9 Women Who Inspire Us With Their Drives To Survive

We all wonder how we'd react to being kidnapped or attacked, and thankfully, most of us will never find out. But we can imagine the horror these women faced and endured and take inspiration from their jaw-dropping courage to survive and come out the other side of their nightmares.

March 08, 2019
By: Catherine Townsend

Photo By: Veneta Rizvic/KOMU [Wikimedia Commons]

Photo By: Michelle Knight [AP Photo/Tony Dejak]

Photo By: Gina DeJesus [AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File]

Photo By: Amanda Berry [AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File]

Photo By: Terra Newell [Rich Fury/Getty Images]

Photo By: Jayme Closs [Barron County Sheriff]

Photo By: Jasmine Block [Alexandria Police Department]

Photo By: Colleen Stan [Investigation Discovery]

Photo By: Jaycee Dugard [Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic/Getty Images]

Elizabeth Smart

On June 4, 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was in bed at her Salt Lake City home when Brian David Mitchell came in through a bedroom window and abducted her. He and his wife, Wanda Barzee, held Smart in captivity for nine months. She was raped repeatedly by Mitchell with Barzee’s assistance, and was forced to “marry” Mitchell.

Smart's case made national headlines, and Mitchell and Smart were eventually found in Sandy, Utah, after witnesses recognized them from an episode of America's Most Wanted.

Mitchell was convicted on kidnapping charges and sentenced to life in prison in 2010. Barzee was sentenced to 15 years behind bars — and is now living free.

Today, Smart is a motivational speaker, author, child-safety activist and contributor to ABC News. She married Matthew Gilmour, and the couple have three children. She has written two books and regularly uses her social-media platforms to speak out and advocate for victim’s rights.

When Barzee was released from prison, Smart spoke out against the decision.

She also stated that she was "outraged" when it was revealed in January that Barzee, 73, was living near an elementary school in Park City, Utah.

“To some people, I recognize I probably always will be that girl that was kidnapped,” Smart has said. But she told Arizona Central: “When I look in the mirror, I also see a mother and a wife, and someone I am proud to be. I see an advocate. I see a survivor.”

Read more: AZCentral.com

Michelle Knight

Michelle Knight was 21 years old when she was kidnapped in 2002 by Ariel Castro.

She became the first of Castro’s victims – and was held captive for 11 years in his Cleveland “house of horrors” along with fellow victims Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus.

Castro raped her repeatedly. She told police that she became pregnant five times with his children, and that each time he beat her so badly that she miscarried.

On May 6, 2013, Berry managed to escape from the residence on Seymour Avenue, and to summon help for DeJesus and Knight. Since then, Knight has built a new life, written memoirs, and gotten married.

Knight says she no longer has nightmares about Castro, who hanged himself in prison not long after his arrest. “I have found joy in my life,” Knight, who has changed her name to Lily Rose Lee, recently said on Today.

She told NBC News that after years forced to live in darkness, the first time she was able to sit outside and feel the sun "it was like God was shining a big light on me."

Read more: Today

Gina DeJesus

Michelle Knight was not the only “house of horrors” survivor to rebuild her life following the horrific ordeal with Ariel Castro: Gina DeJesus is now living with her family in a Cleveland suburb and working with the Northeast Ohio Amber Alert Committee.

People reported that DeJesus, along with her cousin Sylvia Colon, have also launched their own nonprofit group for missing and exploited children and adults. The women chose a space on Seymore Avenue — the same street where the "house of horrors" sat.

DeJesus told WKYC that what makes her happiest is “hanging out with my mom and dad and family.” She has also cowritten a memoir with Amanda Berry – and revealed that she is planting a garden with her mother and plans to learn to skydive.

Read more: WKYC

Amanda Berry

Amanda Berry is another survivor of the horrific Cleveland “house of horrors,” where she was imprisoned by Ariel Castro.

Today, Berry helps find missing people in Northeast Ohio. She hosts a 30-second daily news segment on Cleveland’s Fox 8 news station in which she shows photos of those who have vanished.

Berry says that Castro used to show her footage of news reports about her being missing — and she wants to give people who may have been abducted hope.

“I hope we get [the faces of] missing people out there and get people looking at them a second time, a third time, and looking at their name,” Berry told People.

Berry is also focused on raising the daughter she gave birth to while in captivity.

Read more: News 5 Cleveland

Terra Newell

When Debra Newell started dating dashing “doctor” John Meehan, her daughter Terra immediately thought that her mom’s new boyfriend was creepy.

Debra married Meehan two months later. But their relationship, which was the subject of the hit true crime podcast Dirty John, would soon disintegrate once Debra discovered that Meehan was a con artist.

He had an extensive criminal background that included charges for allegedly pulling a gun on a police officer, stealing drugs from terminally ill patients, and multiple restraining orders against women.

Debra ended the relationship – but Meehan refused to walk away. Instead, he turned his rage on Terra, attacking her in the parking lot of her apartment building with a hunting knife that he had hidden in a Del Taco bag.

But Terra, who was obsessed with learning survival tips from watching the characters on AMC’s The Walking Dead kill zombies, fought back.

"He was trying to push me into the car, like he was trying to push me into the direction he actually had the trunk wide open," Terra told Dateline. "I tried to get away from him, I was screaming. He put his hand over my mouth and I bit as hard as I could." She managed to grab the knife from Meehan and stabbed him – killing him in self-defense.

