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Boise's Leading Local News: Weather, Traffic, Sports and more | Boise, Idaho | KTVB.com

Shasta Groene shares her journey as a survivor

None of us will ever forget the gruesome murder and a father's agonizing plea.

BOISE, Idaho — None of us will ever forget the gruesome murder and a father's agonizing plea.

In May of 2005, Brenda Groene, her boyfriend Mark McKenzie and her son Slade were brutally killed in a rural home in North Idaho.

The two youngest Groene children, Dylan and Shasta were kidnapped, and sexually assaulted. No one knew they were being held captive in this remote campsite in the Lolo National Forest in Montana.

Steve Groene pleaded on television for his children's abductor to release them safely.

Incredibly, 6 weeks later in July, 8-year-old Shasta Groene was spotted at the Denny's restaurant in Couer D' Alene with convicted sex offender Joseph Duncan.

The overwhelming joy of Shasta's rescue was tempered by the news that her brother 9-year-old Dylan had been murdered.

Duncan was sentenced to death and is currently in the appeals process.

Ten years have passed, but Shasta Groene is someone the people of Idaho have always remembered.

She's now 19, and lives right here in the Treasure Valley. She is a survivor. 

"I think that things that happen like that you can't really forget about them. I think that the images will always be vivid in your mind... or I know that they are in my mind." 

Shasta admits her road has been rocky.

"I feel like I'm doing pretty good," she said. "But, I do have bouts of depression, I have PTSD and bipolar disorder."  

She fell into drugs at 12 years old. 

"That's when I started smoking marijuana and drinking," she said. It actually made me feel really good because I didn't have to focus on all the stuff that was going on in my life at that point. I mean, there was still court stuff going on with Joseph Duncan and counseling stuff I had to do. When I was 14, that was my first time ever doing meth, and for four years after that, it was meth. Pretty much anything I could get my hands on that made me feel like a different person I would do."

Two years ago, a judge sent Shasta to the Saint Anthony Juvenile Correctional Center in Eastern Idaho. That's where she says her path to healing truly began. After over a year there, she was clean and sober and ready to start a new chapter - right here in our community. She now lives in Nampa. 

"I actually came to a step down program that's in the Treasure Valley area, and was there for four or five months and they helped me get on my feet, get a place...and just work on my sobriety," she said. "It seems a lot of people here, see me and they recognize me, but they're like let's let her live her life."

Shasta has now been sober for two years, and she's expecting a baby boy in March - a child she calls her miracle. She says Joseph Duncan didn't steal her ability to have a family.

"I guess for a long time I always had this feeling that I couldn't have kids," she said. "[Duncan] stole my innocence, he stole my family from me, but he's not going to steal the fact that I can bring children into this world, and that makes me very happy."

Shasta says looking back on her kidnapping, she realizes she survived for a reason. 

"I think it's just kind of I know that I lived for a reason, I know there's a reason I am on this planet still and I know I'm here to help other people," she said.

Shasta says she wants to go to college, and one day become a counselor. 

"I've had a lot of counselors that don't have a lot of experience with either a troubled kid or kids who have gone through trauma.They are very inexperienced with that... so I want to be one of those experienced counselors who have been through a lot," she said. "I just feel like I could really help a lot of people." 

She also wants to write a book to inspire other survivors. Shasta says Joseph Duncan may be a part of her past, but he won't be a part of her future.  

"He doesn't define my life anymore. I'm not going to be victimized by someone who has already done so much in my life." 

With her new baby boy on the way, her mom and her brothers are always on her mind. 

"If I ever think about the bad memories of the things I have seen, it does kind of push them away," she said. "But I keep them close, I pray. Sometimes I talk to them when I'm having a hard time or I just think about their faces a lot. I have dreams about my mom a lot so I think that's what keeps her close... they're always close." 

A trust fund set up for Shasta right after she was rescued has been used for housing, therapy and counseling, and other expenses through the years. It's dwindling, and sometimes, money can be a struggle

There are so many people out there who we know care, and may want to reach out and help Shasta achieve those goals. There are several ways to do that. You can donate to her Go Fund Me account, visit her baby registry, donate to a tax deductible college fund set up by BSU (use code X42-X3S), or donate directly to her trust via mail to the Windermere Foundation at 1000 Northwest Blvd., Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814. Checks should be made payable to WRE Windermere Foundation/Shasta.

KTVB will air a half hour special dedicated to Shasta Groene Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

 

Here's transcription from portions of the interview:

Shasta: I do remember that feeling of I'm safe. I was happy to be in a safe place, but still there was that part of me that was like what if this happens again.

