There are very few things in the world more deplorable than abducting an innocent child.
Fortunately, there are several accounts of children surviving their abductions.
TRIGGER WARNING: These stories recount the horrifying abuse they suffered at the hands of their abductors. At the same time, these stories also give light to the incredible fight they fought for their survival.
1. Steven Stayner
On the afternoon of December 4, 1972, Ervin Edward Murphy and Kenneth Parnell approached seven-year-old Steven Stayner as he was walking home from school. Parnell, a paedophile with previous convictions for child molestation, then drove Steven to his remote cabin and immediately began sexually abusing the young boy.
Over the next several years, they moved around California with Parnell passing Steven, who he called Dennis Gregory Parnell, off as his son and enrolled him in various schools. By the time Steven was 12, he had suffered more abuse at the hands of his captor and was smoking marijuana and drinking. He was repeatedly told that his parents didn’t want him anymore.
As Steven entered puberty, Parnell began to look for a younger child to take. On February 14, 1980, Parnell kidnapped five-year-old Timothy White. Steven did not want Timothy to go through what he had, so on March 1, 1980, while Parnell was away at his night job, Steven took Timothy to a police station to ask for help and subsequently revealed his own true identity.
The next day Parnell was arrested on suspicion of abduction. In 1981, Parnell was tried and convicted of kidnapping the two boys in two separate trials. He was sentenced to seven years but was paroled after serving five.
In 1985, Steven married Jody Edmondson. The couple had two children and Steven used interviews with the media to bring attention to child safety. In early 1989, a television miniseries called I Know My First Name is Steven (also known as The Missing Years), was produced. Sadly, in the same year, aged 24, Steven Stayner died in a motorcycle accident on the way home from work.
2. Shawn Hornbeck
On October 6, 2002, 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck was kidnapped while riding his bike to a friend’s house. Incredibly, Shawn wasn’t found until over four years later when police charged Michael John Devlin with the abduction of 13-year-old William Benjamin Ownby.
Shawn and Benjamin were found after police noticed Devlin’s vehicle, one that matched a description given by an eyewitness to the abduction, in an apartment complex car park.
After Hornbeck was rescued, it was learned Devlin had pretended Shawn was his son, and he was often allowed out in public. He had a girlfriend, walked around a local shopping mall and even spoke with a police officer when his bicycle was stolen. One neighbour even reported that Devlin was teaching Shawn to drive. He had plenty of opportunities to escape, so why didn’t he?
Experts believe Devlin had kept the boy under his control through fear and threats of death to his family.
Devlin pleaded guilty to charges against him and was sentenced to three life imprisonments for kidnapping and other crimes against Shawn. He was also given a life sentence for the abduction of Ben Ownby. Devlin was subsequently sentenced to an additional 170 years in prison for child pornography.
3. Tanya Kach
In 1996, at just 14, Tanya Kach was abducted by her high school security guard Thomas Hose who was 39. He kept her hidden in his bedroom in the house he shared with his parents and son.
She was confined to Hose’s bedroom 24 hours a day for the first four years. She was forced to use a bucket as a toilet and Hose told her that he would kill her if she tried to leave. When she was 18, Tanya was finally allowed to go outside but under the new identity of Nikki Allen. She was able to walk around the neighbourhood but no one recognised her as the missing girl.
She waited for 10 years before confiding to a local shop owner about her real identity. Hose was ordered to serve a maximum sentence of 15 years after pleading guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a minor, interfering with the custody of a child and child endangerment.
4. Amanda Berry
On April 21, 2003, on her walk home from work, Amanda Berry was followed by a vehicle. The driver, Ariel Castro, who Amanda knew as a school bus driver and the father of a classmate, asked her if she needed a lift. He suggested that they go back to his place to see if his daughter was home. She agreed. After they entered the house, Berry thought it was strange that no one else was home. Castro took her upstairs and Berry became Castro’s second prisoner. Another woman, 22-year-old Michelle Knight, had been kidnapped almost a year earlier.
A week later Amanda’s family received a call made from her mobile phone — it was Castro. As technology to track phones was only in its infancy, the FBI could only get within two blocks of Castro’s house. The FBI spent a full week waiting for Castro to use the phone again, but he never did.
