August 25, 2006

Austrian girl escaped while vacuuming captor’s car

By Alexandra Zawadil

VIENNA (Reuters) - Natascha Kampusch, an Austrian girl who
had been held captive for eight years, escaped from her
abductor when he took a phone call while she was vacuuming his
car, Austrian police said on Friday.

The end of Kampusch's eight-year ordeal has transfixed the
nation and left police scrambling to fill in the blanks.

Kampusch, who was abducted as a 10-year old on her way to
school, spent the past eight years in a small, windowless cell
underneath a garage in the house of 44-year-old Wolfgang
Priklopil in a commuter town near Vienna.

Her abductor committed suicide shortly after she escaped on

"He told her to vacuum the car. Then he got a phone call
and stepped a few meters away to avoid the noise," Gerhard
Lang, a senior federal police officer, told a news conference
in the Austrian capital.

"Natascha took advantage of the situation and fled."

When he realized the girl had escaped, Priklopil sped to
Vienna in his red sports car. He abandoned his car, a BMW, in a
shopping mall's parking garage before throwing himself in front
of a train.

His mutilated body was later identified by the BMW's keys
in his pocket and the clothes he was wearing.

Police said they would give Kampusch a break until Monday
before they continued interviewing her.

"Being questioned is a very agonizing procedure for
Natascha," said Erich Zwettler, a Vienna police investigator.


Experts said the young woman had "Stockholm Syndrome" -- a
psychological condition in which long-held captives begin to
identify with their captors.

"If you cannot cope with the fear for your life you start
to identify with your aggressor, you try to understand what
happens inside (the mind of) your captor, what is driving him,"
said Reinhard Haller, a forensic psychiatrist at the University
of Innsbruck.

Kampusch's mother told a local newspaper that her daughter
weighed only 42 kg (93 lbs) after her escape, less than she did
before her disappearance despite growing to 1.60 meters (5 ft 3
in) in height from 1.45.

Kampusch had to address her captor as "master."

After spending the first years being locked up in her
six-square-meters cell, the young woman had started helping him
keep up the house and with the gardening. She was also allowed
to make occasional outings to the village, police said.

"Developing the Stockholm Syndrome is just normal and a
very healthy reaction," Haller added. "It could only be a
problem if she continues to feel for him."

Police said they were investigating whether Priklopil had
acted on his own or had a helper. They could not confirm
whether Kampusch had been abused during her time as a hostage.

At the news conference, police said a DNA test had formally
confirmed Kampusch's identity.

"The profile of the girl who vanished eight years ago is a
match," said Lang. "The probability is one in 23 billion that
it is not. For us, that is proof."

(Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker)