing mother. “I’m not aware of any other stranger-abduction case where a child has been recovered after 18 years,” says Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “It’s amazing and it’s horrendous, but the most important thing is that Jaycee is alive.”

There have been other cases of kids rescued after long abductions, most notably Elizabeth Smart and Shawn Hornbeck, who was also 11 when he was taken in 2002 and spent more than four years in captivity (see box). But Jaycee’s case is exceptional, and not only because she was missing for nearly two decades. How did Garrido keep the children so well hidden from neighbors, many of whom had no idea they lived on his property? How is it that police summoned to his house failed to notice them? And what about Jaycee—why didn’t she ever try to escape? “I know she bonded with this guy, and now she has hard feelings about it,” says her stepfather, Carl Probyn, 61, a wallpapering contractor, who in 1991 watched helplessly from a few hundred yards away as two people in a car snatched Jaycee while she walked to her school bus stop in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. “The truth is, I had given up hope. To get her back after 18 years? I bawled for 10 minutes when I found out.”

Since being recovered, Jaycee and her daughters have been living with Jaycee’s mother, Terry Probyn, 50, a middle school secretary; they have stayed in undisclosed locations while the girls undergo medical and psychological evaluations. All three are extremely pale, and Jaycee is said to look uncommonly young for a 29-year-old. Angel and Starlit apparently had no idea their mother had been kidnapped, nor do they fully understand why Garrido—who was finally caught only after he took the girls with him to nearby UC Berkeley—is now under arrest and charged, along with his wife, on 29 counts, including kidnapping, rape and false imprisonment (they have both pleaded not guilty). The girls “always just called him Dad,” says Cheyvonne, who often saw them at her auto-dismantling yard in Pittsburg, Calif. “Their clothes were always so clean, and one time I heard them talking about Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus. I never saw any red flags.”

That in itself is shocking. Garrido has a long history of violence and troubling behavior. Raised in Brentwood, Calif., he became obsessed with LSD in high school; his father, Manuel Garrido, told reporters the drug “killed my son,” changing him forever. In 1976 Garrido kidnapped Reno casino worker Katherine Callaway Hall, locked her in a warehouse unit and raped her. “He said, ‘Don’t fight and you won’t get hurt,'” recalls Hall. “He had a far-off empty look in his eyes, like I was a thing.” A police officer saw Garrido’s car outside the warehouse at 2:30 a.m. and banged on the door; Hall heard him and shouted. Garrido was convicted on federal kidnapping charges and sentenced to 50 years in jail.

But he served only 11 before being released. Three years later young Jaycee Dugard, wearing a pink windbreaker and white sneakers, was dragged into a gray sedan as her stepfather watched. “I heard Jaycee scream, and she was gone,” he told PEOPLE in 1991 (see box). In fact, she apparently had been taken to a scruffy, semirural neighborhood 35 miles northeast of Oakland that is rarely patrolled by local police. Garrido and his wife, Nancy, whom he met while he was in prison, lived in a three-bedroom, 1,457-sq.-ft. home owned by his mother. Remarkably, many of his neighbors claim they did not know children were on the property. “I was always mowing and working back there, and I never heard anything except cats,” says a man who rents a cottage next door. In November 2006 another neighbor called police to report that people were living in tents behind Garrido’s home. But the officer who came never entered the house or the yard. “We are beating ourselves up over this,” Contra Costa County sheriff Warren Rupf said. “There are absolutely no excuses.”

Others in the area knew Garrido lived with children but thought nothing of it. One friend often spoke with Jaycee, who Garrido called Allissa, about Printing 4 Less, the business she helped him run from the house. The friend also heard Garrido talking to the younger children and “drilling it into their heads every day that, ‘You love it here. You love me. You don’t want to go away.'” But with even limited freedom, why didn’t Jaycee ever tell anyone until now that she’d been kidnapped? “Many kidnap victims of any age bond with the people who abduct them,” says Ernie Allen of the NCMEC. “It’s very difficult for any human being to be angry and desperate year after year. Jaycee figured out how to survive.”

Others who encountered Jaycee and her daughters say something seemed off about them. Garrido would bring the younger girls with him to the local Kmart. When shopping alone, “he’d buy sex things like vibrator cream,” says cashier Survitrius Honeycutt. “The older girl was very clingy with him, and neither one would say anything. They didn’t have any expression.”

It was this strange demeanor that, in part, led to their rescue. Garrido apparently believed himself to be a powerful messenger of God and even set up a church in his basement. “How many people are in your church?” Cheyvonne Molino remembers asking the girls. “There are five of us,” one of them replied. “Our dad is the minister.” Garrido also invented a machine he told others allowed people to hear his thoughts. On Aug. 25 he turned up on the campus of UC Berkeley with Starlit and Angel to get a permit for an event in which he planned to spread his message. Lisa Campbell, 40, UCPD’s manager of special events, saw the group and noticed the girls “were nonresponsive; they didn’t have the energy that children of their age generate,” she later explained. Campbell called in Ally Jacobs, a security officer, who said the girls spoke in “a monotone. It was almost like Little House on the Prairie meets robots.”

Jacobs ran a background check on Garrido, turning up his record. She called his parole officer, and on Aug. 26 Garrido was summoned to a parole office in Concord; inexplicably he arrived with his wife, Jaycee and the girls. “They took Jaycee in another room and she told them the whole story,” says her stepgrandmother Wilma Probyn. Not much later, police called Jaycee’s mother, Terry, with the news and put her daughter on the phone to speak with her. “Jaycee told her she remembers everything,” says Carl Probyn, who split with Terry 10 years ago and hadn’t spoken with his stepdaughter. “Then Jaycee told her, ‘I have babies.’ ‘You have babies? How many?’ And Jaycee said, ‘Two.'”

Probyn says Jaycee’s reunion with her mother has not gone entirely smoothly. “They are just trying to bond,” he says. “It will take years to straighten this out.” While reconnecting with her mother and her sister Shana, who’s now in college, Jaycee will also have to deal with feelings towards Garrido “that are probably mixed,” says Juliet Francis, a psychologist who consults with the NCMEC. “She’s still going to miss being in a situation that’s familiar. She will need therapy and lots and lots of support. She will need time to adjust to being back in her own skin.” For now, Jaycee’s children remain in her care; no one can say for sure what will happen to them down the road.

The full horror of what she went through is not yet clear. Police are investigating Garrido in the disappearance of other area children—and in the murders of several prostitutes killed within miles of Garrido’s home, including one woman found outside Cheyvonne Molino’s auto yard in 1998. But for now those who lost Jaycee 18 years ago are focused solely on her and her children and on the miracle of having her back. “As long as Jaycee is alive, there’s hope,” Terry Probyn said back in 1991. That much is still true today.

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