Parade celebrates Jaycee Lee Dugard's return

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - An estimated 3,000 people turned out for a parade Sunday morning for the Tahoe girl they thought they would never hear from again.

Whether they were garbed in pink and walking westbound down Highway 50, sitting in their cars in the eastbound lane honking their horns or watching the parade pass by from the sidewalk, everyone celebrated the return of Jaycee Lee Dugard.

On June 10, 1991, when she was 11, Dugard was pulled into a car as she walked to a bus stop near her Meyers, Calif., home. Late last month, police found Dugard living at the home of her alleged captors in a squalid backyard compound in Antioch, Calif.

Phillip and Nancy Garrido have been charged with a long list of crimes in connection with the kidnapping, to which they have pleaded not guilty, but Sunday's parade stayed focused on celebrating Dugard's return and letting her know she still has well-wishers in the area she disappeared from 18 years ago.

Mayor Jerry Birdwell said he attended Sunday's parade, "just to show the support I have, and the rest of the community has, for Jaycee."

"The innocence of the town was basically taken away that day," Birdwell said, a sentiment echoed by several other participants in Sunday's parade.

Joined by a police escort, the parade stretched for about a mile on Highway 50.

"It's a closure of a nightmare and the beginning of some peace and hopefully some happiness," South Lake Tahoe resident Sheryl Langstaff said while walking in the parade.

The event culminated at the South Tahoe Middle School track, where members of Soroptimist International of South Lake Tahoe handed out pink frosted cupcakes and pink T-shirts reading "Tahoe loves Jaycee" in exchange for donations. The public service group organized the parade.

Pink was Jaycee's favorite color at the time of her abduction.

As people filled the stands, a party-like atmosphere took over the track, with people hula-hooping, blowing bubbles, displaying homemade signs and T-shirts welcoming Dugard's return and cheering wildly.

The crowd grew especially raucous when Sister Sledge's "We are Family" began playing over a pair of loudspeakers set up inside the track.

Soroptimists and members of local law enforcement agencies addressed the crowd from a podium erected on the track.

They focused their discussion around Fighting Chance, a program that teaches elementary school children to escape from potential predators that was started following Dugard's abduction.

South Lake Tahoe Police Officer Rebecca Inman, one of the instructors for the program, gave an especially passionate speech Sunday, thanking God for Jaycee's return and raising her fist in the air in celebration.

"My heart is just overflowing with joy," Inman told the crowd, to spirited applause.

More than 3,000 kids have gone through the program since its inception 16 years ago, Soroptimist Brooke Laine said Sunday.

But just how many may have avoided dangerous situations because of Dugard's disappearance and the Fighting Chance program remains unknown, El Dorado County Sheriff's Lt. Les Lovell told the crowd.

Lovell also made an impassioned plea to his own grandchildren - who participated in the parade - during his address.

Just because Dugard has been found, it doesn't mean the threat to children from predators has been eliminated, Lovell said.

"You know what, guys? Fight," Lovell said. "Fight your way out of it, don't get complacent."

About 3,000 people attended Sunday's parade, according to an estimate from Lovell.

In the days leading up to Sunday's Pink Ribbon Parade, some community members wondered if Jaycee Lee Dugard herself might be in attendance.

Dugard was not present, but FBI Special Agent Chris Campion passed along a message in an interview with the Tahoe Daily Tribune last week. Campion was one of the investigators who worked on the case immediately after Dugard's abduction.

Campion declined to comment on the case, but said that he had met with Dugard and her mother, Terry Probyn. "Terry wished to express her gratitude to the people of South Lake Tahoe for all their support over the years," Campion said.

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