Thu, May 01, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Family of abused daughter reunited

CAPTIVES The six children Josef Fritzl fathered with the daughter he had imprisoned in a windowless cell for 24 years spent their first time together at a clinic on Sunday

AP , AMSTETTEN, AUSTRIA

Residents gather for a candlelight vigil in the town square for the victims of the Amstetten incest case.

PHOTO: EPA

Long-lost members of an Austrian family terrorized by decades of incest and imprisonment had an “astonishing” reunion at the clinic where psychiatrists are helping them cope, authorities said.

Hospital officials said most of the seven children Josef Fritzl fathered over the past 24 years with the daughter he held captive in a windowless cell spent their first moments together on Sunday — a day after those kept confined finally gained their freedom.

The meeting also reunited the suspect’s wife with the daughter Fritzl had led her to believe left home to join a religious cult, but instead was imprisoned in a cramped warren of secured and soundproofed cellar rooms, clinic director Berthold Kepplinger told reporters on Tuesday.

“It is astonishing how easy it worked that the children came together, and also it was astonishing how easy it happened that the grandmother and the mother came together,” Kepplinger said.

Under the circumstances, the children were doing “quite well” in the care of a team of specialists, he said.

Officials said one of the children, who is receiving medical treatment at another hospital, was not part of the reunion.

Police announced on Tuesday that DNA tests confirmed Fritzl is the biological father of all his daughter’s six surviving children.

Investigators said they also combed through Fritzl’s other properties but found no other hidden windowless cells like the one where he had held his daughter Elisabeth, now 42, captive since she was 18.

Forensics experts on Tuesday carted boxes of belongings out of the cell Fritzl constructed beneath his apartment in Amstetten, a working-class town 120km west of Vienna.

Police say Fritzl, 73, confessed on Monday to imprisoning Elisabeth, sexually abusing her for years, fathering seven children with her and discarding in a furnace the body of one of the children who died in infancy.

Franz Polzer, head of the Lower Austrian Bureau of Criminal Affairs, said there was “no evidence” indicating that Fritzl’s wife, Rosemarie, knew what was going on or was involved.

Polzer also said records show that Fritzl had no criminal past dating beyond 15 years, adding that the statute of limitations would apply to any earlier offenses. He would not elaborate.

He said Fritzl’s legitimate children — Elisabeth’s brothers and sisters — told police during questioning that they noticed “absolutely” nothing about their father’s double life.

Officials have said Fritzl faces up to 15 years in prison if charged, tried and convicted on rape charges, the most grave of his alleged offenses under Austrian law.

But prosecutors in Lower Austria said on Tuesday they were looking into the possibility of charging Fritzl with “murder through failure to act” in connection with the infant’s death.

Murder in Austria is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Fritzl’s lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said his client was under psychiatric care. Asked whether he showed any remorse, Mayer said: “I cannot say at this point.”

Fritzl “is really hit by this. He is very serious, but he is emotionally broken,” Mayer said.

However, prosecutor Gerhard Sedlacek said Fritzl was “completely calm, completely without emotion” when he was formally placed in pretrial detention on Tuesday.

The town’s authorities authorized the construction of an addition to the apartment building that Fritzl owned and lived in, with a basement, in 1978, city spokesman Hermann Gruber told the Austria Press Agency (APA).

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