Dugard’s return brings closure to former neighbors
August 29, 2009
Signs of life and jubilation on Friday adorned the South Lake Tahoe street where Jaycee Lee Dugard lived before being kidnapped more than 18 years ago.
A pink ribbon was tied around the Washoan Boulevard residence that Dugard called home at age 11, a pink strand of beads hung from a nearby tree and pink balloons danced on a snow marker near the corner of Nadowa and Washoan. Even the garage sale sign at the top of Washoan and Pioneer Trail was a bright pink, Dugard’s favorite color.
Dugard was allegedly snatched by Phillip and Nancy Garrido 200 yards from her home while she was walking to a school bus stop on June 10, 1991. Her safe reappearance in a Concord, Calif., police station on Wednesday gave a peaceful closure to residents in Dugard’s former neighborhood.
“It’s a good closure. She’s alive,” said Ken Mirell, who has lived on Washoan Boulevard since 1988. “The news when it hit me, I was so excited for Jaycee and the Probyns (Carl and Terri). For the mom, can you imagine, she probably dreamt about this phone call for almost 20 years.
“There will be lots of counseling, but she’s alive. I don’t think anybody expected this after that many years.”
Eleven years ago, David and Rebecca Watkins bought the home where Dugard lived with her mother Terri, step-father Carl and younger sister Shayna. David was aware of who formerly occupied the home.
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“One of my daughters was the same age as Jaycee when we moved in here, so there was some apprehension,” David said.
The horrifying tale of Dugard’s abduction led to the Watkinses having a tighter grip on their four daughters outside the home.
“My youngest is 18 now. I think about all the things we went through, and that’s 18 years they didn’t have,” David said.
David said when he purchased the home there were a number of large holes, including some under the house, that he had to fill from detectives probing the property for Dugard’s body.
“We always wondered (what happened to Dugard). My kids always heard stories at school, people saying she is buried around here,” David said.
On the morning of the abduction, Mirell was getting his then-4-year-old son, Matt, ready for preschool. Only moments before Mirell was ready to leave, Dugard was walking up the left side of Washoan, then was pulled into a gray sedan near Nadowa.
“It was nuts,” said Mirell, who returned home that day to find his street engulfed in law enforcement officers. “Gosh, if I had left three minutes sooner that day, maybe I would have seen it. When I came out, it had already happened.”
The Probyns had only lived in the neighborhood for nine months before the abduction.
“They moved away from (Orange County) to get away from all that. And she had that typical little blonde girl look that I guess people look for,” said Mirell, who has a friend who is a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department.
Mirell said that after the abduction, parents transported their children to the bus stop and remained with them until they were picked up by the bus.
“I would drive Matt to the bus stop or drive him to school,” Mirell said. “You go to the bus stop in the mornings, and there were probably 10 cars. There was always someone there.”
To this day, many parents in the area are reluctant to let their children walk alone to the bus stop.
“You will see kids now walking alone, but they usually walk in twos or threes,” he said.
TV stations from Sacramento and Reno, as well as CNN, canvassed the area on Thursday, seeking comment on the unexpected re-emergence of Dugard. The area, however, was relatively quiet Friday morning, save for the frequent automobiles traveling up and down the steep road.
“It just goes to show that you don’t give up hope,” Mirell said. “You start reading how many kids are missing every day, and they are just gone. If it can happen like this, I bet you that there are other ones out there. What happens to all of these kids? They have to be somewhere.”
The abduction never gave Mirell pause to consider leaving his neighborhood. He has become more concerned about the frequency of airplane crashes in the area.
“There are plane crashes all the time,” said Mirell, noting that two people perished in a crash across the street from his dwelling earlier this decade.
Watkins said he took an immediate love to the area and plans to remain at his residence. He also wouldn’t mind a future visit from Dugard and her family.
“I’ll give them a hug,” he said.