This week, three girls who the world thought were lost forever were recovered just miles from where they had been abducted nearly a decade before.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were all reported alive and well after a neighbor responded to Amanda Berry’s cries for help inside the house and a 911 call was placed. Amanda and Gina had been missing since 2003 and 2004, respectively, and Michelle Knight had been mistakenly reported as a runaway since 2002. All three girls were discovered in a house in Cleveland alive and well, in addition to Amanda’s 6-year-old daughter who may have been fathered by one of the girls’ alleged abductors, 52-year-old Ariel Castro.
The Cleveland police department reported that finding the girls gave the entire force a much needed “boost” since the investigation began into Amanda Berry’s abduction in 2003.
There have been other recent high-profile cases of abduction and kidnappings that have ended in a huge sigh of relief after the individuals were discovered alive several months to several years later. We wanted to take a moment to look back on four of the most recent stories of those who never gave up that they would someday be free again.
Jaycee Lee Dugard
Perhaps the most memorable abduction case lasted for over 18 years, beginning with the kidnapping of 11-year-old Jaycee Lee Dugard on her walk home from school. She was approached by convicted sex offender Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy Garrido in a car, shocked unconscious with a stun gun, and then kidnapped at the bus stop.
Jaycee and her two daughters, fathered by Phillip during her captivity, were discovered when Phillip brought his wife and the girls with him to meet his parole officer. The parole officer decided to separate the girls from the Garridos for questioning and soon discovered that the eldest girl who was introduced as “Allissa” was actually Jaycee.
Today, Jaycee is 32 years old and has made great strides to rebuild her life and the lives of her two daughters — Starlite, 18, and Angel, 15. She has authored a book, A Stolen Life, and focuses her energy on the JAYC Foundation, which she founded to help families reunite after trauma.
The Austrian woman was kidnapped in 1998 at the age of 10 by Wolfgang Přiklopil on her way to school. She was kept locked in a secret cellar underneath her captor’s garage for more than eight years until she managed to escape in 2006.
Her years in captivity were spent mainly in the cellar dungeon, which had no windows and only a single door made of concrete and reinforced with steel bars. The door to the soundproof cellar was hidden behind a cupboard door. Natascha was eventually allowed out of the cellar and would accompany her captor on trips, but he would threaten to kill her if she made a sound.
Natascha managed to finally escape when she was vacuuming Wolfgang’s car. He received a phone call and walked away, so Natascha left the vacuum on and ran down the street, yelling for the neighbors to call the police. She was finally picked up by a responding policeman.
Since she escaped, Natascha has written a book, 3,096 days, has become Austria’s PETA spokesperson, and inspired several other books and potential movies with her experience. She has also purchased the house in which she was held captive, claiming to feel the need to protect it from vandals and being torn down.
Shawn was taken in 2002 at the age of 11 by Michael Devlin and was discovered in Devlin’s home almost four years later in 2007. Shawn was discovered while the police were following leads to another missing boy, 13-year-old Ben Ownby.
During the time he was missing, Shawn’s parents appeared on The Montel Williams Show where they asked self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Brown for her help in recovering their son. Sylvia told Shawn’s parents on the show that he was dead and went on to describe the abduction. Those details were later determined to be false.
Since his recovery, Shawn has pursued a college degree and is currently working at a metal fabrication plant. He says he has accepted what happened to him as part of his life story and has moved on.
In 2002 at the age of 14, Elizabeth was abducted from her bedroom while her younger sister, Mary Katherine, pretended to be asleep. Elizabeth would later tell police that she was taken by her abductor to a camp in the woods where a woman washed her feet, performed a marriage ceremony between Elizabeth and her abductor, and then he proceeded to rape her.
Elizabeth was missing for nine months and was fueled by a description given to police by Mary Katherine of that night her sister was abducted. She was eventually discovered alive in 2003.
Elizabeth’s story has since been published in a book by her family called Bringing Elizabeth Home, which was used to create the television movie The Elizabeth Smart Story.