But it became increasingly clear Friday that this 18-year nightmare did not have to be for Dugard, with new details surfacing that authorities blew numerous chances to catch her alleged captor.
Neighbors complained to law enforcement that a psychotic sex addict was in their midst, alarmed that Phillip Garrido was housing young girls in backyard tents. A deputy showed up to investigate, but never went beyond the front porch.
Probation officers showed up at the home, too, but had no inkling that his back yard was actually a labyrinth of tents, sheds and buildings that were Dugard's prison. They did not even know he had children on the premises.
Garrido also wore a GPS-linked ankle bracelet that tracked his every movement, the result of his sex-crime convictions that sent him away to Leavenworth for a 50-year stint, only to get paroled after 10 years.
"Why is he out and about?" said Dan DeMaranville, who investigated Garrido in the 1970s rape case in Nevada. "If he's on lifetime parole, where was his parole officer? The guy was a sick puppy, and should have been neutered before he was paroled."
The outrage came as a sheriff's department acknowledged that it missed an opportunity to arrest Garrido in 2006 after the neighbor complaint about children in the yard.
"We missed an opportunity to bring earlier closure to this situation," Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren E. Rupf said. "I cannot change the course of events but we are beating ourselves up over this and continue to do so."
"We should have been more inquisitive, more curious and turned over a rock or two."
Garrido and his wife pleaded not guilty Friday to a total of 29 counts, including forcible abduction, rape and false imprisonment. Phillip Garrido appeared stoic and unresponsive during the brief arraignment hearing. His wife cried and put her head in her hands several times.
Garrido gave a rambling, sometimes incoherent phone interview to KCRA-TV from the county jail Thursday in which he said he had not admitted to a kidnapping and that he had turned his life around since the birth of his first daughter 15 years ago.
Meanwhile, Garrido came under suspicion in the unsolved murders of several prostitutes in the 1990s, raising the prospect he was a serial killer as well. Several of the women's bodies
- the exact number is not known - were dumped near an industrial park where Garrido worked during the 1990s. Police executed a search warrant at his home Friday in the investigation.
Dugard, now 29, was reunited with her family and said to be in good health, but feeling guilty about developing a bond with Garrido over the years. Her two children, 11 and 15, remained with her.
"Jaycee has strong feelings with this guy. She really feels it's almost like a marriage," said Dugard's stepfather Carl Probyn, who was there when little Jaycee was snatched from a bus stop in 1991.
Probyn has been in constant contact with Dugard's mother, his ex-wife Terry Probyn, since she found out her daughter was alive on Wednesday.
Probyn said both mother and daughter are trying to avoid the public eye for now. After not seeing each other for 18 years, Dugard greeted her mother by saying, "Hi, mom, I have babies," according to Probyn. Dugard had her two daughters with her at the reunion, and it appears she never told them she was kidnapped by their father, he said.
She is now free thanks in large part to two quick-thinking police employees at the University of California, Berkeley who came across a rambling Garrido this week, with Dugard's two daughters in tow. He was on campus because he wanted to hold some sort of religious event.
Garrido seemed incoherent and mentally unstable, and the girls wore drab-colored dresses, were unusually subdued, had an unnaturally pale complexion and appeared robotic and rehearsed when they spoke, said Lisa Campbell. They said they were home-schooled by their mother and had a 29-year-old sister at home.
"They seemed a little out of touch with reality and robotic," said Campbell's colleague, Ally Jacobs. "I just got a weird uneasy feeling."
She ran a background check on Garrido and notified his probation officer. On Wednesday, Garrido arrived at the probation officer's building with his wife, the two girls and a woman who initially identified herself as Allissa. She turned out to be Dugard and investigators said Garrido confessed to the kidnapping.