It’s a daunting and terrifying fact of life that around the world, hundreds of thousands of people are abducted every single year. While some of these people are rescued or released from captivity, some sadly die unspeakable deaths at the hands of their captors. However, there are also some victims who, once they realize they’re going to die, manage to find the strength to fight unflinchingly for their escape and their survival, no matter what it takes. There are also those who don’t manage to escape and instead are left for dead, butchered and broken, but just downright refuse to die no matter what atrocities have been inflicted on their bodies.
Here are the stories of ten heroic abductees who refused to die. In many cases, these incredibly brave individuals came out of their horrific ordeals stronger than they were when they went in, and some even have inspiring lessons to share with us.
10 Lisa Noland
At 17 years old, Lisa had decided to commit suicide after a lifetime of physical abuse and neglect, which had now escalated into sexual abuse at the hands of a family member. She left work at 2:00 AM on November 3, 1984, feeling joyful that her suffering was about to end. She’d already written her suicide note. But on her way home, a stranger dragged her off her bicycle and forced her into his car at gunpoint. He blindfolded her, forced her to undress, bound her hands, and then drove her to his home, where she suffered multiple agonizing sexual assaults over the next 26 hours.
There came a moment when Lisa realized that everyone in her life so far had taken control of her, and she wasn’t going to allow this man to do so as well. She was going to take her life back. Lisa decided that in order to live, she had to befriend her captor; she had to try to understand him and make him love her. Her plan worked, and the next day, her captor asked her what he should do with her. Using reverse psychology, she offered to be his girlfriend, and to her surprise, he drove her to an area near her home and dropped her off on the side of the road.
Lisa went to the police, and by using the information had been able to gather from what she could see under her blindfold during her captivity, investigators were led to the home of Bobby Joe Long. As a result of Lisa’s determination to live, Long was arrested and linked to the sadistic torture and murder of at least ten women. Red fibers in his car also linked him to at least 50 rapes over the previous years. Bobby Joe Long is still on death row.
Of her ordeal, Lisa says, “I thank God it did happen. It taught me to live again.” She is now a police officer specializing in the sexual crimes and child abuse divisions:
When I’m working those calls, I’ve lived it. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. I’m going to take that person, hold them in my arms, and tell them, “Not on my watch. You’re safe now.” I’m going to do whatever I can to pay it forward.
9 Cynthia Vigil Jaramillo
Cynthia Vigil Jaramillo, 22 years old, was abducted on March 20, 1999, after accepting a ride from a couple named David Parker Ray and Cindy Hendy. The couple electrocuted her with a cattle prod and chained her inside their van, where they later stripped her naked after she attempted to escape. They then took her to their trailer and put a metal collar around her neck, which was attached to a chain that was padlocked to a wall. David played a cassette tape that he himself had recorded. On the tape, David explained that Cynthia was now a sex slave, and he detailed all the types of horrific sexual torture she was about to experience. The couple then spent hours brutally torturing Cynthia with hooks, whips, chains, homemade electrical devices, and worse. Cynthia explained later that it felt like she was in Hell.
After two days of brutally torturing his victim, David left for work, promising he would take Cynthia to “the toy box” when he returned. Assuming he was talking about a coffin, Cynthia realized she was going to die if she didn’t find a way to escape. Despite being chained to the wall and having suffered unimaginable torture, she was able to steal a ring of keys that Cindy had left on a coffee table. She desperately began trying different keys in the padlock as Cindy physically assaulted her, beating Cynthia’s head with her fists and then a lamp, but Cynthia refused to let go of the keys. Cynthia explains that she was able to shut out the physical pain as she tried key after key in the lock. Her perseverance paid off, and she was able to unchain herself from the wall and overpower Cindy. Naked except for a metal collar and a chain and bleeding from multiple wounds, Cynthia ran outside and sought help.
The toy box, it turned out, was a cargo container that David had renovated into a horrific surgical torture chamber. David Parker Ray is suspected of having tortured and killed up to 40 victims. He was sentenced to 224 years in prison and died of a heart attack shortly after. Cindy Hendy took a plea deal and was sentenced to up to 54 years in prison.
Police and investigators describe Cynthia as a hero who saved the lives of countless women who would have fallen prey to David Parker Ray had she not found the will to survive.
8 Elizabeth Shoaf
Elizabeth was 14 years old in 2006, when a stranger approached her as she walked home in a remote woodland area. The man, 36-year-old Vinson Filyaw, told her he was a cop and that she was under arrest. He handcuffed her and put a box on a string around her neck, telling her it was a bomb that would explode if she tried to run away or fight. Vinson led the terrified girl into the woods and forced her into a makeshift bunker that he’d dug in the previous weeks.
For ten days, Elizabeth remained trapped in her underground prison with her deranged captor. They lived in filth, with rotting food and the stink of their own excrement permeating the small space. He raped her multiple times every day and forced her to watch the news so that she would see her terrified mother begging for her return. At one point, Elizabeth attempted to shoot Vinson, but the bullet jammed. She realized that the only way she might have a chance of escaping this ordeal was to make her captor love and trust her, so she started pretending to enjoy what was happening to her.
