Lily Snyder found in Costa Rica jungle hut
By DANA DUGAN
Express Staff Writer
In a rescue mission straight out of a Hollywood movie, 5-year-old Lily
June Snyder, who disappeared from Ketchum almost two years ago, was
rescued at dawn Friday in the jungles of Costa Rica where she’d been
living with her father and half-brother, Stephen and Eli Snyder.
“The FBI has been working really hard on this. It was an active case,”
Ketchum Chief of Police Cory Lyman said Tuesday. Lily’s case had been
entered in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database. And two
weeks ago, Lily’s mother, Margot Thornton, identified a photo of Lily
sent by the FBI to Lyman.
However, it was an independent recovery team that went into the jungle
and made the rescue, Lyman said. They allegedly tracked the trio for
eight days, and had them under surveillance for 24 hours before
attempting the rescue. According to a confidential report, “there were no
weapons and they did not resist.”
Lily was handed over to an escort team who took her to a safe house in
San Jose, Costa Rica, to await the arrival of Thornton from Eugene, Ore.,
where she and her two other children now live.
Members of the escort team did not want their names 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. “We have a long history
in doing this. For nine years, we’ve been picking up kids and bringing
them back,” he said in a telephone interview.
The Snyders apparently were living in a hut deep in the jungle that could
only be reached after a long hike. On Friday, April 11, the American
Consulate received a call from “some ex-military guys who said they had
these two Americans at gun point,” Lyman related. The Consulate turned
the two Snyders over to the Costa Rican authorities. A U.S. Drug
Enforcement agent in Costa Rica is helping to handle the case for the
Consulate, Lyman said.
“Costa Rica will deport them. They have no legal status to be there. My
expectation is they will likely be extradited back here to face charges.
It’s a complicated case.”
The lead escort team member said that upon rescue “standard operating
procedure requires the rescuers to tell the child not to be afraid, they
were there to help.”
Lily responded, “I’m not afraid. I knew you were coming for me.”
The report described the Snyder’s living conditions as squalid. “It’s a
wonder she wasn’t crocodile bait by now. Her life was in danger,” one of
the rescuers said in the report.
The escort team said that Lily’s hair and clothes were filthy. She has a
fungal infection and intestinal parasites.
The report claimed the Snyder men tried to dye her hair to disguise her
but she wouldn’t let them. Lily also said that her father and brother had
taken her to Canada and Mexico. Both Synder men were allegedly
remorseful. They had apparently tried to grow crops but had failed. Both
were ill with various infections, and Stephen Snyder also had a machete
injury and a burn on his leg.
The female member of the escort team told Lily she was there on behalf of
her mother. Lily responded, “I really miss my Mom.”
At 3 a.m. Saturday, April 12, Thornton was reunited with her daughter in
the safe house in San Jose.
“By 5 a.m. I was driving them to the Panama border where two of our guys
took them to the Panama City airport and flew with them to L.A.,” the
female escort said. Apparently, there were no flights available from San
Jose, and Panama City was the closest airport with flights out that
Lily’s story began in June 2001 when she had been living in Ketchum with
her mother and two half-siblings, and Lily was allegedly abducted by Eli
A Blaine County arrest warrant on a felony kidnapping charge was issued
Aug. 2, 2001, for Eli Snyder by a Fifth District Court magistrate in
Earlier that summer Eli had been staying in Ketchum with Thornton helping
to take care of Lily, and he then took Lily to visit another brother in
Oregon in June. When he failed to return her as promised in a notarized
travel agreement signed by both Thornton and Synder, Thornton sought help
from the police.
Stephen Snyder became a fugitive from Orange County, Calif., after
pleading guilty in April 2000 to corporal injury and false imprisonment,
both felonies, and to misdemeanor child abuse. He was arrested in
December 1999 on charges of spousal abuse and child endangerment.
Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Thomas didn’t return calls to his
office regarding extradition of Eli Snyder to face charges.
The FBI in Salt Lake City also didn’t return repeated calls regarding the