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Abducted Child's Family Fled Sought Haven : Kidnaping: Family moved from Garden Grove to escape urban ills. Her case will be televised.

June 14, 1991|JAMES M. GOMEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jaycee Lee Dugard is 11 years old, a bright fifth-grader with flowing blond hair that frames her petite face like a halo. The 80-pound girl loves her stuffed pink bunny and is her mother's pride and joy.

And her mom, Terry Probyn, wants her back.

Jaycee has been missing since Monday, when she was last seen by her stepfather being dragged into a car less than 200 yards from her South Lake Tahoe home.

"She's my baby," Probyn said Thursday. "I don't know why anybody would take her."

Jaycee's abduction is ironic, her mother said, because the family had moved from Garden Grove to South Lake Tahoe in September to escape crime and other urban ills.

"We decided to get the kids out of Orange County," Probyn said in a telephone interview from her home near the lake. At their Haster Street home in Garden Grove, Probyn said her daughter walked through a neighborhood park to get to school, and she was occasionally offered drugs.

"We felt it was best for her" to move, she said. "We had to get out of there."

Jaycee's disappearance has not only devastated her family but caused an uproar in the lake community and prompted a national appeal for her safe return.

Tonight, her abduction will be publicized on the TV show "America's Most Wanted."

The minute-long segment, called Missing Children Alert, will include her photograph and a composite drawing of a suspect seen in the car that sped off when she was abducted, program spokesman Jack Breslin said.

All tips resulting from the broadcast will go to the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department, which is coordinating the search, Breslin said.

Although family members continue to hope that the show may help find her--Breslin said operators at the show's Washington studio receive about 50 calls per missing child--results tend be disheartening.

Of the 66 missing children profiled on the segment, just two have turned up safe, Breslin said.

"Missing children are the most difficult (cases) to solve," Breslin said. "Every case is so different."

El Dorado County Sheriff Don McDonald said Jaycee left her house about 8 a.m. Monday to catch a school bus at a nearby street corner.

Her stepfather, Carl Probyn, was in his garage as he watched the child walk up a hill to the bus stop. A car, described as an early-1980s Mercury Zephyr or similar model, cruised past the house and the girl. Two people, possibly a man and a woman, were in the car.

The driver made a U-turn and drove toward Jaycee, Carl Probyn said. Then someone reached out of the car, Jaycee screamed and Carl Probyn watched helplessly as his stepdaughter was pulled inside.

Yelling frantically, he jumped on a bicycle and began pedaling madly up the hill to catch the car. The abductors got away.

Peddling back to the house, Carl Probyn screamed to neighbors to call 911. Deputies arrived at the remote area about 50 minutes later, he said.

Since then about 100 deputies, FBI agents and local police officers from California and Nevada have systematically scoured the countryside for clues, to no avail.

Jaycee was described as 4 feet, 6 inches tall, with long blond hair that was in a ponytail when she was abducted. She was last seen wearing pink stretch pants, a white blouse, a rose-colored Windbreaker jacket and Keds sneakers.

Her mother said she has two small pockmarks from chickenpox--one on her forehead and one on the bridge of her nose. She also has a quarter-inch "chocolate butterfly" birthmark on her right arm just above her elbow and a noticeable gap between her two front, upper teeth.

Investigators have checked most of the campgrounds and motels around the popular lake, cross-referenced information about similar abductions and left her picture at gas stations and restaurants.

By midweek, investigators enlarged their search by contacting the National Missing Children's Institute in Washington and arranged for the spot on "America's Most Wanted."

Detectives said they believe she was abducted by strangers and not by relatives or her natural father, Kenneth Slayton, who lives in Los Angeles and has not seen or contacted her since birth, Sheriff McDonald said.

A fund has been started to collect money for a reward for information leading to Jaycee's safe return. So far, the Sheriff's Department has collected more than $40,000, her mother said.

As law enforcement officials scramble for clues, Terry Probyn sadly agreed that her daughter was most likely abducted by strangers, a thought that has kept her from sleeping for days.

"This is a random thing," she said. "We have no enemies. No one I could think of would ever do this to an innocent child."

Police said anyone with information can call the El Dorado Sheriff's Department at (904) 573-3000 or (904) 573-3200, or Child Quest International at (800) 248-8020.

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