Robert Kovacik, Edwin Calderon, Rodney Danson
Neighbors who knew a woman who alleged she was kidnapped, raped and held for 10 years by her mother's former boyfriend said they never suspected he would commit such a crime. Robert Kovacik reports from Bell Gardens for the NBC4 News at 11 on Wednesday, May 21, 2014.
A nanny who cared for the daughter of a woman who police said was kidnapped, raped and held in Southern California for 10 years said she never suspected the accused abductor would commit such a crime
The nanny, identified only as Maria, said the two appeared to be "the perfect couple," held parties on their Bell Gardens patio and doted on their 3-year-old daughter. She never thought he could be accused of kidnapping and never saw anything odd or out of place.
“They were a very close couple, very family-oriented, with their daughter,” the nanny said. “I always went to their parties, and I never saw anything out of the ordinary.
“I’ve known him for five years here and I haven’t seen anything that would make him seem like a kidnapper."
But investigators said the woman "saw no way out" and tried twice to escape. In addition to years of physical and mental abuse, the suspect used threats of deportation, police said.
"He told her then, 'You cant go home, you're here illegally, you don’t speak the language, your mom’s called the police, they will send you back,'" said Santa Ana police Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
The woman was born in Mexico and had arrived in the United States six months before her abduction to be reunited with her mother and sister, who lived with Isidro Merdrano Garcia, 42, investigators said.
The girl, then 15, was reported missing in August 2004 by her mother, who suspected Garcia, her live-in boyfriend, of abducting her daughter, Bertagna said. The mother also suspected that Garcia had been sexually abusing the teen for about two months, according to investigators.
"He decides he has a liking for her, so when mom's at work, he starts sexually assaulting her," Bertagna said.
Conflicting stories began to emerge Wednesday night after Garcia was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping the woman in Santa Ana. He's accused of holding her captive for a decade, during which he repeatedly physically and sexually assaulted her and fathered her child, investigators said.
He faces charges of kidnap for rape, committing a lewd act with a minor and false imprisonment, according to Bertagna.
That portrait contrasted with one provided by the nanny who described Garcia as a family man. She said he and his bride "seemed like the best couple around."
She provided pictures of the family showing Garcia smiling with his wife and daughter in a "Despicable Me" T-shirt.
One neighbor told NBC4 that Garcia would drive his wife back to her mother's home in Santa Ana for visits.
"Every weekend they would go out, have fun. Do what a normal family would do," a neighbor said.
The case drew reaction from Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped from her Utah home when she was 14 and held captive for nine months. On the "Today" show Thursday, Smart cautioned against judging the woman's actions.
"It's so easy for us to be curious and think, 'Why didn't you escape? Why didn't you run away?' But it's really important that we don't ask that question because all the survivor hears is, 'You should have done something,' and, 'It's your fault you were gone so long.'" Smart said. "And that's what they do not to be hearing right now."