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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of April 23 - 29, 2003


Rescued child
adjusting well

Mother grateful for unknown saviors

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 case.

"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 morning.

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 kidnapping charges.

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 indigenous."

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 snakebite.

"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 so badly.

"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 objects.

"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 again?

"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 this fall.

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.


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