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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 August 2006, 16:56 GMT 17:56 UK
'Incredible' case grips nation
By Kerry Skyring

The name heard in almost every conversation in Austria this week is Natascha. Pictures of her as a smiling 10-year-old schoolgirl with a long fringe are on the front page of all the newspapers, alongside new photos of her being escorted into a police station for questioning, her face covered by a blanket.

Stairs leading down to where Natascha Kampusch was hidden
Police said the girl was kept in a small room under a garage

Although Natascha Kampusch disappeared eight years ago, her name is still fresh in the minds of most Austrians because the search for her was so long and fruitless.

And there was a sense that "it couldn't happen here".

In the working class suburb of Vienna where she was living when she was abducted, residents have spoken of how they believed they would never see her again.

"It's wonderful that she is alive," one woman told journalists. "I thought she had been killed."

A 15-year-old remembered how she played with Natascha when she was six. "We played in the courtyard," she said, "my sister and Natascha were good friends."

Suburban prison

Of the Viennese it is said that they do not know their neighbours, preferring to keep to themselves, but in a small Austrian village little happens without everyone in the village knowing it.

So in the village of Strasshof, where Natascha was held captive for eight years, the main reaction is shock and disbelief.

Josef and Leopoldine Jantschek lived next door to the house which was Natascha's prison; a plain two-storey home with a wrought iron front gate and a neat garden like thousands of others in Austrian villages.

"I cannot believe it," Josef told journalists and spoke about how he once joked with his neighbour about his lack of girlfriends. "You'll be left behind if you don't hurry up," he told him.

Special counselling

Newspapers have written of the "unbelievable case of Natascha - the most searched-for child in Austria".

The daily Kurier said her case reads "like 10 crime novels produced one after another - with an open end".

The evening television news on state broadcaster ORF was to dedicate an entire programme to the story. Many radio reports have referred to "Natascha's Martyrdom".

Austrians, perhaps as a legacy from Sigmund Freud, place a great deal of importance on psychiatric help after trauma, so much has been made in the reporting of the case on the need for special psychiatric treatment.

On web blogs as well people have written of the need for the media to show sensitivity in their reporting. "She has suffered enough damage," wrote one. And another insisted the media "had done their duty" and should now "leave her in peace".

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