Fri, Sep 08, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Austrian former captive describes her ordeal

GOING PUBLIC Glancing frequently at her psychiatrist, Natascha Kampusch gave a harrowing description of her life after being kidnapped on her way to school in 1998

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , FRANKFURT, GERMANY

Employees of a department store watch the interview with Austrian kidnapping victim Natascha Kampusch on Austrian television channel ORF in Vienna on Wednesday.

PHOTO: EPA

She did not answer all the questions, let alone dispel all the mysteries. But Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian schoolgirl held captive in a windowless cellar for eight years before she escaped two weeks ago, went public on Wednesday with a revealing, often harrowing account of her ordeal.

Speaking on Austrian television, Kampusch, now 18, described being thrown into a pitch-black room, and banging on the wall with mineral water bottles and her fists in the futile hope that someone would hear her.

"It was terrible," Kampusch said, her face pale and her voice raw from a cold. "I had claustrophobic feelings in this little room."

At times, she said, she came heartbreakingly close to freedom. Eventually, she was allowed to accompany her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil, on shopping errands. Occasionally, sales clerks would approach her to ask if she needed help.

She would try to smile in a way that would evoke memories of the 10-year-old girl in her school picture, which was widely circulated after she vanished. But Priklopil never left her side, warning that if she tried to seek help, he would kill her, himself, and any would-be rescuer.

"I would just stand there completely intimidated and in panic, my heart pounding with problems with my circulation," she said. "I then just had to stand by helplessly while he got rid of the shop assistant."

An attractive, poised young woman, clad in jeans and a purple headscarf, Kampusch was by turns confident and rattled during the 40-minute taped interview. She wiped away tears at one point and glanced frequently at her psychiatrist, Max Friedrich, who was just off camera.

But Kampusch seemed determined to give her own account, noting that some of the news media coverage of her case had been inaccurate. Except for a few remarks, she did not discuss her relationship with Priklopil, who committed suicide hours after she escaped.

"I promised myself I would grow older, stronger and sturdier to be able to break free one day," she said. "I made a pact with my older self that I would come back and free that little girl."

Kampusch's ordeal has riveted Austrians since she seized the chance to flee while she was vacuuming Priklopil's car and he stepped out of the garage to make a cellphone call. He had grabbed her off the streets of a quiet Vienna suburb on March 2, 1998, when she was a 10-year-old girl on her way to school.

In a separate interview with an Austrian magazine, Kampusch described her escape as being like an action movie.

"I ran out through the garden gate and became dizzy," she said. "I felt for the first time how weak I really was."

The first people Kampusch approached turned away from her pleas for help. Then she leapt over a fence and spied a woman in a kitchen through a window. Kampusch persuaded her to call the police.

What was first a stranger-than-fiction crime story swiftly mutated into a national obsession and finally a media circus, as photographers and television crews clamored for pictures of the young woman.

Psychiatrists, lawyers, and a media adviser have been handling Kampusch's case, shielding her from the glare, but also, in the view of some -- including her father -- shutting off access to her.

On Wednesday, Kampusch emerged in a carefully orchestrated series of interviews, all with the Austrian news media. In addition to the session with ORF, the state broadcaster, which was also broadcast in Germany, she gave interviews to two publications: a mass-market newspaper, Kronen Zeitung, and a weekly news magazine called News.

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