Katie Beers, Kala Brown, Jordan Dinsmore and more kidnapping survivors showed impenetrable bravery, courage and resilience in the face of fear and uncertainty
A child is abducted or goes missing in the U.S. every 40 seconds.
In 2022, the FBI's National Crime Information Center (NCIC) received 359,094 entries for missing kids, increasing by 21,899 from the 337,195 missing kids reported the year before.
The Child Crime Prevention & Safety Center reports nonfamily abductions (perpetuated by strangers or acquaintances) comprise at least 1 in 4 child abductions (27%), with females and teenagers among the most common victims and often enduring physical or sexual assault while abducted.
Not everyone who is kidnapped or goes missing is recovered safely or found alive, but when they are, it’s the sort of miracle that warrants breaking news and keeps millions of Americans glued to their TV screens.
Such was the outcome for the following 11 accounts of kidnapping survivors — including Colleen Stan, Jayme Closs, Katie Beers and others — whose discoveries made headlines and perseverance in the face of uncertainty has continued to give hope to those everywhere who have been impacted by abductions. These are their stories.
On Oct. 15, 2018, then-13-year-old Closs' parents were fatally shot in her Barron, Wisc., home before the killer bound her with duct tape, placed her in the trunk of his vehicle and drove off.
She was held captive for nearly three months in a remote cabin about 70 miles north of her home with her abductor, 21-year-old Jake Thomas Patterson.
On Jan. 10, 2019, after her captor told her he was leaving the cabin for five or six hours, Closs escaped and summoned the help of a woman who was walking her dog. The woman then took her to a neighbor's house, and the neighbor dialed 911.
"Hi, I have a young lady at my house right now and she says her name is Jayme Closs," the neighbor told the dispatcher. Soon after, Closs was rescued.
Patterson was arrested and received two consecutive life sentences without the chance of parole in May 2019.
Between August 2002 and April 2004, three young women — Amanda Berry, then 17; Michelle Knight (who has since changed her name to Lily Rose Lee), then 21; and Gina DeJesus, then 14 — went missing in Cleveland.
They were kidnapped by Ariel Castro, who kept them captive in his Cleveland house for 10 years. All three women were raped and abused throughout their captivity, which lasted nearly a decade. Berry gave birth to a daughter, and Lee said she was impregnated five times, but miscarried each one after being beaten by Castro.
In 2013, Berry escaped after getting a neighbor's attention; she called the police, who came to the house and found Lee and DeJesus. Castro was later sentenced to 1,000 years in prison. Within the first month, he died by suicide, hanging himself in his prison cell.
All three survivors were reunited with their families. Lee has written two books since the experience. Berry advocates for finding missing people and hosts a daily news segment on Cleveland's Fox 8. "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 in 2019. "It's kind of the small things that makes a big difference."
In 1977, 20-year-old Stan was traveling from her home in Eugene, Ore., to northern California to attend a birthday party. Her mode of transport was hitchhiking, and she turned down two rides before getting in the car with 23-year-old Cameron Hooker; his wife, Janice; and their baby.
Within hours, Hooker put a knife to her throat and threatened to kill her. He bound and gagged her before placing a homemade wooden box over her head.
Stan was locked in a coffinlike box for 23 hours a day underneath the couple's bed for seven years. She was removed from the box only to be repeatedly raped and tortured.
Stan was told that a group called "The Company" would kill her if she escaped, and she was made to sign a slave contract. It was her fear of "The Company" that kept Stan from seeking help, even when Hooker allowed her to visit her family at one point during her captivity.
In 1983, Stan was allowed to leave the house and get a job as a motel maid; she eventually called Hooker to tell him she was leaving and going home.
He was sentenced to 104 years in prison, where he remains today. In September 2016, Stan opened up about her experience, saying she has lived a happy life since. "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," she told PEOPLE. "And you just run for it."
Beers was kidnapped from a Long Island, N.Y., arcade by John Esposito, a family friend, on Dec. 28, 1992, two days before her 10th birthday.
Esposito held Beers in a tiny underground bunker for 16 days. After Esposito — who had a friendly relationship with Beers prior to the kidnapping — was questioned, he eventually confessed and led police to the bunker.
In 2013, more than 20 years later, Beers publicly addressed the kidnapping for the first time in a memoir, Buried Memories, which was excerpted in PEOPLE prior to its release. She said she had been abused in her past by her godmother and her husband, Linda and Sal Inghilleri, who kept the child from school and treated her as their servant in their squalid hovel of a home. Sal also raped Beers.
After she was found, she was placed with a foster family; Beers has said she "owes them my life."
Of her ordeal, she said: "You never fully recover. It's with me every day, but it's something I've learned to cope with."
On Sept. 4, 2013, Esposito died inside his cell at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, N.Y., at age 64.
On Nov. 3, 2016, 30-year-old Kala Brown, a South Carolina woman, was found chained in a metal storage container after she had been missing for -
nearly three months. She had been located on the property of Todd Kohlhepp, a registered sex offender who was then charged with her kidnapping.
