HUDSON, Fla. (AP) — She knows her childhood abductor was a monster. That’s a given.
He snatched her from an Orlando mall, raped and likely would have killed her if she had not escaped.
But, for years, Gina Garcia wondered if he was an infamous monster.
Garcia wondered if she had been abducted by Ottis Toole, the serial killer whose victims include 6-year-old Adam Walsh. Adam’s death made national headlines and inspired the television movie Adam and the America’s Most Wanted television series hosted by his father, John Walsh.
“I suspected it was him,” said Garcia, 49, who now lives in Hudson. “But I wasn’t certain.”
Then Garcia filmed her biopic, Untold: This Is My Story.
John Walsh heard about the movie and the details of Garcia’s kidnapping.
In September, he told the New York Post that he, too, believes that Toole abducted Garcia.
“That gave me the closure I’ve needed for 40 years,” Garcia said. “I would never have gotten it had I not made the movie.”
The film is now streaming on Amazon, iTunes, DirectTV and other services.
Untold: This Is My Story follows Garcia as an adult dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder as the memories of her abduction come back to her and the support group that helps her through it.
“I really wanted to show trauma from a firsthand approach,” she said.
Garcia knows she was lucky to have survived.
Adam Walsh was abducted from a mall in Hollywood on July 27, 1981. His head was found two weeks later in Vero Beach.
On Oct. 12, 1981, 8-year-old Garcia was at the Fashion Square Mall in Orlando, three hours north of where Adam Walsh was abducted. After watching a movie, her mother went to Sears while Garcia and her sister visited the mall’s bookstore.
“My sister was in the science fiction section, and I was in the section with planetary stuff because I had to do a class project on Saturn,” Garcia said. “A man bumped into me, apologized and started a conversation.”
The stranger identified himself as mall security and said his car had books that could help with her research.
“I followed him to his car, and he shoved me inside,” Garcia said. “He drove behind the mall, and he sexually assaulted me with a knife to my throat.”
As he drove away with her, a car ran a stop sign, forcing him to “screech to a stop,” Garcia said. “That allowed me to jump out of the car and run, half naked, back to the mall.”
Orlando news archives say police later found the car that matched the description given by Garcia, who was not identified in the articles. Police staked out the car but never located a suspect. No leads materialized.
Two years later, while in prison for unrelated murders, Toole confessed to killing Adam Walsh and claimed he had another 100 victims.
“After Gina’s innocence was stolen, she experienced decades of self-destructive behavior,” her movie’s website says.
She had blocked out most of what happened to her in the mall parking lot.
“I knew I’d been abducted,” Garcia said. “But I didn’t remember anything that happened in the car.”
Then came a series of break-ins at her Orlando pedicab business in 2006.
“That repeated trauma triggered something,” Garcia said.
Everything came back to her when she went with a friend to see a movie at Fashion Square Mall.
“I ran to the back of the mall and told my friend, ‘I was raped here,’ ” Garcia said.
A U.S. Navy veteran, she began to go to counseling for PTSD at a VA hospital.
Then, in December 2008, her mother was assaulted, triggering another strong reaction.
After helping her mother physically recover, Garcia felt she needed to know more about her own abduction, so she obtained the police report and realized the similarities with the Adam Walsh case. That brought back more memories of the attack.
“I remembered his face,” Garcia said of her abductor. “I remembered certain parts of his body.”
She is certain it was Toole.
“It’s very similar. There are so many parallels,” John Walsh told the New York Post in September. “Her case is so much like (Adam’s).”
In January 2009, a friend convinced Garcia to tell her story. She wrote a 110-page script for a screenplay in less than 30 days.
And then, feeling she needed to get away, she attended the International Academy of Film and Television-Cebu in her mother’s native Philippines. Garcia returned to Florida and forged a career in the film industry.
While at a film festival in 2011, Garcia met Wonder Woman and Monster director Patty Jenkins.
Garcia told Jenkins about her biopic script and asked if she’d direct it.
“She told me, ‘No, I want you to make it,’ ” Garcia said. “But she was always available with sage advice when I needed it.”
Untold, starring Jason Landon and Terri Ivens, was released in 2014 and made the rounds at film festivals.
Still, even though she wrote, directed and produced the movie, Garcia was unhappy with the narrative.
“It became everyone else’s version of my story, and it didn’t feel right,” Garcia said. “I let too many people tell me what the story should be.”
The biggest issue, she said, was that her character was portrayed as a victim and not as someone who overcame PTSD.
So Garcia shelved the movie until 2020, when she rewatched it with her brother, and he convinced her to edit the movie to reflect the story she wanted to tell.
It was released again in September as Untold: This Is My Story and premiered at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.
“I wanted the film to show people that no matter how bad it is, no matter what your trauma is, you can get to the other side,” she said. “I got to the other side.”