Police: Austrian children kept in dungeon were in 'oppressive' conditions

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

Police in Austria have reported that the situation in the cellar where people were illegally imprisoned for over two decades is 'oppressive'. They have also said that they cannot stay in the cellar for more than one hour. AP reported that this is because there is a low oxygen level in the cellar.

The location of the cellar

This announcement by the police comes after police in the Lower Austrian town of Amstetten arrested a 73 year old man who is alleged to have kept his daughter, now aged 42, locked in the cellar of his house in Amstetten since August 29, 1984.

Amstetten Hospital, where 19 year old Kerstin Fritzl arrived ill, and from which the authorities learned of the case

The man, identified by police as Josef Fritzl, is alleged to have started sexually abusing his daughter, named as Elisabeth Fritzl, when she was eleven years old, and to have subsequently fathered seven children by her. One of the children, one of a set of twins born in 1996, died of neglect shortly after birth and the body was burned by the father. The surviving six children, three boys and three girls, are currently aged between 5 and 20 years old. Three of the children were left on Josef F.'s doorstep and subsequently raised as the adoptive children of Josef F. and his wife, Rosemarie, while the other three children were left with their mother and never saw daylight until she was discovered. Rosemarie F. is said to have been unaware of her husbands' activities.

Police became suspicious when a 19-year-old daughter, Kerstin, was taken to hospital with a mysterious life-threatening illness, and the family's medical records were checked. Police say that Elisabeth F. appeared to be "greatly disturbed" psychologically, and only agreed to talk after the authorities assured her that she would not have to have contact with her father, and that her children would be cared for.

The local authorities have recently released a statement regarding these incidents, an English translation of part of which is available below:

The tragedy involving the family has Amstetten has made its citizens deeply shocked and shaken. Our sympathy goes exclusively to the victims of this crime. To restart the family into the "life" to allow security the city are aiming to provide financial resources to the victims.

The municipality has now set up a donations account for the victims.

The news has shocked Austria, as has its similarity to the case of Natascha Kampusch who was kidnapped aged 10, and escaped after being held in a "dungeon" for eight years in 2006.