Amanda was abused sexually, was only given food once a day and allowed to shower weekly. Almost a year after Berry was kidnapped, another young woman became Castro’s third victim. Gina DeJesus, then only 14 years old, was close friends with Castro’s daughter, and Ariel Castro was friends with Gina’s father.
During her ordeal, Amanda kept a written account. On her 20th birthday, she suspected that she was pregnant and on December 25th, 2006, Berry went into labour and gave birth to a daughter, Jocelyn. Castro loved his daughter and allowed her to venture outside with him.
One day in 2013, alerted by her daughter, for the first time in 10 years, Amanda’s bedroom door was unlocked without Castro at home. The front door was open but wired with an alarm and the security door was padlocked shut, but Berry was able to squeeze her arm out. A neighbour saw her, helped the women kick down the door and called the police.
Castro was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping and rape. In 2013, he hanged himself in his cell.
5. Jaycee Dugard
In 1991, Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped at the age of 11 while on her way to school by Phillip Garrido. Seven months later, Phillip introduced Jaycee to his wife, Nancy. Over the next 18 years, the couple kept Jaycee confined to an area behind their home surrounded by tall trees and 1.8-metre high fences.
When she was 14 years old, Jaycee gave birth to her first daughter, and three years later, she had her second daughter. Jaycee took care of her daughters using information she learned from television.
When she was older, Jaycee worked as a graphic designer in a print shop owned by the Garridos. During this time, Jaycee had access to a phone and an email account but never contacted authorities or let anyone know about her true identity.
Witnesses even reported seeing Jaycee in the house and that she sometimes answered the front door to talk to people. While the family kept to themselves, the girls were sometimes seen playing in the backyard or as passengers in Phillip’s car.
It was suggested that Jaycee was beginning to show signs of Stockholm syndrome, a psychological phenomenon where captives begin to show fondness, compassion, and sometimes love for their captors.
Jaycee and her daughters were rescued in 2009 when police went to arrest him for several parole violations. Phillip Garrido pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping and 13 counts of sexual assault and was sentenced to 431 years in prison. Nancy Garrido was sentenced to 36 years to life in prison.
6. Elisabeth Fritzl
In 1984, Elisabeth Fritzl followed her father Josef Fritzl down into the cellar that he had been building underneath the family home to help him fix the door. As she turned to leave, her father drugged her and locked her away in the dungeon he had been planning for years.
Elisabeth’s disappearance was easily explained. She had often threatened to run away and had been brought home by the police or her father on several occasions. So Fritz simply told friends and family she had run off to join a sect and they all believed him.
For the next 24 years, Elisabeth was kept in horrific conditions. In winter, the cellar was cold and damp and in summer, it was like a sauna. He sexually abused and raped his daughter every day. She gave birth to seven children as a result of her father’s sexual abuse. Fritzl often threatened Elisabeth and her children, warning them that if they tried to escape, they would be killed.
Three of these children stayed underground with their mother, one tragically died and the other three were raised by Fritzl and his wife, Rosemarie. He told her that they had been abandoned by Elisabeth. To further his deceit, Fritzl made Elisabeth write letters to her mother, which he sent from towns far from his own, where she explained that she was well, but could not look after the children.
Elisabeth was finally free when her 19-year-old daughter became seriously ill. Fritzl drove her to hospital and left her there. Repeated media appeals were broadcast for the mother of this young woman to come forward with information to save her life.
Elisabeth and her two sons watched the appeals on the television in their dungeon. She begged her father to let her out. Surprisingly, he let her out, telling the hospital she had appeared on his doorstep after escaping from the sect.
Thankfully, doctors and police did not believe him and Elisabeth was taken away from her father and police threatened to charge her with child abuse. Elisabeth then told them what she had endured for the past 24 years.
Josef Fritzl was tried in a court in the Austrian city of Sankt Pölten where a jury found him guilty of mass rape, incest, wrongful imprisonment, coercion and murder by negligence. The court sentenced Fritzl to life imprisonment. He is now held in a special facility for “mentally abnormal criminals” at Austria’s Stein prison.