There is nothing more heartbreaking than the abduction of a child. It is every single parent’s worse nightmare to merely turn around for just a moment and discover that their kid is gone.
It is a fear that is so universal, in fact, that it’s not uncommon for the kidnapping of children to become national news. Tragically, many of these atrocious crimes are never solved.
However, for every sad ending, there is a beacon of hope that shines out. Here are 20 bizarre stories about children who were kidnapped but found, in some cases years later…
1. In Nigeria, Amina Ali Nkeki was kidnapped by members of the terrorist group Boko Haram in 2014. Two years later, she was spotted by a group of vigilantes who rescued her and her four-month-old son.
2. Two-year-old Elijah Wong and seven-year-old Donnie Simmons were found one month after they were kidnapped. Their mother, Antoinette Wong, and her boyfriend were bank robbers; they’d abducted the children—one even at gunpoint—and took them on the run. It wasn’t until cops noticed their car swerving on the highway that they were arrested.
3. Xiao Yun, 14, fled her home in rural China after a fight with her parents. Ten years passed, and they all thought she was dead. Imagine their surprise when they found out she had been living in Internet cafes playing video games and surviving on handouts from patrons (sometimes working as a cashier) the whole time.
4. Julian Hernandez, 18, had no idea that his own father had kidnapped him from his mother in 2002 until he started applying to colleges and discovered that his social security number was fake. With some assistance from a school counselor, he found himself on a missing children database.
5. In 1991, when she was just 11, Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped by Phillip and Nancy Garrido while she was walking to her school bus in Lake Tahoe, California. Jaycee was forced to live in a shack where she gave birth to two of Phillip’s children. Thankfully, police discovered her in 2009 and returned her to her family, while Phillip and Nancy were both sent to prison.
6. Steven Stayner of Merced, California, was abducted by a man named Kenneth Parnell in December 1972 when he was just seven years old. Kenneth held Steven captive, sexually assaulting him and torturing him for eight years; he even convinced Steven that his family gave him away. Steven finally broke out in 1980 after Kenneth kidnapped another boy and the two vowed to escape together.
7. A man named Steve Carter had been scrolling through a website dedicated to missing children cases in 2012 when he saw something that stopped him in his tracks: there on the site was a photograph that looked exactly like him as a youth. The boy was named Marx Panama Barnes, but Steve realized the shocking truth right away: it was him. Using this information, he was able to confirm that his own mother had kidnapped him as a baby and put him in an orphanage 30 years earlier.
8. In 2002, Elizabeth Smart was captured by an unhinged Mormon fundamentalist and his wife who were intent on making her his second bride. The 14-year-old was tied to a tree in her kidnapper’s backyard just 18 miles from her home for nine whole months. Thankfully, she was identified while at an event with her captors and she was freed.
9. Richard Wayne Landers was abducted by his paternal grandparents and taken to live with them in Missouri when he was just five years old. Authorities discovered him alive and well when he was in his twenties. Strangely, he defended his grandparents, saying, “I was where I needed to be.”
10. Shawn Hornbeck of Missouri was abducted in 2002 when he was just 11. His kidnapper, Michael Devlin, changed his name, beat him, and brainwashed him, but his family never stopped looking for him. He was found four years later, and his kidnapper received three back-to-back life sentences.
11. Danielle Cramer was 15 when she went missing in June 2006. Police located her when they arrived at the West Hartford, Connecticut, home of Adam Gault one year later to arrest him for murder… and they discovered Danielle hidden in a locked cupboard instead.
12. Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus were found in the Cleveland home of Ariel Castro in 2013. He had kept them prisoners for more than a decade. They were finally freed when neighbors heard Amanda’s cries. Ariel, meanwhile, killed himself in prison.
13. Charlie Bothuell, 12, was reported missing from his Detroit, Michigan, home on June 14, 2014. He was found 11 days later locked in the basement of his father’s house. He showed signs of abuse and starvation; his father and his stepmother were prosecuted for the crime.
14. Gregory Jean Jr. disappeared suddenly when he 13. He was missing for four years before he was found hidden behind a fake wall in his father’s Georgia home. His father and stepmother were arrested for the crime and Gregory was reunited with his mother.
15. Luke Shambrook, an autistic 11-year-old boy, disappeared while camping with his family in Victoria, Australia. He was lost in the wilderness for more than four days before authorities found him. His courageous act of survival was an inspiration.
16. Natasha Ryan was 14 when she was abducted in Australia in 1998. A man who’d confessed to killing her was already on trial for her murder when it was revealed that she had just been hiding away with her boyfriend—for five years—because she was angry at her mother for forbidding her from seeing him. (She ended up marrying him 10 years later.)
17. Carlina White was just 19 days old when she was kidnapped from the Harlem hospital where she was born in 1987. She was raised by her kidnapper for 23 years until she did some research on her family history and discovered the truth. She was reunited with her biological mother, while the woman who abducted her was sentenced to 12 years in jail.
18. Connie McCallister of Wisconsin was 16 when she vanished from her family home in 2004. Connie was drugged by her then-boyfriend and taken to Mexico. She admitted who she was to a visiting missionary and was allowed to return home in 2013.
19. At the age of 15, Tanya Kach developed what she thought was a romantic relationship with a security guard named Thomas Hose. He went on to abduct her and change her identity; she lived hidden away—and with only a bucket for a toilet—in the same house as his parents and son for four years. After that, he finally introduced her to his parents as his girlfriend, though she wasn’t allowed to leave the house much. It took another six years before she was able to escape; Thomas, meanwhile, was sent to prison.
20. Robert Hutton was reported missing in 1972. He was 21 years old and traveling across the country at the time when serial killer John Wayne Gacy was active. After he went missing, authorities assumed he’d become a victim of Gacy’s. The truth was that Hutton had simply fallen out of touch with his family and has trouble reaching them.
It can feel like there are so many stories about kidnapping that have unfinished or heartbreaking conclusions. This list is an important reminder that sometimes even the darkest stories can have happy endings.
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