Maggie: Do you remember when you were spotted, do you remember that moment? What happened?

Shasta: Well, the cop came up to us and he asked me what my name was, and I remember feeling really scared to say anything. I remember looking at Joseph Duncan almost for like permission to answer the question, I was really scared.

Maggie: Did he give you that permission?

Shasta: When I looked over at him he kind of nodded his head like yeah, go ahead.

Maggie: Do you think he wanted you to be rescued?

Shasta: Sometimes I do think about it, and sometimes I don't know if he would necessarily be that nice to do that for me. But at the same time I think he brought me to so many public places for a reason. I don't know what was going through his head.

Maggie: What were those next few months like with your dad, did you get the help you needed?

Shasta: I remember not being in school for a while, I remember not being able to watch TV because my dad wanted to protect me from what was on there. He didn't want me to have to see Duncan again. I do remember everyone wanted to love on me and just be there with me. I think it was just a time for my family to get back to - not normal because things could never be normal after that - but get back into a motion of we need to move on with our lives and start somewhere.

Maggie: Did you see a counselor, did you get to talk about it?

Shasta: I was seeing a counselor that I really, really loved. But that came to an end when she was telling people outside of our sessions what was going on in our sessions. I went to another person and then after that, I was so tired of talking about it I was so tired of having to relive it, I just wanted to focus mainly on what the rest of my life was going to be. I hated looking back on my past.

Maggie: Did you get the support that you think you needed - looking back?

Shasta: Yeah, I definitely do (think that) and if it wasn't something that my family could do for me, my family would reach out and other people would step in and help us. There wasn't ever a time that I was ever really alone, and that made me feel better just being around other people and feeling that I had that sense of security.

Maggie: After you were rescued, was there a debriefing time?

Shasta: The night that they had found me they took me to a back room. I was sitting on a chair and they were just asking me questions. I remember closing my eyes and saying "I'm thinking" but really I was sleeping, I was super tired and just exhausted - I didn't really want to answer the questions I just wanted to sleep. I do remember that whole entire interview I did with the cops.

Maggie: Do you remember it, is it still vivid... or I think people are hoping - I hope she's forgotten a lot of that.

Shasta: I think that things that happen like that you can't really forget about them. I think that the images will always be vivid in your mind, or I know that they are in my mind. I remember a lot of little details still.

Maggie: Are you able to push those memories away?

Shasta: I could push them away, but a lot of the times I don't like to push them away. I guess I feel if I were to push them away, it would be like avoiding what had happened to me, and I'm one of those people who like to face reality and say yes, that did happen to me. It's just a matter of working through it.

Maggie: You did fall into drugs, correct? Was it a symptom of what happened, was it a way to stuff it away?

Shasta: I think it was more I just wanted to be a normal teenage girl. It was when I started middle school is when things started to slip. That's when I started smoking marijuana and drinking. It actually made me feel really good because I didn't have to focus on all the stuff that was going on in my life at that point. I mean there was still court stuff going on with Joseph Duncan and counseling stuff I had to do. I didn't feel good about myself or the person that I was. I think that all kind of pushed me over the edge a little bit.

Maggie: How serious did the drugs get? Was it just marijuana and alcohol?

Shasta: NO, when I was 14 that was my first time ever doing meth, and for four years after that...it was meth. I experienced other drugs too. Acid, mushrooms, pretty much anything I could get my hands on that made me feel like a different person, I would do.

Maggie: How did you finally get help or realize you needed help?

Shasta: It did take me going to a juvenile detention center (Saint Anthony Juvenile Correctional Facility) to get that help - the judge was very honest with me. She was like I'm going to send you to a correctional facility and you get out when you change your life. I went and I was there for over a year and actually got some really good help. I met a lot of girls who had been through what I had, or had similar drug experiences, and were able to help me see that my life didn't have to be that.

Maggie: How did you wind up here in the Treasure Valley?

Shasta: I actually came to a step down program that's in the Treasure Valley area, and was there for four or five months and they helped me get on my feet, get a place...and just work on my sobriety.
It seems a lot of people here, see me and they recognize me but they're like, let's let her live her life.

Maggie: Tell us about this baby.

Shasta: On Saturday, I'll be 26 weeks pregnant with my son, his name is Lorenzo. I don't know, it's just completely different. I feel like my whole mindset has changed I'm very focused on my son and bringing him into a good environment. Every time I make a decision, I think how is this going to impact my family. I think that mother instinct is already kicking in.

Maggie: Has the pregnancy been tough? 

Shasta: The start and middle of my second trimester has been very bumpy. Sometimes stress gets in the way of your body feeling normal and stuff like that. But all my doctor appointments have been good, they say he's healthy and growing like he should.

