By Tony Lopez

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The little girl who captured so many hearts after she was kidnapped by a stranger and held in the crawlspace of an Elk Grove church has grown into a strong woman.

It’s been 27 years since the horrific ordeal. Candi Talarico admits seeing the images from that June day in 1988 stirs the emotions.

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“I try not to think about that part of my life,” she said. “It was so long ago, but I’ve moved on and I think I’ve coped with it pretty well.”

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Just as she did on the day she was found, Candi has surrounded herself with love. She’s now in her 30s and a mother of four expecting a fifth in June.

“I’m just busy being a Mom and trying to live life,” she said.

Talarico still lives in the Sacramento area and still remembers the outpouring of love from so many following her rescue.

But she didn’t know one piece of very big news about her kidnapper. After pleading guilty to kidnapping charges and being sentenced to 62 years in prison, Kenneth Alvin Michel died in October at Corcoran State prison. He was 59 years. old.

She says she didn’t know how to react hearing the man who stole so much from her had taken his last breath.

Those who knew Kenneth Michel didn’t know he had died either. But church member and former local TV journalist Mark Hedlund does know how the kidnapping impacted his place of worship.

Talarico was held under the altar of the Elk Grove United Methodist Church in a tiny crawlspace. Hedlund had covered the story of the kidnapping.

“Never in my wildest dreams having any idea that it might culminate here in my own church,” he said.

He also had no idea the kidnapper was right in front of him.

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“I’d reported on the composite drawing being released, I’d seen it,” he said. “I saw Kenny here on the Church campus, never put two and two together, never thought for a moment that the composite drawing looked anything like Kenny.”

He wasn’t the only one, but there were clues no one picked up on at the time. Hedlund’s wife helped run the Sunday school.

“She had discovered that a mattress—like a crib-type mattress—that was missing from the nursery and also a small TV,” he said.

Michel had taken it down to the crawlspace where he kept Candi hidden. Nearly three decades later, the church, like Candi herself, has its own survival tale to tell.

“We were known for a while, we had that reputation—people knew this was the church where candi tallarico was found but we’ve moved on,” Hedlund said.

They started moving on the week after the discovery.

For years the space that became her prison was a place to avoid, and children in the congregation were spooked by it.

But not anymore. CBS13 cameras looked into the crawlspace the church says it’s chosen to reclaim.

“We took back that space again and made it our space again rather than a scary space it became a space where we can play this fun game of hide and seek and help the youth understand there’s nothing to be afraid of here,” he said.

In fact, God is very much present here, church members believe, where so much evil had lurked.

Candi Talarico is a survivor, with a focus on the future that many feared she would never have.

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“I just want to let everybody know that I’m doing very good, I don’t have too many complaints,” she said. “I’m trying to just move forward and be positive and let the past stay in the past and not dwell on it. If I dwell on it then life wouldn’t be so good.”