10 Kidnapped Children Who Survived Their Abductions
The inside stories of how Jayme Closs, Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard and other brave kidnap victims managed to escape their captors.
Photo By: Jayme Closs [via Barron County Sheriff's Office]
Photo By: Elizabeth Smart [via Getty Images]
Photo By: Jaycee Dugard interviewed by 20/20 [screenshot]
Photo By: Colleen Stan [Investigation Discovery]
Photo By: Kala Brown on Dr. Phil [screenshot]
Photo By: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, from left, introducing Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight during his State of the State address at the Performing Arts Center in Medina, Ohio [via AP Images/Tony Dejak, File]
Photo By: Shawn Hornbeck (left) and Ben Ownby (right) [via AP Images]
Jayme Closs was kidnapped on October 15, 2018, after her parents were shot dead in the family’s home in Barron, Wisconsin.
Following the murders, Closs’s abductor, 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson, duct taped the 13-year-old girl, put her in the trunk of his car and drove her to a remote cabin in Gordon, a small town about 70 miles away.
Patterson, who reportedly targeted Closs and planned out her kidnapping in advance, kept the teenager captive for nearly three months by barricading her under a bed until the day she managed to escape.
On January 10, 2019, Patterson told the girl he was going to leave the cabin for several hours. While he was out, she managed to free herself from under the bed, flee the home, and get help from Jeanne Nutter, a neighbor woman who was out walking her dog.
Patterson pleaded guilty to Closs’ kidnapping and is serving a life sentence.
In a January 2021 statement, Closs’ aunt, Jennifer Naiberg Smith, said her niece was “doing good” and taking life “day by day.”
“She is enjoying dance, school activities and many other things…,” Naiberg Smith noted, adding, “She is surrounded by lots of loved ones.”
On June 4, 2002, Elizabeth Smart was asleep in bed at her family’s Salt Lake City home when Brian David Mitchell broke in and kidnapped her from the room she shared with her sister, Mary Katherine.
Smart’s sister witnessed what happened and four months later was able to recall the voice of the abductor she heard that night belonged to Mitchell, who had worked doing odd jobs for the family.
Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee, held hostage then-14-year-old Smart for nine months, including in a hidden mountain hideout, and “every day had been a continuation of rape, manipulation, and lies,” the kidnapping victim recently wrote on Instagram.
Smart was finally rescued after her captors brought the disguised teen into Sandy, a town near Salt Lake City, where they stopped at a Walmart to steal essential supplies.
“I remember on the way out seeing the board in between doors with flyers and missing child posters, I tried to stop and look at them to see if my poster was still up but my captors became annoyed and snapped at me to stop drawing attention,” Smart wrote on social media.
A short time later, the three were walking down the street when a police car pulled over and several others soon followed suit.
“I was terrified. For nine months nobody has been able to protect me and I had been told if I screamed, ran away, or did anything they didn’t want me to do they would kill me and my family. I believed them,” Smart recalled, explaining that “they had done whatever they wanted without restraint.”
As a result, Smart said, she initially didn’t answer officers' questions, but she felt safe enough to tell them who she was when they separated her from Mitchell and Barzee.
Police then brought her to the station, where she was reunited with her father.
“It wasn’t until I saw my dad and he started hugging me again that I knew I was safe,” she wrote on social media.
Mitchell was found guilty of Smart’s kidnapping and sentenced to life behind bars. Barzee received a sentence of 15 years for her part in the teen’s abduction.
In 1991, Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy, shocked 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard with a stun gun and kidnapped her from a bus stop in South Tahoe, California. For the next 18 years, Dugard was locked up in a makeshift prison of sorts in the backyard of Garrido’s Antioch home.
For more on Jaycee's survival story, stream "The Jaycee Dugard Story" episode on Season 4 of Wicked Attraction on discovery+.
Garrido repeatedly raped Dugard, and at age 14, she gave birth to his daughter. In 1997, she bore a second daughter conceived in captivity.
In August 2009, campus security at the University of California Berkeley stopped Garrido, who was handing out fliers and noted he was acting suspiciously. They contacted his parole officer, who then had him report for questioning.
Garrido brought Dugard and their two girls — ages 14 and 11 at the time — to Concord so he could meet the parole officer he had as the result of a rape and kidnapping conviction from the 1970s. At the parole office, Dugard told authorities who she was and Phillip and Nancy Garrido were arrested.
“I spent some time talking with [Dugard’s two girls], getting them some food, and trying my best to make them feel a little more at ease,” Officer Todd Stroud told The Mercury News. “I then met with Jaycee. I reassured her that her daughters were okay and being taken care of.”
