Kidnapping Survivors: What Happens When They Go Home?

Alexis O.-Managing Editor

When news broke last Monday that three women who vanished a decade ago had been found in downtown Cleveland, few people could claim to have any idea what was going through the minds of Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry, and Michelle Knight. While most of us can only imagine the way that these three girls’ lives are about to change, some people, such as Jaycee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart, and Shawn Hornbeck, actually lived through similar nightmares.

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Dugard, as well as Smart, can agree that the experience will shape these individuals, but most certainly not define them. “These individuals need the opportunity to heal and connect back into the world. This experience doesn’t define them; it only happened to them,” Dugard said in a media statement about the new case. Junior Nicole Agner agrees, “This experience definitely will not define these girls; they will come out of it stronger people than they were before.”  People like Dugard, Smart, and Hornbeck have all come a very long way in their recovery processes and have been supported by the public immensely throughout their trials and tribulations. What they have managed to do with their lives since being rescued, though, is oftentimes just as incredible.

Jaycee Dugard was just 11 years old walking to the bus stop in her hometown of South Lake Tahoe, CA, when she was abducted by Phillip Garrido and his wife. “I followed the entire Jaycee Dugard story, and I am so proud of all that she has accomplished since she was found,” senior Creighton Hardy says.  Garrido, with the aid of his wife, imprisoned Dugard in a squalid, fenced-in tent in the backyard of his home, abusing her physically, emotionally and sexually. Dugard was found when Garrido’s parole officer noticed tents and a soundproof shed in the backyard. Garrido and his wife were sentenced to life in prison and. Dugard ended up falling pregnant with Garrido’s two children, but her recovery has, by all accounts, been remarkable. Dugard was reunited with her mother in 2009, publishing her memoir just two years later. Dugard also won $20 million from the state because of their slacking justice system. Parole officers had visited the Garrido residence countless times and ignored the screaming signs of human beings being held against their will there. Freshman Sydney Torres states, “I am so glad Dugard was awarded all of that money; law enforcement should have found her way sooner.” Now 33, Dugard is the head and founder of the JAYC (short for Jaycee) Foundation, a non-profit that supports people in getting timely support when trying to recover from abductions or other traumatic experiences. She has since been honored for her time and effort by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Dugard lives a normal life to this day, unmarried, with her two daughters who she refuses to bring into the public eye.

In a similarly well-publicized case, in 2002, with her sister sleeping in the same room, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was abducted at knifepoint from her bedroom in Salt Lake City by Brian David Mitchell, a man who worked on her house. Like Dugard’s captors, Mitchell and his wife imprisoned Smart in their own home, along with keeping her captive during many camping trips and excursions. For nine months, Mitchell raped, drugged and otherwise tormented Smart untkidnapping survivors AO.jpg 3il she was rescued when a source recognized her face from the news. Mitchell and his wife were sentenced to life in prison.  Since her rescue, Smart founded the Smart Foundation, which helps find missing children. She has also served as a Mormon missionary in Paris, where she met the Scottish-born Matthew Gilmour; the two married in 2011. These days, Smart spends much time with ABC News as a contributor. She usually speaks of current events, most of which can apply to her abduction and life after. Smart has also spoken out against abstinence-only education, as Smart was taught that not being a virgin on your wedding night was like being “a chewed up piece of gum,” which further traumatized her during her captivity. While addressing an audience at Johns Hopkins University, she explained, “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I am that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum.’” Smart’s self-esteem sunk like the Titanic. “And that is how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value,” Smart stated. She had lost all sense of hope, questioning, “Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued?” Smart felt like her life did not have value anymore. Following the rescue of Castro’s three captives, Smart sent out a positive message to Berry, DeJesus and Knight during an appearance on Good Morning, America, saying, “They should never feel like their worth has been lessened from anything that happened, and I hope that they realize there is so much ahead of them they do not need to hold on to the past.”

Another victim of abduction was 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck. He was abducted while riding his bike in his neighborhood in Missouri by Michael Devlin. He was held captive in Devlin’s apartment, just an hour from Hornbeck’s home in Missouri, where he was repeatedly molested. The only reason law enforcement found Hornbeck was because they were searching for another missing child. He was held for a year. Hornbeck’s parents set up the Shawn Hornbeck Foundation in the wake of his initial disappearance to aid the search for kidnapped children, and now Hornbeck, by all accounts, remains active with the foundation. Hornbeck has remained out of the spotlight, but he has finished high school and attended a community college. The young man reached out to the family of Jaycee Dugard to offer support after she was found in 2009 and made a short PSA for the foundation that same year, speaking out to kids: “There is always someone willing to help, and no matter where you are, be aware of your surroundings.”

In all, history shows that as bad as some cases have been in the past, life can and will return to normal. Dugard, Smart, and Hornbeck have done accomplished incredible feats in response to the horrors of what happened to them, and the public has faith that DeJesus, Berry, and Knight will do the same.

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