Foretich -- now known as Elena Mitrano -- was smuggled to New Zealand by her grandmother after her mother, Elizabeth Morgan, claimed during a tough custody battle that Hilary, 5, was being sexually abused by her father, oral surgeon Eric Foretich.Dr Morgan, a plastic surgeon, spent more the $US1 million fighting the original custody order, but Hilary was deemed too young to testify in court and the allegations were dismissed. Hilary's mother refused to force her to participate in unsupervised visits with her father, and was jailed in August 1987 for contempt. But her daughter was already on the run with her grandparents, retired psychologists William and Antonia Morgan. They took the child on a 2-1/2 year-journey, eventually settling in Christchurch. During this time, Dr Morgan spent 26 months behind bars, then secretly moved to NZ to live in hiding with her daughter.
When the child's location was discovered and became news around the globe, a New Zealand court gave Dr Morgan sole custody, but the case was complicated by rulings from US courts. Dr Morgan and Hilary returned to Washington in 1997 to be with the doctor's mother, but only after the US Congress passed the Elizabeth Morgan Act in 1996, allowing the girl to decide whether to see her father.
"She gave up everything, always believed me, never questioned me, and fought for me tooth and nail for years," Mitrano told the Daily Breeze, a Los Angeles newspaper. "I was living in a hell that no child should ever have to live in," Mitrano said. "It was inescapable. Either I was going to be saved or going to be completely destroyed. I survived, and I think that it made me really strong."She still lives with her mother in Beverly Hills, but said that life after her return from New Zealand was hard. "During my late teenage years, I was feeling very, very lost, and I started doing drugs. "I definitely had some very dark days when I was a teenager." She struggled for more than 20 years to find her voice, but now at 26, uses it to speak for those who can't.
Her debut album, Rescue Me, was released in June and features a mix of upbeat dance tunes and soulful ballads. "No five-year-old should have to be terrified of one parent, and then lose the other one," Mitrano said. "But I was very fortunate, and I'm stronger for it. There are children who aren't as lucky as I had been, and I wanted to do something for them."
Mitrano hasn't seen her father since he attended a court hearing on her 18th birthday. She remembers screaming: "Get away from me!" when he tried to sit next to her, but that moment made her realise she no longer had to be afraid. "I was expecting this big, huge, scary guy to walk into the room. But he wasn't. He was a tiny, shrivelled old man."