It was one year ago Thursday that authorities rescued Jaycee Dugard from a sex offender and reunited her with the mom who hadn’t seen her in 18 years.
The anniversary is a “happy time” for family members who prayed for her for so many years, says her step-grandmother, Wilma Probyn. “Jaycee continues her life in private,” she says.
Now 30, Dugard is making progress in her therapy sessions while writing in her journal, family spokeswoman Nancy Seltzer tells KTXL-TV in Sacramento.
“She has a talent for it and she wants to pursue it,” says Seltzer, who adds that Jaycee is interested in starting a foundation for victimized children.
On Aug. 26, 2009, Phillip Garrido, now 59, walked into a Concord, Calif., parole office with a young woman who identified herself as Alyssa, the mother of two girls also brought to the office – who called Garrido “daddy.”
Parole officers, knowing Garrido wasn’t on record as having children, grilled him and Alyssa until Alyssa identified herself as Jaycee Dugard, abducted at age 11 outside her family’s home in South Lake Tahoe while on her way to her fifth-grade class.
Investigators also learned that Dugard and her daughters, now 12 and 16, hadn’t been to school since the abduction and lived in a series of backyard shanties on the Garrido property without ever receiving medical care.
In the months that followed, Dugard, her daughters and Dugard’s mom, Terry Probyn, took refuge in a nondescript ranch-style home in a Northern California suburb to rebuild their lives and undergo private tutoring and counseling, as the girls reckoned with stunning new realities.
In the last year, the girls have come to learn that Dugard was their mother, not their sister, and that their father and his wife, Nancy Garrido, now potentially face a lifetime in prison for Dugard’s abduction and repeated rape (they have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial).
The state last month agreed to pay $20 million to settle the family’s claim that Garrido’s parole was poorly supervised, but challenges remain. The state estimates lifetime therapy costs for the Dugard and her daughters at about $7 million.
But the family has worked toward a normal life.
They have the pets they kept at the Garridos’ now-abandoned home in Antioch, Calif., and they buy cat food and other staples at Wal-Mart. Dugard got her driver’s license in February, and she takes the kids on local trips in her SUV. The family enjoys Subway sandwiches, camping and horseback riding. Sometimes the girls play on a neighbor’s swingset.
While they have little interaction with outsiders or the media, Dugard and her daughters have for the past year helped give many families of missing kids new hope, Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, tells PEOPLE.
“The fact that she and her family have responded to pure evil by moving forward with purpose and conviction is proof to millions of the resiliency of the human spirit,” says Allen, who calls Jaycee “a symbol of hope and inspiration.”