Maggie: So tell us what this baby means to you, I know it's a very special thing in your life... it's new hope, new life.

Shasta: I want him to know you know as he gets older what happened with me and just the struggle with that. I want to teach him right with his friends and I want him to always stay on the right track, you know I want him to know that education is very important because I don't know where I'd be today if I hadn't finished high school. I hope he can learn from my mistakes and the good things that I have done. When I was younger, I did have a pretty hard life, you know money was a very big issue. I don't ever want my son to struggle like that, I don't want the power to run out, I want to make sure that he's taken care of.

Maggie: It's got to be a struggle to be this young and have this much responsibility, do you feel like financially it's a struggle sometimes?

Shasta: Yeah sometimes. It's like what are we going to do when we need this? We always have what we need, but sometimes it's a little scary when you have a baby on the way and you still need so much stuff for him.

Maggie: Let's talk about your plans for the future. You have an interest in being a counselor one day and inspiring others and helping them?

Shasta: I've had a lot of counselors that don't have a lot of experience with either a troubled kid or kids who have gone through trauma. They are very inexperienced with that... so I want to be one of those experienced counselors who have been through a lot. I just feel like I could really help a lot of people.

Maggie: I know it's hard to imagine, but there were thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people worried about you... how are you today, how are you doing?

Shasta: I feel like I'm doing pretty good. I do have bouts of depression, I have PTSD and bipolar disorder. I have a lot of stuff going on in my life so sometimes when things get stressful, it's very stressful. Pregnancy does not make it any easier... the emotional roller coasters you go through. Emotionally I'm doing pretty well for the things I have been through and where I could be.

(To know people care…)

Shasta: It actually feels really good. It helps restore the faith that I have in others, I used to see everyone - that you are just here for bad intentions. That's what I thought about everybody but these past couple of years, I see it in a whole different way.

Maggie: You've had a lot of healing...

Shasta: Yeah, I have.

Maggie: I know you have a lot of wonderful memories of your family before this incident, I'm sure. Do you have a lot of those with you?

Shasta: I do remember my mom loved music. She loved listening to music and doing karaoke and singing, and I think that's carried on with me. We would just dance around the living room. She always wanted to cook and have food on the table when everyone was home, and we could eat as a family. I helped her cook a lot.

Maggie: What about Dylan, do you have a lot of good memories of your childhood together?

Shasta: Yeah, me and Dylan were only 16 months apart. We were very very, very close. We loved riding bikes, or being on a scooter, or going to the store with my mom. Me and him were just very attached to my mom. I think that's why me and him were so close, we shared that love for our mom.

Maggie: Of course we can't leave out Slade.

Shasta: Oh no.

Maggie: What memories do you have of him?

Shasta: I remember we used to butt heads so much. He always wanted to do things with our older brothers, and we always wanted him to do stuff with us. I do remember a lot about him. That hits my heart. I do wish that me and him had been a bit closer than we were.

Maggie: What about your mom's boyfriend, Mark McKenzie?

Shasta: We were close to Mark, he would take us to go craw dadding and fishing and stuff like that. He made it a point to tell us you know I'm not your dad, I'm not going to step in and take your dad's place but I'm here for support. I love your mom and I'm here to support you guys as a family.

Maggie: How do you keep them close, how do you keep your mom close, your brothers close?

Shasta: If I ever think about the bad memories of the things I have seen, it does kind of push them away... but I keep them, close, I pray. I pray sometimes. I talk to them when I'm having a hard time. I talk to them in my head sometimes or I just think about their faces a lot. I have dreams about my mom a lot so I think that's what keeps her close, and I do have that tattoo of my mom and I feel like she's always with me.

Maggie: What do you want baby Lorenzo to know about your family?

Shasta: I want him to know that he has a grandma in heaven that watches him and just wants the best for him, and I want him to know that he has guardian angels that are always going to constantly be looking over him and being there for him.

Maggie: Let's talk about Joseph Duncan for a moment. Do you know where the process is now with his sentencing? Do you keep up with that the court system?

Shasta: I just don't really follow the court thing a whole lot. Just because, when I was younger it was just something that we were very set on - me not testifying - and my dad never told me what was going on with the court because he wanted me to be able to move on with my life. He's asked for appeals, I know that, I know he was sentenced to the death penalty, and I don't know where that stands. I don't know if that's ever going to be carried out.

Maggie: Are you glad you didn't testify as a little girl? Or, do you wish you had been able to? Do you think it would have made a difference? .

