Victoria appeared to have learned from the rats. She couldn't speak, and the only noises she made were squeaks that resembled those of the rats.
Victoria was brought to the home of foster parents Eduardo and Gladys Venegas.
"When we first got her … if she were to get paper, she would shred it up. … She was making the rats' nests in return for them being in there with her, and helping her out. … When she started learning and mimicking their squeaking sounds, that's what led us to believe that they were there with her all the time," said Eduardo Venegas. "I would go up to her and touch her and she didn't even look at me -- like I wasn't even there."
The story of the "wild child" quickly became front page news in Austin. She was a real-life version of Nell, the character played by Jodie Foster in a movie of the same name released in 1994. Public outrage was directed to CPS and the Barrs: How could CPS have been to the house twice before and still left Victoria in those conditions?
As part of her recovery, Victoria was given hundreds of hours of therapy by teachers at her school and by University of Texas counselors, including language pathologist . Dena Granof. The question on everyone's minds: Could the neglect that Victoria suffered in her early years be reversed? Was she born disabled, or had her environment caused her extensive disability?
"Clearly, her surroundings contributed to this significant delay," said Granof. "I don't really think you can actually ever make that determination, because whether somebody is mentally disabled from birth or as a result of a lack of stimulation, the brain doesn't develop properly. The end result is the same."
Gladys Venegas, however, felt that had someone done something at the very beginning, when the authorities were first notified about the situation at the house, Victoria might not have reached her current condition.
Victoria's mother, Diana Barr, spoke to ABC News to give her side of the story. Now 55 years old, she lives in state-subsidized housing. She said that at an early age, she knew that Victoria was different from other children, and tried to protect her by keeping her inside the house.
Presiding over the custody case, Judge Scott McCown said he could see Diana's affection. "Every decision she made was a bad one. But somehow, she had communicated that love and created a bond of empathy," he said. "Diana had mental health issues, she had developmental issues. She herself was barely coping with life. And she didn't meet her child's needs. Did she love her child? Yes. I've seen a lot of mean parents who don't love their children. And one of the things they do is abandon them to the state. Diana hung in there, and she has hung in there for all these years."
Despite Diana's obvious love for her daughter, McCown ruled it was in Victoria's best interests to remain with Gladys and Eduardo Venegas.
During her senior year of high school, 18-year-old Victoria was elected honorary homecoming queen by her fellow students. Enrolled in special education classes, she is still unable to speak, although she is able to communicate through sign language. She still lives with the Venegas family, although she has now aged out of foster care and her care is overseen by the Department for Disability and Aged Services. This past May, Victoria graduated with a special diploma from Dripping Springs High School, outside Austin.
LaVallo remains her court-appointed attorney and helps operate a trust fund on Victoria's behalf. He hopes that she will one day be able to live in a group home, and perhaps work in a volunteer position. But much of her past will forever remain a mystery, locked in her own mind.
Victoria's trust fund is called the Victoria Fund. Donations can be mailed to Frost National Bank, Financial Management Group, c/o Kris Walsh, P.O. Box 2127, Austin, TX, 78768. Donations are not tax deductible.