Page last updated at 23:22 GMT, Monday, 28 April 2008 00:22 UK

Coming to terms with the horror

By Bethany Bell
BBC News, Amstetten

A boy takes a photo of media outside the Fritzl house in Amstetten, Austria, 28 April, 2008
Dozens of television crews have descended on the normally quiet town

The quiet suburban street where Josef Fritzl lived with his family has been bathed in light for the past couple of days.

The lights of dozens of television crews - from Austria and abroad - cast an artificial brightness over the scene, rather as if it were part of a Hollywood film set.

It all adds to the sense of unreality and disbelief that many of the people of Amstetten are experiencing.

The sense of shock here is palpable.

The local people mingle slightly uncomfortably among the horde of journalists.

Some just want to see the house. Others have come to watch or perhaps join in the media circus.

But few can even attempt to explain what police say took place in the cellar of the drab grey house at the end of the street.

"I have no words," said one man who lives nearby. "This is just terrible."

Confused community

The town of Amstetten looks prosperous and respectable.

Everyone is feeling disturbed in the neighbourhood - everyone is shocked
Maria Ott-Priess
Amstetten resident

It is full of comfortable looking cream and yellow painted houses. At this time of year their well kept gardens are full of blossoming trees and tulips.

It is hard to reconcile the prettiness of the place with the cruelties which are said to have been inflicted on Elisabeth Fritzl and her family over the last quarter of a century.

The police revelations have thrown this well-ordered community into confusion.

"Everyone is feeling disturbed in the neighbourhood - everyone is shocked," said Maria Ott-Priess, a neighbour who lives several doors down from the Fritzl house.

"I didn't know the family but my husband said he used to see the old man driving by in a green or grey Mercedes every day in the morning - but that's it."


Many here fear the case will have long term repercussions for Amstetten - leaving a stigma on the place.

BBC map
Elisabeth reappeared at home after disappearing 24 years ago
Six children she says are hers have been found and placed in care
One of the children, aged 19, is seriously ill in hospital
Elisabeth's father Josef Fritzl, 73, has been arrested on suspicion of incest and abduction
Police say Mr Fritzl confesses to imprisoning Elisabeth and fathering her seven children

Others feel that it is time to examine the nature of their community.

Maria Ott-Priess says that there is definitely some soul-searching going on.

"Of course the question always arises: how could that happen in a neighbourhood where people do know each other, maybe for years, and say hello?" she said.

"One is used to things happening in the big city, but this is down the road."

Few of the locals have been openly critical of the authorities.

"I don't blame them," said a teenage boy standing in the street with his girlfriend.

"Who could imagine anyone could do something as horrible as this?"

But several said they were angry that the sufferings had been allowed to go on for so long.

"Twenty-four years - and they don't have a life. I'm angry," one young girl said.

She paused slightly.

"l live just 100 metres away from here and I drive past this house on my way to work almost everyday. And you don't think that something like this could happen."

"Now I start wondering what other people may be hiding in their cellars."

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