Lilly is back.
The teenage girl who captured Sacramento's heart with her story of torture, abuse and resilience returned this week to the only home she has ever really known.
After a brief detour to the East Coast, 19-year-old Lilly Manning is rebuilding her life again in Sacramento.
"I grew up in California, and there's plenty to miss," said Lilly, whose harrowing story was chronicled in The Bee this summer, eliciting an outpouring of community support.
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Thanks to generous readers, she rolled back into town with a 2002 Nissan Altima that she used this week to sign up at a job center and attend an interview for temporary work: spinning signs on street corners.
"It sounds boring," she said, bursting into laughter. "But it's work."
Lilly returned to Sacramento on the eve of Thanksgiving with the recognition that even the best plans go awry, and moving on with your life doesn't always mean moving away.
So far, her journey has been more perilous than most adults will ever experience.
Lilly was 15 when she made a daring escape from a cramped closet in south Sacramento, where her adoptive mother and her husband routinely locked her after brutal beatings. Lilly and four of her siblings had been removed from their biological mother in the early 1990s and placed with their great-aunt, also named Lillian Manning, who adopted the five children.
Over the years, the violence escalated, with Lilly the primary target of the couple's rage.
As Lilly enters adulthood, her toned, 5-foot-3 body is etched with more than 100 scars. They are permanent reminders of the injuries inflicted on a growing girl with 2-by-4s, a hot iron, boiling water, a steel-toed boot, a pink high heel, a swinging padlock.
A Bee examination of her confidential case files revealed multiple system breakdowns and human errors that allowed her torture to remain hidden – despite the children's cries for help. (The Bee's past stories can be found at www.sacbee.com/manning.)
It was not until July that her great-aunt, Lillian Manning-Horvath, 72, was sentenced to up to six years in a mental facility and consecutive life terms in prison. Her husband, Joseph Horvath, was convicted in 2009 and also sentenced to consecutive life terms.
Since her mother's final court appearance, Lilly has been trying to get on with life. After Bee readers contributed more than $10,000 to a special Bank of America fund, she boarded her first airplane in August and joined her older sister in New York state, where Natasha Manning was stationed with the Army at Fort Drum.
Lilly planned to help care for Natasha's 2½-year-old daughter, and the three settled into a three-bedroom duplex in the nearby town of Lowville, population 3,143.
When Natasha Manning was deployed to Afghanistan in October, Lilly summed up her situation in one word: "Boring."
Last Friday at 3 p.m., with fresh snow on the ground, she strapped little Tatiana Manning in her car seat and headed west, all with her sister's blessing. She stopped only to sleep a few hours at rest stops, arriving back home on Monday around 9 a.m. – a 2,790-mile trip.
Lilly Manning says she isn't sure what lies ahead. She spent all the money by moving to New York, buying the car and indulging in a few extravagances, like an iPhone and laptop. She wants to resume college, having taken courses already at Sacramento City College.
While she'll be spinning signs Friday, she'd really like to work with foster youth, perhaps through an agency.
"Coming back from New York – it's like a fresh start," she said.