'Never give up hope': 5 missing child stories with happy endings

'Never give up hope': 5 missing child stories with happy endings

Credit: KTVB

Elizabeth Smart

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by Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

KTVB.COM

Posted on May 7, 2013 at 1:44 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 24 at 6:18 AM

Hundreds of thousands of children are reported missing each year according to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children — although that figure includes vast numbers of kids who briefly run away, are abandoned or are taken by relatives.

The center says a far smaller number, about 115 a year, are victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping, meaning they are abducted by a stranger or an acquaintance, taken far from home and held with the intent to keep them for good.

That includes three women who were reported missing a decade ago in Cleveland and found Monday in a house where police said they had been held against their will by three brothers.

It also includes Jaycee Dugard, who said Tuesday of the Cleveland case: “The human spirit is incredibly resilient.” The story proves, she said, that “we should never give up hope.”

Here are five more of those stories with happy endings — complicated and scarring, but culminating in freedom.

Jaycee Dugard: Something ‘made her a survivor’

Jaycee Lee Dugard, reported missing in 1991. Her story is perhaps the most famous of its kind: Dugard was abducted from a California bus stop in 1991, when she was 11. She told authorities that her captor used a stun gun to take her.

Eighteen years later, in August 2009, a man named Phillip Garrido showed up at the University of California at Berkeley with two girls and asked for a permit to hold a religious event. Two campus police officers thought something didn’t look right.

Garrido turned out to be a paroled sex offender, and the girls turned out to be children he had fathered with Dugard — whom he had held for a generation, locked in a backyard shed and raped over and over.

Garrido was sentenced to 431 years in prison. His wife, Nancy, got 36 years to life. Dugard wrote in a 2011 memoir, “A Stolen Life,” that she kept from going crazy in part by taking companionship from cats and making up stories in her head.

“Something inside that frightened little girl made her a survivor,” she wrote, “and she has made me the person I am today.”

Elizabeth Smart: ‘Indescribable fear’

Elizabeth Smart (pictured above) was 14 when she was kidnapped at knifepoint in June 2002 from her parents’ home in Salt Lake City. She was chained, sexually abused and forced to wander from town to town for nine months.

She was rescued in March 2003, days after her case was featured on “America’s Most Wanted,” when passersby spotted her outside a Walmart with Brian David Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee. Only at the police station did she take off the gray wig and sunglasses she had been forced to wear as a disguise.

Mitchell is serving a life sentence, his wife 15 years. Smart has since worked as a television commentator and an activist for abused children. She got married last year to a man she met on a Mormon mission in France.

She told jurors in 2010, at Mitchell’s trial, that she remembered the feeling of a cold knife at her neck when Mitchell took her — telling her to come with him or he would kill her and her family.

“I thought I was having a nightmare,” she said. “It was just indescribable fear.”

Shawn Hornbeck: ‘My parents will always look for me’

Hornbeck was last spotted in October 2002, riding his bike in Richwoods, Mo. Four years later, police were searching a suburban St. Louis home for another missing boy and made a stunning discovery — not just that missing boy but Hornbeck, too.

Investigators said the abductor, Michael Devlin, put Hornbeck through hell for the first month of captivity, tying him to a futon and duct-taping his mouth. Hornbeck later said there was not a day in those four years when he didn’t think Devlin would kill him.

Devlin is serving a life sentence. Hornbeck later started a foundation to help other kids who have been abducted. “What really made me hold on strong was just knowing that my parents will always look for me,” Hornbeck told TODAY in 2010, “just because I’ve always had just one of the best connections a kid could have with his parents.”

Carlina White: ‘I’ve lost 23 years of being with my daughter’

Carlina White solved her own kidnapping.

She was three weeks old when she was kidnapped from the 17th floor of a Manhattan hospital in 1987. She grew up wondering why she did not look like Ann Pettway, the woman who was supposed to be her mother.

White said she became pregnant as a teenager and asked Pettway for a copy of her birth certificate. Pettway said she didn’t have one because she had been given away as a baby by a drug addict.

Years later, in 2010, White was living in Atlanta with her daughter and clicked on the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. There she found her own baby pictures.

Pettway was sentenced last summer to 12 years in prison. Her true mother, Joy White, said at the time that she and Carlina now speak every day. Joy White said she kept a baby photo by her bed for 23 years.

“I’ve lost 23 years of being with my daughter,” she said.

Katie Beers: ‘There is a road to recovery’

She sang “Happy Birthday” to herself in captivity.

Beers turned 10 during her kidnapping, which attracted nationwide attention in 1993. While she was missing, revelations surfaced that she had been sexually assaulted for years by the husband of her godmother.

But it was a family acquaintance, John Esposito, who admitted to detectives that he had kidnapped the girl and held her in a Long Island dungeon. Beers later said that Esposito had placed a tape recorder there, which picked her up singing the song.

Esposito is serving 15 years to life. Beers wrote that she still can’t stand two staples of her imprisonment: chocolate dinner mints and the Whitney Houston song “I Will Always Love You,” which was playing constantly on MTV and VH1 at the time.

Beers is now married with two children, although she has declined to say where she is or what her married name is. She wrote in the book, “Buried Memories,” that the abduction helped her overcome the years of abuse.

“I want to be able to help people who might not know where to turn,” she told The Associated Press earlier this year. “To see that there is a road to recovery.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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