Recalling her time held captive, Dugard said she “didn’t really think too much about the next day, let alone the future.”
“Just getting through the day was what was important to me,” she explained. “When we were rescued, and I started therapy, it was a combo of past, present and future that I thought about. Nowadays, it’s a lot more future.”
Garrido pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping and 13 counts of sexual assault. He was sentenced to 431 years behind bars. His wife, Nancy, received 36 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping and one count of rape by force among other charges.
Colleen Stan was 20 years old in May 1977 when she decided to hitchhike from Eugene, Oregon, to northern California for a friend’s birthday party. Along the way, she got into a car with Cameron Hooker, his wife, Janice, and the couple’s baby.
To learn more about Colleen's story, watch the "Bound in a Box: Colleen Stan" episode on the first season of Dangerous Persuasions, streaming now on discovery+.
During the trip, Hooker pulled the car over, took out a knife and threatened to kill Stan. He then put a wooden box over her head. The couple brought Stan to their home in Red Bluff, California, where they kept her in a box under their bed.
Stan spent the next seven years locked up as much as 23 hours a day in the makeshift coffin. Whenever Stan was freed, she was brutally raped and assaulted.
During her captivity, Hooker told Stan he belonged to “The Company,” an organization he said would track her down and murder her if she ever managed to get away.
Finally, in August 1984, Hooker’s wife, Janice, helped Stan escape. She later took a deal for immunity in exchange for testifying against her husband.
“Your life is just kinda in limbo when you’re in captivity, and once you get that freedom back and you have that choice again, it’s just like the gates open,” Stan told People in 2016. “And you just run for it.”
Hooker was convicted of sexual assault and kidnapping and received a 104-year sentence.
For more on the story behind this terrifying ordeal, stream Serial Killer: Devil Unchained on discovery+.
“We were standing there [outside by the garage], and I look up and I didn’t realize what was going on at the time,” Brown said in an interview on Dr. Phil. “He walked out and he had the gun in his hand, and he pretty much shot Charlie before he ever even made it completely out the door.”
“And I just — I got lost, I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there,” she said.
Kohlhepp chained Brown inside a storage container, where he kept her until she was rescued around two months later.
“I always feel like I should have known better, but there was really no way I could’ve,” Brown said about being abducted by Kohlhepp.
Police later recovered multiple bodies on Kohlhepp’s 100-acre property and he eventually pleaded guilty to committing seven murders over 13 years. He is serving seven life sentences plus 60 years for the killings.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight
In 2002, Ariel Castro kidnapped Michelle Knight, then 21, in Ohio. Amanda Berry, 16, went missing in April 2003, followed a year later by Gina DeJesus, who was 14 at the time.
The three each would be imprisoned in the basement of Castro’s Cleveland home for at least a decade, where they endured constant rape and abuse.
For more on this heartbreaking story, watch the "Edge of Fourteen" episode on Season 9 of Disappeared, streaming now on discovery+.
While imprisoned, Berry gave birth to Castro’s daughter while Lee said she miscarried five times.
In 2013, Berry managed to escape and phone 911. “Help me. I’m Amanda Berry,” she told an emergency dispatcher. “I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”
Police descended on former school bus driver Castro’s property, rescuing Knight, DeJesus and Berry’s then-6-year-old girl.
A judge sentenced Castro to life plus 1,000 years behind bars in August 2013, but the kidnapper died by suicide in prison not long after sentencing.
Since surviving the ordeal, Berry has gone on to advocate for missing people and she urges the public to pay attention. “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,” she told People the year she got back her freedom, explaining, “It’s kind of the small things that makes a big difference.”
Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby
On January 8, 2007, Ben Ownby was abducted after he was dropped off at his bus stop and was walking to his home in Beaufort, Missouri.
At the time, Mitchell Hults — Ownby’s classmate and had been with the 13-year-old boy minutes before he disappeared — was able to provide police with a description of a white Nissan pickup truck he saw speeding away from the area.
Because of Hults’ detailed recollection of what the vehicle looked like, authorities were able to track down Ownby four days later at the apartment of Michael Devlin, a pizzeria manager. At Devlin’s home, investigators also discovered 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck, who had gone missing in October 2002 while riding his bike.
Develin was sentenced to 74 life sentences.
To find out how investigators captured their abductor, watch the "Missing in Missouri" episode on Season 1 of FBI: Criminal Pursuit, streaming now on discovery+.