grateful for unknown saviors
By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer
"I don’t know who they work for, but they
are a network of angels."
That’s how Margot Thornton feels about the
men who rescued her 5-year-old daughter, Lily Snyder, who had been missing for
almost two years.
Now living in Eugene, Ore., Thornton last
saw Lily on June 24, 2001, in Ketchum.
She was reunited with her child in the
early morning hours of April 12 in San Jose, Costa Rica. And they immediately
returned to Eugene, where Lily also has been reunited with her two
half-siblings, Isa, 12, and Lars, 8.
Lily was rescued April 11 by what’s been
described as "an anonymous rogue recovery team" from a jungle hut, where she had
been living with her alleged abductors, Stephen Snyder, her father, and Eli
Snyder, a half brother.
Thornton said tips had been coming in for
months implying Lily might be in Central America. The National Center for
Missing and Exploited Children had also received several tips identifying a
towheaded girl in Costa Rica.
"I wasn’t a part of any of that stuff,"
Thornton said. "I knew the police and FBI were investigating but they’re not
sharing everything with you. Quite frankly, I’m used to being in the dark. I
just let them do their job and tried not to pester them. It was easy for me to
focus on Lily."
She said Ketchum Police Chief Cory Lyman,
Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas and Ketchum Police Officer Lee
Edgerton had remained in touch with her and had been working very hard on the
"I knew the leads had come in. The pieces
of the puzzle were coming together."
Thornton received an anonymous call on
Thursday night, April 10, telling her to head to Costa Rica because a rescue
mission was planned.
"I heard people were going to try to get
her. I knew it was the right thing to do. They weren’t asking for money. I have
to trust I can get what I need. That’s how I assessed people the whole way
through. It felt okay."
She flew to San Jose the following
The secrecy was maintained. "Someone
picked me up, a local boy like a cab driver, he had no idea." He dropped her at
a house in the city without a word, and drove off.
When Thornton walked in she saw her
pint-sized curly blonde child asleep in bed. "It was so incredible. She was so
happy to see me. We couldn’t let go of each other, the comfort level was as just
as before." As they clung to each other Lily told her mother that she knew she
loved her and wasn’t mean."
Thornton said Lily told her that the
Snyder men kept saying they were better parents, and that Thornton was a mean
mother. "We’re nicer, we’re better than her," Lily quoted the men as saying.
Thornton marvels at her child’s strength
"There was no one to validate her feelings, but she knew what to believe and
what to focus on."
After the daring early morning rescue,
Lily had been handed over to an escort team who took her to the safe house in
San Jose to await the arrival of Thornton from Eugene, said a member of the
escort team. She said their names can’t be revealed since they work regularly on
child abduction cases.
"Anonymity is very important," said one of
the men who escorted Thornton and Lily back to Los Angeles, on Sunday, April 13.
Lyman said the FBI and his office had
continued to be involved in the case since the child was allegedly abducted by
Eli Snyder in June 2001. Three weeks ago, Thornton identified a photo of Lily
sent by the FBI to Lyman.
However, Lyman said it was an anonymous
rogue recovery team that went into the jungle and made the rescue. They claimed
to have tracked the trio for eight days.
The American Consulate received a call
from "some ex-military guys who said they had these two Americans at gun point,"
Lyman said. The Consulate turned Stephen and Eli Snyder over to the Costa Rican
authorities. Costa Rican authorities cooperated in transferring the two to
American custody in Miami. They are currently being held in the Dade County Jail
on $500,000 bond and will be extradited by next week to Blaine County to face
Thornton would not discuss the Snyders
except to say she was finally going to get her divorce from Stephen. He is her
estranged husband and the father of Forrest and Eli Snyder from a previous
marriage. He has been a fugitive from Orange County, Calif., since fleeing from
a charge of spousal abuse and child endangerment.
Though Lily has been guarded, she has been
slowly leaking bits of information about her ordeal. She said they’d lived among
other people for about a year. Later, they had moved to the hut, where they were
secluded from any other people.
When her mother asked why they had moved,
Lily responded "Well, it was hectic back there, lots of creatures and the
Lily revealed that she had foraged for
plants to eat in the jungle and knew the botanical names for them. She also told
her mother she had had a kitten at one time that died from a poisonous
"That’s how really vulnerable she was,"
Thornton said. "Lily answers things really adult now. She’s always been really
extreme." She speculates it may have been why the Snyders wanted her with them
"She’s so grounded and calm. She had to be
so brave, I kept thinking," Thornton said.
While Lily was missing, Thornton began
turning her life around in remarkable ways she said she never imagined.
"You’re given adversity. It’s your choice
how you handle it. I learned what I could to make the best decisions. We’ve been
happy with our lives. We’ve also had this great adorable life here in this
adorable house. We knew we were making a space for Lily." Thornton said Eugene
has been good to them; they lived there before moving to Ketchum in 2000.
However, she said she misses her church, Light on the Mountains in Blaine County
and the emotional support it provided.
Thornton also has returned to school on
financial aid. Currently finishing her spring semester, she’s in law school full
time with a 4.0 grade point average.
She said she wants to protect her
children, and help others who need the same kind of help she needed. Thornton
said she had had bad luck when she was in the Wood River Valley trying to get a
divorce, due to lack of funds.
"I want to be a lawyer so I can give
back," she said. Thornton maintains she has no idea who rescued Lily and how the
operation was planned and carried out.
"There’s another Lily out there waiting
for those people. I’m so grateful they did what they did."
Thornton said Lily’s health is not as bad
as was feared, though she weighs very little for her age. She has been "tested
for parasites, but she’s doing so well, the doctor who examined her couldn’t
believe it," Thornton said. She added that Lily has forgotten many everyday
"When we made a fire in fireplace, she
thought we were making dinner," Thornton said. Other things that she is asking
about and doesn’t recall are the car and stop lights.
Though Lily is unsure about strangers and
phones, she spoke willingly when asked how her readjustment was going. She said
she was very happy.
Do you give her big kisses?
"Well, I gave her one already when she
came to get me. It was night and I was asleep, but I kissed her anyway," Lily
said, frankly in her young, squeaky voice.
And are you happy to be with Lars and Isa
"Oh, yes, but they are at school. I have
two cats to play with though." One is appropriately named Kismet.
Another surprise occurred last Wednesday,
which was the first day the other children returned to school. When Lily was
alone in a room, Thornton heard her chattering away; she was speaking fluent
Spanish to the cats.
Thornton now feels an obligation to
continue Lily’s Spanish speaking and is looking into dual immersion schools for
To help with donations of clothing and
furniture, Beth Eldridge at the Lane County Child Advocacy Center is fielding
calls at (541) 682-7460.
Also, a fund for Lily has been set up at
the Pacific Continental Bank, Lily Snyder Benefit Account, #26173468, Box 10727,
Eugene, Ore. 97440.