Dugard story reopens wounds for local crime victims’ families

By: Penne Usher, Journal Correspondent
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The re-emergence of Jaycee Dugard, missing since 1991, and the horrific details surfacing of what she endured the past 18 years, has brought up strong emotions for local victims of violent crimes. Dugard was kidnapped at a bus stop near her home in South Lake Tahoe on June 10, 1991. She wasn’t found until her alleged captors Phillip Garrido, 58, and his wife Nancy, 54, both of Antioch, allegedly brought her and two children Garrido fathered with the victim into a police station in Concord. Dugard reportedly spent nearly two decades living in a ramshackle tent compound in her captors’ backyard. The couple has pleaded not guilty to 29 felony counts of kidnapping, rape, sexual assault and false imprisonment. In a murder that generated national attention, similar to that of the Dugard case, there has been no closure for the family of victim Christie Wilson. While the man convicted of murdering 27-year-old Wilson, who disappeared from the Thunder Valley Casino four years ago, sits in prison, her family finds little resolution without her remains. Wilson was last seen in the company of 55-year-old Mario Garcia of Auburn. He is now serving a 59-years-to-life sentence for her murder. Wilson’s mother Debbie Boyd said Thursday the Dugard case has opened a “flood gate” of emotions. “The pain of Christie’s loss is with me every day. Each time I hear of a person’s remains being found, I anxiously await the identification, wondering … could it be my Christie?” Boyd said. “Each time I hear of another adult or child missing under suspicious circumstances the pain rushes in and grabs a hold of me.” Justine Vanderschoot of Christian Valley was 17 years old when her estranged boyfriend Danny Bezemer, and his best friend Brandon Fernandez, brutally beat and killed her and then buried her body in a shallow grave near Applegate. The case thrust the Vanderschoot family into the media spotlight during the most difficult time in their lives. “The media brings attention to situations happening around everyone. Some stories are good and some are nightmares. Ours just happens to be on the nightmare side of things,” Christine Vanderschoot said. “We were able to use the media to get the story out to the local communities to help find my sister.” Bezemer is serving 25-years-to life in prison for first degree murder. Fernandez is serving a 15-year-to-life sentence for second degree murder for the September 2003 killing. “It doesn’t feel like it’s been six years,” Vanderschoot said. “There is never one day that goes by that I don’t think of her, miss her, or wish she could experience something happening at that moment. The pain never goes away, but with time it gets easier.” Some have referred to Garrido as a monster who never should have been let out of the Nevada prison where he was serving a sentence for kidnapping and rape. For Vanderschoot, her sister’s murder was and is a nightmare and her killers monsters. “When you are in the middle of anything like my family or Jaycee has been through, you are living a nightmare. Something you only imagined, something you never thought could be real or that you would ever have to go through,” Christine Vanderschoot said. “Monster is the first word that comes to mind.” Dugard’s alleged kidnapper has a prior history of kidnap, molestation and rape that dates back to 1979 — strikingly similar to Wilson’s killer’s history. Garcia, formerly of Auburn, was also charged with a prior kidnap and rape in 1979. In the early ’80s he was suspected in the drowning death of his then-girlfriend and her mother in Oakland. “How many more victims and studies do we need, to prove these types of criminals will re-offend? How many more crimes do we have to become aware of, before we realize that kidnappers and rapists can rarely be rehabilitated?” Boyd said. “Statistics prove these vicious criminals should never be given the opportunity to be paroled back into society.” Garrido’s early release has roused concern around California’s potential to release more than 27,000 prisoners to ease budget woes. Harriet Salarno of Auburn, president of Crime Victims United of California, is fighting to keep convicted violent offenders behind bars, including her daughter’s murderer. Her daughter, Catina Salarno was killed at the University of the Pacific in Stockton in 1979. On the eve of her first day of classes, Catina and Steven J. Burns met on a dark corner of Pacific’s campus, where Burns pulled a gun and fired a bullet into the back of Catina Salarno’s head. They were both 18 at the time. Burns, now 47, is serving a sentence of 17 years to life for a second-degree murder conviction in Salarno’s death. Burns has been denied parole repeatedly. It is the early release of these violent offenders that concerns Salarno. She said that overcrowding was eminent in the state’s prison system, but letting prisoners out early isn’t the answer. “We knew this was going to happen. The population growth in California will increase criminal activity,” she said. “What they call non-violent or non-serious offenders is a category Garrido fell into. There is no such thing in prison as a non-violent offender. Those offenders go to jail not prison.” Salarno said officials need to consider other ways to save much-needed money and that the Garrido case brings to light the potential for more violent offenders to be out on the streets in California. “This proves it,” Salarno said of Garrido. “You are going to have more of these people out on the streets.” Penne Usher can be reached at ---------- • Mario Garcia - Found guilty of killing Christie Wilson last seen Oct. 5, 2005 Mario Garcia remains incarcerated at Deuel prison in Tracy. No date has been set for his transport to his permanent prison location, possibly Kern. Garcia is serving 59 years to life for the 2005 murder of Christie Wilson. Her body has never been found. • Brandon Fernandez - Pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for the Sept. 2, 2003 death of Justine Vanderschoot, whose body was located Sept. 18, 2003 in a shallow grave near Applegate. Brandon Fernandez remains incarcerated at Susanville prison. He is serving a 15-to-life sentence. • Danny Bezemer - Pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for the Sept. 2, 2003 death of Justine Vanderschoot. Danny Bezemer remains incarcerated at San Quentin prison. He is serving a 25-year-to-life sentence. • Steven John Burns - Found guilty of second-degree murder for the Sept. 3, 1979 murder of Catina Salarno. He remains incarcerated at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga serving 17 years to life for the 1979 murder of Catina Salarno. The Salarno family continues to fight his possible parole.