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South Lake Tahoe celebrates Jaycee Dugard's return with a parade

Former classmates, friends and teachers wear pink, her favorite color, as they ponder the rites of passage she missed during her 18 years in captivity.

September 07, 2009|Molly Hennessy-Fiske

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CALIF. — After Jaycee Lee Dugard was abducted and went missing for 18 years, Meghan Dorris, an elementary school classmate, went to college and traveled the world: Egypt, Costa Rica, Spain, Japan, Jordan.

Two years ago, Dorris returned home. She remains close to high school friends, attends their weddings and keeps tabs on their growing families.

"I just wonder what Jaycee would have done," Dorris, 28, said Sunday as she walked through town, a crisp breeze rustling aspens, sun sparkling on the cerulean lake. "Would she have gone off to college or settled down and had kids?"

Dorris was one of more than 500 of Dugard's former classmates, friends and teachers who paraded through town to celebrate her return. They wore Dugard's favorite color, pink, and toted pink signs proclaiming, "We Love You Jaycee" and "Welcome Home Jaycee and the Girls."

Laurie Ault, 52, a mother of two who knew Dugard's mother and helped raise awareness about the kidnapping, said she thought of Dugard every time she drove past Washoan Road, where she was taken.

"I'm absolutely thrilled that she's been found, but you wonder about what long-term impacts it will have on her, physically and mentally," Ault said. "She comes from a pretty strong family, so I'm hopeful."

Dugard, a quiet girl, was kidnapped while walking to her bus stop during the last weeks of school in 1991. In what would have been her last high school yearbook, her smile is frozen at age 11. A plaque in front of the town library in her honor reads like an epitaph: "As God forever embraces you in his love, I forever cherish you in my heart."

"Never to go to prom, to have that sweet first kiss, to have the opportunity to go to college, she has missed all that," said Karen Gillis-Tinlin, Dugard's elementary school principal.

When Dugard, now 29, was found by police late last month, many in the town of 25,000 rejoiced. It is still full of well-wishers who say they never lost hope that she would be found.

Police believe Dugard was kidnapped by Phillip and Nancy Garrido and spent much of the years since living in tents and sheds in their backyard near Antioch, about 170 miles west of South Lake Tahoe.

The Garridos have been charged with multiple counts of kidnapping and rape.

Dugard and the two daughters police say she had with Garrido remained in seclusion in Northern California on Sunday, according to family spokeswoman Erika Price Schulte, but she said the family was aware of the parade.

Dorris walked to a bus stop near the one where Dugard was snatched. She knew Dugard from school, birthday parties and sleepovers.

Both had blond hair. Dorris remembered how panicked her mother was the day Dugard was kidnapped, unsure at first which girl had been taken.

In the days after, she saw parents afraid to let their children out of their sight and locking their doors for the first time.

"Everyone was looking over their shoulder," she said.

Dorris said that in the days since Dugard surfaced, she has often thought about what Dugard missed during the last 18 years.

No lip-syncing to "Welcome to the Jungle" or watching "Saved by the Bell" and "Beverly Hills, 90210" with friends in middle and high school. No hair-sprayed '90s bangs and baggy MC Hammer pants. No senior trip to Puerto Vallarta. No Friday night football games. No prom on the Tahoe Queen paddle boat.

"I remember going to parties, trying to figure out who you were, getting into fights, dedicating a song to someone, first boyfriends, figuring out where to go to college, what your personality is," Dorris said.

Dorris hopes Dugard will return to visit old friends.

"We were all hoping she would come back alive; she's one of our people," Dorris said. "We're just really grateful and hoping she can recover."

Dugard's stepfather, Carl Probyn, was in South Lake Tahoe on Sunday with an Australian television crew.

"I wanted to come back to support these people. They supported us," Probyn said.

Probyn, who witnessed Dugard's abduction, said he visited Washoan Road, where volunteers had tied pink balloons and ribbons to pines.

He said it brought back painful memories but that since Dugard's return, he has made peace with them.

"It doesn't bother me," Probyn said. "We got her back now."

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molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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