On January 29, 2013 retired long haul trucker Jimmy Lee Dykes boarded a school bus returning children home after school and demanded two young boys. When bus driver Charles Poland put himself between the interloper and the children Dykes shot him to death. He then kidnapped a five-year-old child, known only as Ethan, and took him into an underground bunker on his property. He was holed up in the bunker with the boy until today. This afternoon authorities raided the bunker, killed Dykes and rescued Ethan.
This would seem like the perfect conclusion to a tense ordeal that could have ended much more tragically. Although he was not physically harmed, little Ethan witnessed the violent death of two individuals, and was held prisoner in a small underground fortress with a bitter and angry man for nearly a week. What happens to crime victims after the TV Trucks coil the cable, lower the microwave antennas and move onto the next crime de jour? After all, he is a fragile little child who has endured more trauma than most people can imagine. Of course his path to normalcy is fraught with challenges.
I have crossed paths with many remarkable people these past twenty years, but few have inspired or awed me more than Alicia Kozakiewicz, Midsi Sanchez, or Elizabeth Shoaf. These amazing young women have not only triumphed over their own kidnapping/hostage situations, they have used that experience to build strength, resolve and focus.
Eight-year-old Midsi Sanchez was walking home from school in Vallejo, California on August 12, 2000 when she was kidnapped and chained to the filthy floorboard of a car. Forty-four hours later she took advantage of an opportunity, unlocked her shackles and escaped into the protective arms of a passing truck driver. Her kidnapper was later linked to the death of other young girls in and around the San Francisco Bay Area. Midsi endured bullying in school, descended into alcohol and cheated death yet again, when at sixteen-she was in a near fatal car crash. Upon learning that she was pregnant while in the hospital, Midsi vowed to change her ways. These past years the devoted mother of a three-year-old toddler has been an invaluable KlaasKids Foundation volunteer and advocate for missing child. She has been profiled on numerous news magazines and talk shows.
On New Year’s Day 2002, thirteen-year-old Alicia Kozakiewicz was lured into the clutches of an internet predator. Five-days later the Western Pennsylvania Crimes Against Children Task Force located, rescued and reunited Alicia with her very relieved parents. Alicia has since testified before federal and state legislative committees about Internet safety. She is the driving force behind Alicia’s Law which, among other things, strives to provide permanent funding for Internet Crimes Against Children taskforces. Alicia continues to make frequent appearances on broadcast and cable news magazines and leads the Alicia Project which is dedicated to protecting other children from the online victimization.
Elizabeth Shoaf was fourteen-years-old when she was kidnapped by a registered sex offender posing as a police officer on September 6, 2006 after getting off of the school bus near her home in Lugoff, South Carolina. Her kidnapper walked her into the woods and imprisoned her in an underground bunker. Ten-days later Elizabeth completely outwitted her tormenter and engineered her own escape. I met her earlier this year on the set of the Ricki Lake Show, one of many television programs she has appeared on to tell her story.
The path to recovery has been difficult for each of these young ladies, but each has found ways to triumph over their own demons. Counseling, prayer, family have engaged each of them to varying degrees. But, it was coming to terms with their own victimization and deciding to use their experience as a cautionary tale for other children that led them to the light. Midsi, Alicia, and Elizabeth are empowered young ladies who positive and productive in their lives. Let us hope that Ethan too will find a way to beat the devil.