The connection between Brown and Kohlhepp wasn't random: She and her boyfriend, Charlie Carver, who disappeared around the same time as her, had been hired to do odd jobs for him. In a 2017 Dr. Phil interview following her rescue, Brown said Kohlhepp shot Carver in front of her, killing him, before he forced her into the storage locker. "I always feel like I should have known better," she said of her captivity, "but there was really no way I could've."
The discovery of Brown led authorities to identify Kohlhepp as a serial killer. He subsequently pleaded guilty to seven murders over a 13-year period and is serving life in prison.
While 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart was in bed at her Salt Lake City home, Brian David Mitchell broke in and abducted her during the early hours of June 5, 2002. She would be held captive and raped repeatedly for the next nine months.
Smart shared the bedroom with her sister, Mary Katherine Smart: She witnessed the abduction and pretended to be asleep but woke her parents up later when she felt it was safe to do so.
In October of that same year, Mary Katherine, who had thought the voice of her sister's abductor sounded familiar, realized where she had heard it before: It was the voice of Mitchell, who had called himself "Emmanuel" and had been hired by the Smarts to help out around their house.
Mitchell and Smart were eventually found in Sandy, Utah. Mitchell was convicted on kidnapping charges and sentenced to life in prison in 2010. His wife, Wanda Barzee, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for her role in the kidnapping.
In the years since the ordeal, Smart has reclaimed her life as an inspirational speaker, author and advocate. She is the mother of three children.
Tennessee 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas was allegedly abducted by her teacher Tad Cummins in March 2017, and for several weeks, the pair was the subject of an ongoing AMBER Alert.
Cummins allegedly "groomed" Thomas and earned her trust before the alleged abduction.
Her father, Anthony Thomas, told PEOPLE in March 2017 that Elizabeth grew "dependant" on Cummins. In addition to homework help, Anthony said Cummins "gave her money, bought a microwave so she would heat food up in his room and try and get her out of trouble."
In late April 2017, the pair was discovered in a remote California cabin after a tipster became suspicious and alerted authorities.
In 2019, Cummins pleaded guilty to multiple offenses and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In 2001, 13-year-old Alicia Kozakiewicz was a frequent user of internet chatrooms. In one, she met someone she assumed was a boy her age who shared her interests.
After talking online for eight to nine months, Kozakiewicz met him on the street near her home — and discovered her online friend was actually a 38-year-old named Scott Tyree. Tyree brought Kozakiewicz to his home in Virginia and held her captive for four days, raping and beating her and chaining her to the floor by a dog collar.
On the fourth day of her captivity, Kozakiewicz was convinced Tyree would kill her. But when he left for work, she was found by FBI agents. "They set me free," she wrote for BBC magazine in March 2016. "They gave me a second chance at life."
Today, she works to educate people on the dangers of the internet.
When she was 11 years old, in 1991, Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped while walking to a bus stop near her home in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. She was shocked with a stun gun and forced into a car by Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy, who held her captive for 18 years.
During that time, she was handcuffed, locked in rooms and forced to "dress up" for Garrido, a self-styled evangelist to whom she bore two daughters.
In 2009, Garrido took Dugard's two daughters to a police office at the University of California, Berkeley, asking permission to distribute religious flyers. After observing odd behavior from both Garrido and the girls, campus police ran a background check and learned he was a registered sex offender.
His parole officer also discovered the two girls and young woman with Garrido were Dugard and her two children.
Soon after, Garrido was arrested, and Dugard and her daughters were reunited with her family. She's written two books about her past.
"When I look in the mirror now, I don't see the ugly broken child I was and who Phillip tried his best to create because he thought that was beautiful," she told PEOPLE in July 2016. "No, I don't see her. I just simply see the beauty in me."
In this case, the abduction of Ben Ownby led police to find not only him but also Shawn Hornbeck, who had been missing for more than four years.
Ownby was kidnapped on Jan. 8, 2007, after walking home from the bus stop in his hometown of Beaufort, Miss. He was found after four days, alongside Hornbeck. They had both been kidnapped by Michael Devlin and held in his apartment.
It was then-15-year-old Mitchell Hults who provided the case-cracking tip: a description of Devlin's white Nissan pickup truck he’d spotted fleeing the scene of Ownby's kidnapping.
Devlin was sentenced to life in prison.
It was late at night in July 2017, and then-20-year-old Jordan Dinsmore had just pulled into the parking lot at her South Carolina apartment complex after her shift at a local restaurant. Three men allegedly approached the college student with guns and threatened to shoot her if she didn't drive them to an ATM; her alleged captors couldn't drive a stick shift vehicle.
She knew she had to do something when they allegedly told her they were going to sexually assault her. With her seatbelt already unfastened, she opened her door, and threw herself out of the car, which was traveling at around 35 miles an hour. Dinsmore said she was inspired to fight for her life because of her mother, who was attacked as a college student.