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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 August 2006, 22:06 GMT 23:06 UK
Vienna cellar girl 'our daughter'
Police photo showing stairs leading to dungeon
Police found stairs leading to a dungeon in the house

The parents of an Austrian schoolgirl missing for eight years say a teenager who apparently escaped from a cellar prison is their daughter.

DNA test results are due shortly but police in Vienna are in no doubt the girl is Natascha Kampusch.

"We fell into each other's arms... I recognised her from her way of being, her face ... I always thought she was alive," her mother told Austrian TV.

Her alleged kidnapper committed suicide on the same day Natascha was found.

Wolfgang Priklopil, 44, is believed to have kept the girl in a cellar under his garage near Vienna.

Detectives had questioned him at the time of Natascha's disappearance on her way to school in 1998 when she was 10 but never searched his house in Strasshof, less than 16km (10 miles) north-east of the city where she lived.

Many Austrians are asking how the suspect was able to keep Natascha captive for eight years in a rural village without raising suspicion, the BBC's Kerry Skyring reports from the Austrian capital.

'Mama'

Police spokesman Erich Zwettler said Natascha appeared to be coping well.

The young woman who says she is Natascha Kampusch is escorted by police in Deutsch Wagram, north of Vienna, on Wednesday

"In the morning, we were informed by our colleague who is taking care of her that she slept well, she had breakfast and she seems to be very calm," he said.

"We assume that she is psychologically coping well with the situation."

She had, he added, been identified by both parents, who live separately, and by her half-sister.

"We have learned that she had certain body marks, some scars which we did not know about before," he said.

"These scars are there and for us there is no doubt that this is Natascha Kampusch."

The girl's mother, Brigitta Sirny, said on Austrian TV she was very proud of her daughter who had called her by an affectionate nickname - "mama mausi" - when they met again.

Her father, his eyes moist and voice faltering, said he had never thought he would live to see the day of Natascha's return.

"Honestly, I didn't think that I'd still experience this," said Ludwig Koch.

"She said: 'Dad, I love you.' And the next question was: 'Is my toy car still there?' It was Natascha's favourite toy, I never gave it away in all those years.

"I always put out of my mind the thought that she was dead."

'Dash for freedom'

Few details have been released about how Natascha regained her freedom but state television quoted a police spokesman as saying she had escaped when the door to her hiding place was left open.

Suspected kidnapper Wolfgang Priklopil (pic: Austrian police)
Wolfgang Priklopil was a 44-year-old telecoms technician

Other reports quoted federal police official Gerhard Lang who said that while the girl was "locked up day and night" she was "let out for different chores in the house".

She was apparently vacuuming the car on Wednesday when she saw her chance to get away, Lang said.

"Natascha used this head start of a few metres to leave the house and run away a few hundred metres so that the suspect couldn't follow her," he said.

It is not clear what the alleged kidnapper's motives were and whether Natascha was sexually abused during her captivity. Police say he had no connection to the girl's family and there had been no ransom demand.

A police investigator told the BBC's PM programme that Priklopil had given her food and other necessities and even taught her reading, writing and arithmetic.

Vienna map

Photos released of the cellar show a cluttered room said to be four by three metres (yards), with an entrance measuring 50cm by 50cm.

Police believe it was blocked with a sound-proof safe whenever the kidnapper left the scene.

Priklopil, a communications technician, was questioned after her disappearance on her way to school as the owner of a white van.

A school friend said she had seen Natascha getting into one the day she vanished.




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