A parent’s worse nightmare has got to be losing a child. Thousands of kids are abducted every year, and while the kidnapper is often a family member, there are also hundreds of cases of children going missing, with absolutely no leads in sight. There are programs in place, such as the Amber Alert system, which is meant to inform the public of a missing child, so the kidnapper can’t get very far without being spotted. Sometimes this system works, but other times, the child and kidnapper are gone without a trace.
There are recent stories of women being found after being kidnapped as children and spending years and years in captivity. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were held for more than 10 years by Ariel Castro, until they managed to escape one night. Jaycee Lee Duggard was found after almost 20 years of living with her kidnappers. These women lost their entire childhoods to the men who kidnapped them.
Despite all the children who go missing and are never found, there are some cases where the police, the public, and a little luck, all come together to find a child, alive, before they are subjected to the years and years of abuse that some other children endure. Here are 10 amazing cases of kidnapped children who were found alive.
Elizabeth Smart – Missing 9 months
When she was 14, Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom during the night by a middle aged man, who was later identified as Brian David Mitchell. Her younger sister, Mary Katherine pretended to be asleep in the same room, and witnessed the man take Elizabeth. She was able to provide the police with a vague description of the man, that ended up not being much help. It wasn’t until months later that Mary Katherine realized she recognized the man’s voice as someone who had done yard work at her family’s house. The police did not take Mary Katherine’s claim seriously at first, so the Smart family hired their own sketch artist. The picture was released to the media, which led to Mitchell’s family identifying him. Elizabeth was found alive 9 months after her abduction, thanks to her sister’s memory, and because her family didn’t give up on finding her. She is now 26-years-old and an activist for missing and abused children.
Elizabeth Shoaf – Missing 10 days
14-year-old Elizabeth Shoaf was kidnapped in 2006 by a man dressed up as a police officer, and held captive, during which time was sexually abused repeatedly, for 10 days. Vinson Filyaw led Elizabeth through the woods to confuse her sense of direction, and eventually chained her up in an underground bunker that was less than a mile from her own home. Instead of panicking, Elizabeth stayed calm and managed to gain Filyaw’s trust by talking to him about his interests. She also left clues of her whereabouts whenever she could, such as strands of her hair on tree branches. After 10 days of captivity, Filyaw allowed Elizabeth to use his phone to play games, but she texted her mother instead. When Filyaw realized the police were onto him, he asked Elizabeth for advice, and she told him to run. She was then able to yell for help, leading to her rescue.
Steven Stayner – Missing 7 years
7-year-old Steven Stayner was abducted in 1972, by a man named Kenneth Parnell. Parnell told Steven that his family did not want him anymore, and that Parnell had been given custody of the boy. Steven lived with Parnell as his “son” for 7 years, enduring physical and mental abuse, before Parnell kidnapped another young boy, named Timothy White. Steven decided he did not want another child to go through what he had, and when Parnell was at work one night, Steven took Timothy and hitchhiked into town, where they went to the police. Tragically, Steven Stayner died in a motorcycle accident when he was only 24-years-old.
Shawn Hornbeck – Missing 4 years
11-year old, Shawn Hornbeck was abducted while he was out riding his bike in October 2002. He was taken by a man named Micheal J. Devlin, and held for four years before he was found by accident. Devlin had just kidnapped another boy, 13-year-old Ben Ownby, and the police happened to notice Devlin’s white pickup truck when they were at an apartment building to serve a completely unrelated warrant to someone else. They found Ben and Shawn that day, and returned them to their families. Devlin was charged and convicted of kidnapping and child sexual abuse, and he is currently serving 74 consecutive life sentences. After his disappearance, Shawn’s parents started The Shawn Hornbeck Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that still aids in the search and rescue of abducted children today.
Abby Drover – Missing 6 months
Abby Drover was kidnapped in 1976 at the age of 12, and held captive in an underground cell for 181 days. Her kidnapper, Donald Hay, was Abby’s next door neighbor, and he kept her as his prisoner only yards from her own home for six months. During that time, he starved, sexually abused, and tortured Abby, while the town of Port Moody, British Columbia searched for her tirelessly. It was because Hay’s wife called the police, fearing her husband had committed suicide that Abby was finally found. Donald Hay plead guilty to kidnapping, and although he was eligible for parole after 7 years, he spent over 20 years in the Saskatoon Psychiatric Hospital. Both Hay and Drover opened up about the crime for a documentary on CBC’s The National, where Hay tries to apologize and explain his actions. Hay died in 2012, never making parole.
Tanya Kach – Missing 10 years
15-year-old, Tanya Kach, thought she was developing a relationship with a security guard at her school, until she agreed to run away with him, and ended up becoming his prisoner. Thomas Hose brought Tanya to live in secret in the same house as his parents and son, and kept her hidden from them for four years. She was forced to stay in his second story bedroom, and had to use a bucket as a toilet. After four years, Hose created a new identity for Tanya, and introduced her to his parents as his girlfriend who would be moving in with them. She was then able to leave the house with a strict curfew, but it took her another six years to escape with the help of a local grocery store owner. Hose plead guilty to kidnapping and sexual abuse, and was convicted to 5-15 years in prison, and Tanya wrote a book about her experience, Memoir of a Milk Carton Kid.
Erica Pratt – Missing less than 48 hours
7-year-old, Erica Pratt was kidnapped right off a Philadelphia street in front of her 6-year-old friend, Rani Byrd, in 2002. Rani tried to help Erica, but was shoved aside by the two kidnappers, before she ran back to Erica’s grandmother to report what happened. The two men, later identified as James Burns, and Edward Johnson, kidnapped Erica in an attempt to collect ransom money from her grandmother. They took Erica to a vacant house and bound her wrists and ankles with duct tape, but Erica was able to chew through the tape, and break a window to her escape. Erica’s bravery was praised by law enforcement, and she was even named Time’s Person of the Week “as a reminder that not all kidnappings end in tears.”
Natascha Kampusch – Missing 8 years
Austrian 10-year-old, Natascha Kampusch was abducted on her way to school in 1998, and not seen or heard from for 8 years. She spent those 8 years as a prisoner of her kidnapper, Wolfgang Priklopil, where she acted as his maid, cook, companion, and victim of every kind of abuse. He kept her in a 5 by 5 foot, windowless cell for days at a time, and it wasn’t until she was older that he allowed her to spend time in the garden, and occasionally go on trips with him. One day, after her 18th birthday, while Priklopil was distracted by a phone call, Natascha made a run for it. Rather than be arrested, Priklopil committed suicide by jumping in front of a train. Now, Natascha owns the house in which she was held prisoner, saying she doesn’t ever want it to be turned into a museum of her lost adolescence.