Terra told Access Hollywood that she suffers from PTSD from the incident and is attending therapy to help her cope with the aftermath of the fight. She said that she thinks about the incident “every day” but that the thoughts no longer upset her.

Read more: Cosmopolitan

Jayme Closs

In the early morning hours of Monday, October 15, 2018, 13-year-old Jayme Closs was kidnapped from her home in Barron, Wisconsin.

Her alleged abductor, Jake Thomas Patterson, pulled out a shotgun and brutally murdered her parents James and Denise Closs — and Jayme witnessed her mother’s death. He then held Closs captive and terrorized her for 88 days.

Jayme told police that she woke her parents up on the night she was kidnapped after hearing a strange call pulled into the driveway. She described how she hid with her mother, terrified, while her father went to the door. She and her mother then heard the gunshot that killed her father.

He then allegedly burst into the bathroom where her mother had her arms around Jayme in the bathtub, pulled them apart, put tape around her head and fatally shot her mother in the head.

Police responded to a 911 call at the scene and found the bodies of Jayme's parents. They immediately issued an AMBER Alert and proclaimed the teen “missing and endangered.”

Meanwhile, Patterson had allegedly taken Jayme to a cabin 70 miles away in Gordon. Eighty-eight days later, she was able to escape and ran into a woman, Jeanne Nutter, who was walking her dog. Nutter took Closs to a neighbor's house to contact police.

Patterson was arrested and charged with the murders of Jayme’s parents.

He later allegedly admitted to investigators that he became fixated on Jayme after seeing her get off a school bus outside the family residence — and "knew that she was the girl he wanted to take.”

Patterson’s parents described him as a loner who liked to play computer games, and said that they were shocked by his arrest.

After her escape, Elizabeth Smart described Jayme Closs as a “hero.”

Read more: People

Jasmine Block

Fifteen-year-old Jasmine Block defied the odds when she swam across a lake to escape her kidnapper after he held her in captivity for 29 days.

Thomas Barker, a family acquaintance, kidnapped the girl from her home in Alexandria, Minnesota.

According to police, Barker told Jasmine that his son, who was a friend of hers, was having problems. According to the criminal complaint, he convinced her to help him — and to leave her home behind.

Prosecutors say Barker drove the girl to his mobile home in Carlos, where he pulled out a gun, restrained her, and sexually assaulted her. Barker, who has cerebral palsy, then put her in a bathtub while she was restrained with zip ties “and she believes that he tried to drown her.”

In a separate incident, Block claimed that Barker and his friend Joshua Holby, 31, attempted to stuff her inside a duffel bag in the bathtub – but she stuck her head out of a hole.

She also described other methods of torture – including the time they slipped rope around her neck and told her to stand on a bucket, according to the complaint.

Eventually, Jasmine was able to escape “because they were gone,” Jasmine told WCCO. “They said it would be about an hour until they got back.” Jasmine decided to make a run for it. She jumped into the lake, leaving behind her pants and shoes. Eventually, she managed to flag down a farmer for help.

Despite her young age, Jasmine made the brave decision to speak out about her ordeal in the hope she could help others, and to give thanks to the community.

"Sometimes [I feel] good,” Jasmine told Fox 9. “Sometimes not great. Like sometimes, I have problems sleeping because I close my eyes and I see their faces. I'm scared to sleep because I might have bad nightmares."

Sarah Block, Jasmine’s mother, said the teen is "probably the strongest person I have ever known."

Read more: Fox 9, kxra's Voice of Alexandria

Colleen Stan

In 1977, Colleen Stan was a 20-year-old hitchhiker making her way from her home in Eugene, Oregon, to northern California to attend a birthday party.

But her fate was sealed when she got into a car with 23-year-old Cameron Hooker, his wife Janice, and their baby.

Hooker put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her, then bound and gagged her. The family took Stan home with them and locked her in a coffin-like box. Stan was kept in the box 23 hours a day for the next seven years – and only taken out to be raped and tortured.

The couple told her that a group called “the Company” would kill her if she escaped. Stan was terrified, and by her own admission became completely brainwashed. The couple allowed her to leave the home, but she returned to climb into the box every night out of fear.

In 1983, they even allowed Stan to get a job as a hotel maid, confident she’d always return to her confinement. But one day she called Hooker to say she was not coming back.

He was eventually sentenced to 104 years in prison.

Despite her ordeal, Stan has said that she chooses to maintain a positive attitude. She recently spoke out about her time in captivity, saying “once you get that freedom back and you have that choice again, it’s just like the gates open.”

Read more: People

Jaycee Dugard

On June 10, 1991, 11-year-old Jaycee Duggard was kidnapped in Meyers, California, while walking from her home to her school bus stop.

Her stepfather, Carl Probyn, witnessed her kidnapping and chased the kidnappers on his mountain bike, but they managed to evade him.

Duggard had apparently vanished without a trace. She did not resurface until 2009, when Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy Garrido, were arrested and charged with kidnapping, imprisonment, and sexual assault in relation to Duggard's abduction.

Police discovered that Duggard had been kept in concealed tents and makeshift sheds in the back of the Garridos' house for 18 years.

During such time, Duggard had two daughters. In 2011, Garrido was sentenced to 431 years to life imprisonment. Nancy was sentenced to 36 years to life.

In 2010, the State of California arrived at a $20 million settlement with the Duggard family. Since then, Duggard has written two books, A Stolen Life and Freedom: My Book of Firsts.

She has stated that she prefers to keep her location private and to focus on her children.

Read more: The Sacramento Bee