Shasta: I definitely feel that if I had things would be more kicked into gear. I think it would have made a difference if they had heard it from the source. I think back - then it would have made a difference, but I'm glad that I hadn't, you know what I mean, I'm glad I didn't have to get up there and face him.

Maggie: What do you think is the right punishment for him? Rotting in prison, the death penalty, what does Shasta want to see?

Shasta: I agree with the death penalty, but I wish it was more like the older days death penalties. I know two that wrongs don't make a right but I feel he should be able to feel what he put others through.

Maggie: Your resilience, your strength - coming out of this I think a lot of people would say - how can anyone get through that, how can anyone survive that? You've probably heard that several times... how do you do it, how have you done it?

Shasta: I think it's just kind of, I know that I lived for a reason, I know there's a reason I am on this planet still, and I know I'm here to help other people. Whenever I feel like giving up... especially now - I feel like if I give up I have my son there and he can't see me give up and I can't let that happen. I've had a lot of people in my life give up and walk out - and go down a not so good road and it hurt me inside to see that. I don't want my son to ever hurt in that way of knowing that his mom gave up or that she can't be strong anymore. Definitely the fact that I'm having a baby just pushes me to do better. If there's anyone out there in the world who is being abused and they hear that I'm giving up, what would that do for them?

Maggie: Shasta, you are the ultimate survivor, you really are... does that feel good to hear? Does that inspire you even more?

Shasta: It does, it really does. I have a lot of ambitions and dreams that I want to do. I know I want to write a book, I want to do some conventions that help women and children. So whenever I do hear that people look up to me it pushes me to want to do that more. Especially when people message me on Facebook, and say you are an inspiration to me. It makes me feel really good because I went down the wrong path for a really long time. But people can look past that and see the good that I want to do.

Maggie: You still have a lot left of that book to live...

Shasta: I think my inspiration was Elizabeth Smart. I've read her books. Her book really helped me. Me and her are very different situations but kind of maybe the similar feelings that we had went through. Just being able to know that someone else felt the same way during their capture. If I can read a book and be inspired by it, I feel that other people could read a book and be really inspired by it too.
(Shasta met Elizabeth Smart in 2012 at a conference.)

Shasta: I really liked her, you could tell that nothing could tear her down that she was so goal oriented and wanted to help others. She's definitely a part of my life in a way that she doesn't know about.

Maggie: What does your future hold?

Shasta: I'm not too sure what my future holds, it's hard to say. I think my future is going to be mainly set on my family. Continuing to grow, continuing to get more sobriety under my belt. In three weeks, it will be two years clean and sober from drugs and alcohol.

Maggie: Congratulations.

Shasta: Thank you. I have so much stuff I want to do, but I have so much time to do it.

Maggie: Let's talk about your Dad, Steve Groene.

Shasta: No one else really supports me like my dad does. He went through my addiction with me. A lot people were like we can't deal with Shasta anymore, but my dad was the one to stay by my side and push for me to get help. My dad never gave up on me and that's always meant something to me.

Shasta: He lost his kids, he lost his ex-wife... that hurts him too. Knowing that he hurts in the same way that I do, makes me want to help him and be there for him - so we are very close we have a very close bond. My dad has taken what has happened to him and made a lot out of it, he just has pushed through so much. I feel like he is my hero, he is the ultimate survivor, because he survived something that happened with his family and was able to push through that. He is surviving from cancer, he's in remission and doing really good.

Maggie: I know you have said, Duncan no longer defines you.

Shasta: I was just like I can't believe that someone can do that to a family and I was so stuck on that. The people at Saint Anthony said - if you're thinking about him on a daily basis and all the wrong that he's done, he's winning you know what I mean... and if he's making you feel this way and he's in prison and he can't hurt you anymore, then he's still victimizing you, and that's what he wants. I said, oh my God, you are so right. I can't think about it that way anymore. And so I pushed and pushed and got that help... and I got to that point of I don't care who he is and he's not on my mind every day. I got to the point of him as a person does not make me feel bad for who I am. So by that he just doesn't define my life anymore. I'm not going to be victimized by someone who has already done so much in my life. I have things that I need to focus on for my future and he's not gonna be a part of my future.

Maggie: This baby is a miracle to you.

Shasta: I guess for a long time I always had this feeling that I couldn't have kids. I've been told that it would be hard for you to have a baby with all the trauma you've been through. In my head I was like I can't have kids at all. Then when I did get pregnant, I was just like oh my gosh! It was a huge surprise and I didn't even think that could happen. I can still bring life into this world, and not have to have that hate in my heart for someone that I don't need in my life anymore. He stole my innocence, he stole my family from me, but he's not going to steal the fact that I can bring children into this world, and that makes me very happy.