A connection with her sister on Facebook eventually led a woman who vanished 10 years ago and allegedly held captive by her mother's ex-boyfriend to contact law enforcement agents, prosecutors said Thursday after filing charges against the suspect.
After contacting her sister in April to wish her a happy birthday, the woman met with her mother who convinced her to contact authorities, prosecutors said. The reunion occurred after a decade of being held captive and moved to several Southern California cities in what prosecutors called an effort by the suspect to avoid authorities.
Isidro Medrano Garcia, 42, of Bell Gardens, was charged Thursday in connection with the case with one felony count of forcible rape, three felony counts of lewd acts on a minor and one felony count of kidnapping to commit a sexual offense, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office. Prosecutors requested that he be held on $1 million bail and arraignment was scheduled for June 9.
Prosecutors said Garcia "went to great lengths" during the 10-year period before his Wednesday arrest.
"Over the course of many, many years, maybe her freedoms did increase but she was still mentally his captive," said Farrah Emami, of the Orange County District Attorney's office. "She was convinced she had no one to turn to. She was scared. She found the courage to come forward."
The Santa Ana Police Department's investigation concluded that the then-15-year-old girl arrived from Mexico in February 2004 to join her mother and sister in Santa Ana. In August of 2004, after Garcia assaulted her mother, he drugged the victim and drove her to a house in Compton, police said.
"He told her then, 'You can't go home. You're here illegally. You don't speak the language. Your mom's called the police. They will send you back. I'm your only hope,'" Bertagna told the Associated Press.
The mother filed a police report after her daughter's disappearance, "but they were changing their names and dates of birth and physical locations so that made it exceedingly difficult," Bertagna told the AP.
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The accused kidnapper told the victim that her mother had given up looking for her and threatened her with deportation if she went to authorities, police said. When she was reunited with her family, the mother showed the daughter news articles written at the time of her disappearance to prove that she had gone to the police and filed a missing persons report in 2004, police said.
On Monday, she contacted police in the city of Bell Gardens to report a domestic violence incident with Garcia. During that investigation, authorities realized her connection to the 2004 case, the Associated Press reported.
Garcia and the woman had been married and had a daughter.
An attorney for the defendant disputed the validity of accuser's claims.
"She has her own motives for making something like this up," said Charles Frisco, Garcia's attorney. "There's no indiciation of any physical or mental abuse."
Neighbors said the man they knew as Tomas Medrano seemed like a devoted family man. A nanny who cared for the child said the two appeared to be "the perfect couple," held parties on their Bell Gardens patio and doted on their 3-year-old daughter.
But investigators said the woman "saw no way out" and tried twice to escape, but was re-captured by Garcia and severely beaten.