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“These individuals need the opportunity to heal and connect back into the world,” she said Tuesday in a media statement about the new case. “This isn’t who they are. It is only what happened to them.” It’s only what happened to Dugard, too, along with others like Elizabeth Smart and Natascha Kampusch, whose stories of resilience have been followed by the public for years. What they’ve managed to do with their lives since being rescued, though, is oftentimes just as incredible.
Dugard was just 11 years old when, on her way to school in South Lake Tahoe, CA, in 1991, she was shot with a stun gun and abducted by Phillip Garrudo. He, with the aid of his wife, imprisoned her in a squalid, fenced-in tent in the backyard of his home, abusing her physically, emotionally and sexually. She had two of his daughters, the first when she was just 14.
But her recovery has, by all accounts, been remarkable: Dugard was reunited with her mother in 2009, publishing her memoir just two years later. She won a $20 million payout from the state of California for its missteps in her recovery. Now 33, she’s the head and founder of the JAYC Foundation, a non-profit that supports people in getting timely support when trying to recover from abductions or other traumatic experiences. She was honored for her service just this week by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
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In a similarly well-publicized case, 14-year-old Smart was abducted at knifepoint by Brian David Mitchell from her bedroom in Salt Lake City in 2002, as her sister watched. Mitchell proceeded to take her as a prisoner in his home, aided by his wife Wanda Barzee. For the next nine months he raped, drugged and otherwise tormented Smart until her rescue. In the years since being freed, the young woman has been a high achiever, founding the Elizabeth Smart Foundation to prevent crimes against children and becoming a leading advocate for missing persons. She’s also served as a Mormon missionary in Paris, where she met the Scottish-born Matthew Gilmour; the two married in 2011.
After studying music at Brigham Young University, Smart became a contributor at ABC News. Just this week, she spoke out against abstinence-only education while addressing an audience at Johns Hopkins University. She recalled being taught that not being a virgin on your wedding night was like being a chewed piece of gum. During her captivity, she explained, “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.’ And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.” On Tuesday, she 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’s so much ahead of them they don’t need to hold on to the past."
Eleven-year-old Hornbeck went missing from 2002 to 2007 after being abducted, while out on a bike ride, by pedophile Michael Devlin. He was held captive in Devlin’s apartment, just an hour from Hornbeck’s home in Missouri, where he was repeatedly molested. Hornbeck was found and rescued only when a police search for another missing boy, Ben Ownby, led them there. His 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.
Though he has largely stayed out of the public eye, it’s been reported that he graduated high school early and attended 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’s always someone willing to help, and no matter where you are, be aware of your surroundings.”
Another nation-transfixing story, back in 1992, was that of little Katie Beers, a missing 10-year-old Long Island girl. Neighbor John Esposito abducted her and trapped her in an underground bunker, where he sexually abused for a period of 17 days. Beers had been psychologically prepared to survive the ordeal, she explained long after her rescue, as she’d already been living a life of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her godmother’s husband, Sal Inghilleri. After Esposito turned himself in, Beers was placed with a loving foster family in East Hampton.
She eventually earned a business degree, and, now 30, lives with her husband and children in rural Pennsylvania, where she works in insurance sales. Earlier this year, she published a memoir about her story, “Buried Memories: Katie Beers’ Story,” which was co-written with reporter Carolyn Gusoff. “My life is exactly what I always wanted,” she said in a February interview on “20/20.” “Two parents who love me, siblings who are amazing, and a husband and two kids.”
In the notorious case of Elisabeth Fritzl, the young woman was confined to a secret bunker by her own father, Josef Fritzl, for 24 years. He beat her, starved her, and raped her an estimated 3,000 times; she was repeatedly impregnated and birthed seven children (one of whom died) alone in her cell; she was finally rescued in 2008 when Josef allowed one of her children, who was gravely ill, to go to the hospital.
Though little has been revealed about Fritzl’s life since her escape, it’s been reported that, in 2009, she fell in love with her family’s bodyguard Thomas Wagner, 23 years her junior. She and her children, as of 2010, were living in a tiny Austrian hamlet kept under tight surveillance and security. She’s now 46.
Another Austrian case began in Vienna, in 1998, when 10-year-old Natascha Kampusch was abducted by Wolfgang Priklopil. He held her as his prisoner in a 54-square-foot underground bunker, where she was raped and starved, until she grabbed a rare chance to flee in 2006. Her captor threw himself in front of a train that same day rather than be caught, and Kampusch, who has said she sympathized with him, cried upon hearing the news.
She wrote a memoir about her experience in 2010, “3,096 Days,” and a film version was released in German-language theaters in March. Other stints for the now-25-year-old have included having her own Austrian talk show (though it only ran for three episodes), and briefly being the face of PETA, during which time she said, “The animals would, if they could, flee as I did, because a life in captivity is a life full of deprivation.” She now owns the house in which she was imprisoned, as a way to keep it from becoming a morbid museum, she's said.
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