Girl Speaks Out After Eight Years of Captivity

At first, she could have been mistaken for a young TV soap opera star -- or a singer -- promoting her latest show or album on Austrian TV.

Eighteen-year-old Natascha Kampusch wore a fashionable purple head wrap and matching blouse with sequins, and had had her face made up for the cameras. As she began to speak, she smiled and laughed.

But a few minutes into the interview, which was broadcast nationally in Austria on Wednesday, the tears came, her voice cracked, and the audience knew that the story she was telling slowly was one of absolute horror.

"When he first grabbed me, I was going to scream," she said. "I opened my mouth to scream but nothing happened. I could not scream."

Kampusch, who had long been assumed dead, stunned the world when it came to light that, on Aug. 23, she had escaped from a tiny underground cell after eight-and-a-half years of captivity in a windowless cell in the basement of her captor's home.

Now, often rubbing her hands together and blotting tears away with paper tissues as her story poured out, she seemed to need to tell as many people as she could reach about her years of hell.

"I suffered from claustrophobia and I thought I was going crazy in there," said Kampusch. "I was very distraught and very angry," she told the interviewer for Austria's ORF television. That seemed an understatement, considering what Kampusch had been through.

Early in her captivity, Kampusch said, she threw water bottles at the wall in frustration and despair. The wheezing of a ventilator that pumped air into her cell was "unbearable," Kampusch said in the interview -- a 40-minute prerecorded account that gave Austrians their first glimpse of the young woman whose nightmare entranced the nation.

She revealed a complex relationship with her captor, Wolfgang Priklopil. "I think I was stronger than he was, after all. I had parents that loved me, but he was a very unstable person who never had any friends.

"I pushed him into celebrating Christmas," she said. "I told him other kids could buy themselves presents, which I could not, so I pushed him into getting me some presents."

Occasionally, Priklopil took her out in public. "I always had to walk ahead of him so he could always watch my back," she said. "He always threatened to kill me and other people if I ever tried to contact someone.

"I tried to make eye contact with people, but nobody realized what was going on, who I was. There was never enough time to talk to anybody without him hearing what I said, and I was convinced he would kill me right away."

Kampusch says she bolted to freedom while Priklopil was busy on a cell phone call. Within hours of the girl's escape, he killed himself by jumping in front of a commuter train.

At times during the TV appearance, Kampusch alternated between tears and nervous laughter. TV executives said she may have been ultrasensitive to the studio lights because she had seen so little light during her captivity.

Since her escape, Kampusch said she slipped away incognito to enjoy some ice cream. "It was nice to smile at people, and no one recognized me," she said.

Before the TV interview aired, Kampusch was quoted in News, the Austrian weekly magazine, as saying, "Why, of all the many millions of people, did this have to happen to me?

"He kept on saying he would kill the neighbors first if I asked them for help, then me, and lastly, himself," she said. "The second I fled, it was clear to me he'd kill himself."

Kampusch spoke of how she coped mentally. "I didn't have any loneliness. I had hope and believed in the future -- somewhere down the road. I thought only of escape."

She told the Austrian daily newspaper Kronen Zeitung, "I thought about everything ... yes, and I knew I couldn't afford to make a mistake" in escaping.

Kampusch said that she once tried to jump out of Priklopil's car, "but he held me back and then sped away."

She didn't specify when that escape attempt occurred, saying only that she felt "it was much too risky" to try to get away because she feared Priklopil would kill her if she failed.

But that didn't stop her from dreaming about beheading him with an ax. "I always had the thought: Surely I didn't come into the world so I could be locked up and my life completely ruined."

Kampusch has reportedly said that she had suffered throughout her captivity from heart palpitations that, at times, made her dizzy and blurred her vision. But it was unclear whether she has been diagnosed with any chronic problems.

Another Austrian magazine, Profil, had reported that at the time of her escape, Kampusch weighed just 42 kilograms, or 92 pounds, exactly her weight when she was kidnapped.

Kampusch told Profil that her escape from her captor's house in suburban Strasshof was "completely spontaneous. ... I was there behind the gate to the garden, and I felt dizzy. I realized for the first time how weak I really was," she said.

But Kampusch said that she felt well enough -- "physically, mentally and no heart problems" -- to make a run for it.

Once she was out on the street, "I saw a window open and someone busy in a kitchen, and I asked the woman to call the police," she said. At first, the woman refused to let Kampusch inside. "She didn't want me to step on her lawn."

The TV broadcaster ORF said Kampusch chose which questions she would answer, and had refused to talk about anything intimate. Police have said she may have had sexual contact with her captor but have refused to elaborate.

Kampusch told News magazine that she regretted Priklopil had committed suicide, "because he could have explained so much more to me and to the police," and she said that she no longer wished to talk about him.

She said she wants to complete her high school education and is considering a range of possible careers, including journalism, psychology, acting and art, and that she has not yet decided whether to write a book about her ordeal.

Kampusch also told the magazine that she loved her parents, who divorced after she was kidnapped.

Psychologists treating her have said she has been in touch with her mother but has not asked for her father since they were briefly reunited after her escape.

"It was worse for them than it was for me. They thought I was dead," she said.

Now Natascha Kampusch has the rest of her life in front of her.