Natascha's survival is due to her young age and 'iron will'

Horrific details about the ordeal of the Austrian girl held captive for eight years are starting to emerge
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The Independent Online

The girl who lost her childhood was somewhere in Austria this weekend, trying to begin to reclaim her life, with the help of a round-the-clock team of professionals.

Today she is at a "secure and undisclosed" location, in the company of police and social workers. Monika Pinterits, a lawyer who spent several hours with Natascha Kampusch, said she was enjoying private time reading newspapers and watching TV. She described Natascha as "very intelligent and very eloquent", and said she had objected to being pitied in news accounts about her.

Tellingly, the girl whose eight-year existence as the captive of an obsessed paedophile is almost beyond imagining, has not asked for contact with her parents. The parents, who separated after her abduction, complained on Saturday they had not been told where Natascha was staying.

"Why can't I see my daughter?" Brigitta Sirny said in a newspaper interview. "Natascha is shut away once again. It's terrible for me. Psychologists and doctors ­ that's all good and important. But my daughter also needs her mother," she said. "I'd like Natascha to live with me again, but she's 18 now and she'll decide herself."

Her father, Ludwig Koch, said: "Isn't it crazy that I don't even know where she is?"

He also said he wanted Natascha to live with him and added that Natascha had written to him asking for understanding that she needed to "find release " over the weekend.

Reinhard Haller, a court psychiatrist, warned that she may even end up rejecting her parents.

"She may have lost her original trust in people, which could lead to her rejecting her parents, which has happened to other kidnapping victims," he said.

It is perhaps merciful that she will be spared being questioned further about her ordeal until tomorrow at the earliest. "She urgently needs a break," said Erich Zwettler of Austria's Federal Criminal Investigations Office. He confirmed Natascha had been sexually assaulted by her captor, but said DNA tests on him, taken after he committed suicide, reveal he was not wanted for any other crime.

The story that has shocked the world came to light on Wednesday evening in Strasshof, north-east of Vienna. The community is a sedate place, more famous for its steam train museum than anything else.

There, on the Heine Strasse ­ a street of tidy houses with flower boxes ­ a 71-year-old woman, known as Inge T, was having a quiet night in. Suddenly, a pale, sparsely clothed young woman appeared in her garden and started beating on the window in wild panic. She said: "I am Natascha Kampusch." Inge let her in and phoned the police. "The girl sent me immediately back into the house," said Inge T. "She was afraid the man would kill me if he saw me."

The man, of course, was Natascha's captor, Wolfgang Priklopil. The 44-year-old news technician was an obsessive type, neighbours said, a perfectionist and loner who was constantly renovating his house. He shot pigeons for fun, had a fear of dogs and would mow his lawn only at midday.

It was Priklopil who was sitting in a white Mercedes van with blacked-out windows on Vienna's Rennbahnweg in March 1998. Natascha, then 10, has said she had seen the man as she walked to school that morning in her little red coat, and, sensing something was wrong, tried to cross the street. But Priklopil was faster. He hit out at Natascha, telling her: "This way or that way, you wouldn't have got away from me. I would have got you another day."

So began the next eight years of Natascha Kampusch's life. At 60 Heine Strasse, Priklopil's beige-painted two-storey home, Natascha was taken to her 6sq m prison underneath the garage. The entrance was disguised as a workshop pit in the floor, used to repair cars from below.

Then, down steep stairs, came the second entrance: a 69cm-tall steel safe-door hidden behind a chest of drawers. Behind that was Natascha's new home, a 1.6m-high pen which, police say, was built long before her abduction. It was windowless, though ventilated, had a bunk bed, shelves and a writing desk. There was a toilet and a sink where she could wash.

While she was trapped here, a massive hunt for her had started. As " missing" posters were taped to trees, helicopters with heat-seeking equipment were scrambled and police search dogs scoured every inch of the Austrian capital. Lakes were dredged and Natascha's parents made tearful pleas for their little girl to come home. Priklopil was interviewed, as were thousands of other white-van owners, but he had an alibi.

Psychologists have called Priklopil a "highly sadistic perpetrator who did all he could to have a slave", but he did not seem to display the extreme brutality of the Belgian serial killer and rapist, Marc Dutroux. Natascha was allowed to watch television and listen to the radio.

Priklopil brought her books and newspapers, and some reports say he even taught her. She was aware of world events throughout her ordeal, police said. She even spoke about the 2004 tsunami.

"She said they would get up early and have breakfast together," said Sabine Freudenberger, 23, the policewoman who first had contact with Natascha. "They spent the day together. She helped with the housework, tended the garden, everything." Although she has described him as a "criminal", Natascha has said, "Wolfgang was always kind to me".

This could explain why she is said to have wept inconsolably when told her "Master" was dead. Psychologists are divided over claims that Natascha has a severe form of "Stockholm syndrome", the condition in which long-held captives begin to identify with their captors. Others maintain her willingness to acquiesce was more to do with her young age. This, her high level of intelligence and "iron will", it is thought, is why it was eight years on that Natascha took her chance to escape. "She must have come to terms with her situation very well," says criminal psychiatrist Sigrun Rossmanith. "Otherwise she wouldn't have survived." She always had a calendar and kept a diary.

Investigators who questioned Priklopil about Natascha's disappearance say he had become more careless, losing interest in his prisoner as she became an adult. Natascha no longer fulfilled Priklopil's "Pygmalion fantasies" of having a "little princess" slave. Experts say Natascha must have realised that this put her life in danger ­ prompting her to escape.

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