Austria Reacts With Shock and Disbelief

Crime of man who raped and imprisoned daughter for years captivates nation.


PASSAU, Germany, April 29, 2008 — -- The woman who was held captive in her father's basement for 24 years has been reunited with five of her children and her mother in a meeting that astonished hospital staff for the ease with which they got along.

Law enforcement authorities confirmed today that DNA test results prove Josef Fritzl, 73, to be the father of the six surviving children born to his daughter Elisabeth during her imprisonment in the Austrian town of Amstetten.

The man dubbed a "monster" by Austrian press is due to appear before a judge today. He's facing several more days of questioning as "there are many, many questions that remain unanswered," according to prosecutors investigating the case.

"Our top priority is to shed some light into the circumstances that made it possible for him to hide his crimes for so long," Gerhard Sedlacek, the spokesman for the prosecution, told ABC News.

Elizabeth Fritzl was reunited Sunday with her mother and the three children whom Fritzl allowed to live upstairs with him. Two of the children who were confined to the basement were also present. Another child, 19-year-old Kerstin, remains in a medically induced coma at another facility, where she is being treated for a life-threatening illness.

Fritzl had allowed three of the children to live aboveground with him, and reportedly told his wife and authorities that his daughter had run away, but sent him the children because she couldn't care for them.

Despite the decades of abuse and separation, the three generations had a smooth reunion, officials said.

"It astonished us how easy it was for the children to come together, and how easy it was for Elisabeth and her mother to come together. We're trying to keep them together for as long as possible," Dr. Berthold Kepplinger said.

While the family may be coping, this Alpine country is struggling to come to terms with what one Austrian paper called "the worst crime of all time."

What has rattled the country even more is that this is the third such incident in the last two years.

"How on Earth was it possible for this man to hide this horrendous crime for so long? How could authorities fail to uncover this tragedy?" one of the neighbors in Amstetten asked.

"He and his wife were totally inconspicuous, just a nice couple, always very friendly," added another man.

Another stunned neighbor expressed disbelief. "It's unbelievable something like this could happen in your neighborhood," said Guenther Pramreiter, who runs a bakery shop next door to "the horror house," as some media dubbed the family home.

A woman who lives across the street told TV reporters how much she admired Mrs. Fritzl "for bringing up and educating her grandchildren. You could always see the kids playing in the swimming pool in the summer time, and you could hear them laugh. How could it be that we never noticed anything wrong?"

A woman identified only as Gertrude A. told Austrian TV ORF, "I've known him for so long, and he's always been a nice guy. He was a caring grandfather. I've been to that house often. No way can I believe that this was going on in the cellar. "

Austrians, meanwhile, are wondering what is going on in their country. They are still getting over the shocking story of Austrian schoolgirl Natascha Kampusch, who was kidnapped and hidden in a windowless cell for over eight years until she escaped in April 2006.

The following year three girls emerged from their seven-year captivity at the hands of their mother.

The girls, ages 7, 11 and 13 when their ordeal began, had been isolated for so long in a dark filthy room in the city of Linz that they developed their own language. When they were eventually freed, they had problems coping with the sunlight.

"The nation has hardly digested the notorious kidnapping of Austrian schoolgirl Natascha Kampusch, who was hidden by her kidnapper in a windowless cell for over eight years until she escaped in April 2006, when another dramatic case if shaking the nation — as if the entire country is under a curse," wrote the German newspaper Die Zeit.

These cases have prompted the Austrian newspaper Der Standard to demand that "the whole country should ask if there's something wrong with our society."

There's a lot of soul-searching under way and there seem to be no easy answers.

"Amstetten is in a state of shock," wrote Mayor Herbert Katzengruber on the city's Web site. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims."

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