After seven days in captivity, she convinced Vinson to let her play games on his phone, and as he slept, she hunted for a signal, sending multiple texts revealing her general location. Only one of the texts made it to her mother, though Elizabeth wasn’t aware of this until she saw it on the news with her captor sitting beside her. Putting Elizabeth’s life in immediate danger, the police had released the details of the text to the media. When Vinson learned about the text, he panicked and realized he’d have to execute his captive. As Vinson pointed his gun at her head, Elizabeth convinced him to run, saying she would meet him the next day. Her plan worked, and he fled.
Elizabeth climbed from her prison on September 16 and was found by Captain David Thomley, who later saw inside the bunker and described it as a pit of Hell. Vinson’s plan had initially been to lure police to the bunker and blow himself and his victim up inside it, killing as many cops as possible in the process. He was sentenced to 421 years in prison.
Elizabeth later said, “I have a better appreciation of life. I appreciate the littlest things way more than I would have before I was kidnapped. I feel like a survivor, and I’m proud to admit that I did what I did.”
7 Jennifer Holliday
At 3:00 AM on May 29, 2005, Jennifer was driving her cousin Ana home from a babysitting job when a car pulled up beside them, and Jennifer felt a massive impact accompanied by what she described as “the loudest sound you can imagine.” Ana began screaming, and Jennifer pulled over to try to calm her cousin down, explaining that they’d been clipped by a drunk driver. That’s when Jennifer noticed that her own left arm was almost completely obliterated at the elbow and that her forearm was hanging on by a thread. Someone had driven up beside her car and shot her through the window.
Ana called the police, but that’s when the gunman returned and shot her in the head. The stranger then dragged Jennifer to his car and sped off, stabbing her repeatedly with an ice pick as she tried to fight him. He drove her to an isolated area and sexually assaulted her. He then became upset and asked what had happened to her. He seemed legitimately horrified by the state she was in. Jennifer, naked and bleeding profusely, instantly took advantage of his mental instability and explained that he’d saved her from a crazed gunman named John. He was a hero, she said, and explained to him that he was going to help her contact an ambulance.
The gunman, despite slipping from confusion to psychotic rage repeatedly, was convinced by her story and drove her to his isolated home. Jennifer contacted emergency services, and the operator, who had also taken Ana’s call earlier, linked the two cases and realized that Jennifer was actually with the gunman even though Jennifer kept repeating, “A good Samaritan has saved me. He’s a hero.” The gunman then gave the operator directions to his home. Emergency services arrived, and Jennifer was rushed to a hospital. Lewis Parnell, the gunman, received two life sentences. He had held a door open for Ana when the two women stopped to buy skittles and then followed them.
Jennifer still suffers from PTSD and has 37 shotgun pellets in her arm, shoulder, and chest. She credits her survival to her traumatic childhood, which is when she first learned to calm and placate people who were in psychotic rages.
6 Kara Robinson
Kara was 15 years old when she was snatched from a friend’s front yard by a man offering her magazines on June 24, 2002. Holding a gun to her back, he forced her into a large plastic container in the back of his car and shut the lid. Once he’d dragged her inside his house, the stranger repeatedly sexually assaulted her for hours before chaining her to his bed using a C-clamp and handcuffs. He forced her to take a Valium before he went to sleep.
In the early hours of the morning, 18 hours after she had been taken, Kara awoke from her drugged sleep and began desperately working at the screw in the C-clamp with her teeth. She was able to unhook the handcuffs, terrified the whole time that her sleeping abductor would wake up and shoot her. Kara got outside and sought help from a passing motorist, who took her to a police station, after which she led officers to the home of her abductor.
The man who had abducted Kara was 38-year-old Richard Marc Evonitz. He was married, but his wife was on vacation at Disney World at the time of Kara’s abduction. Evonitz shot himself before police could question him, but enough evidence was found in his home to convict him, had he lived, of the abduction and murder of several teenage girls over the past decade. There is no knowing how many girls he would have gone on to kill if not for Kara’s brave escape.
In an interview for the documentary I Escaped My Killer, Kara said:
You can either use something that happens to you as an excuse to why you can’t do something or an excuse as to why you can. You can’t be the victim. You need to take back what happened to you. You need to claim yourself as a survivor, and you’re using that to better yourself as a person.
Kara is now a deputy in the Richland County Sheriff’s office.
5 Kyle Ramirez
On December 1, 2008, a half-naked, emaciated boy stumbled into a health club begging for help. He was filthy, had a shackle around his ankle, and was covered in burns, bruises, cuts, and scars. Kyle Ramirez had just escaped from over a year of captivity in the home of Michael Schumacher and Kelly Lau-Schumacher. The couple, along with the boy’s then–legal guardian Carmen Ramirez, sadistically tortured the teenager, starved him, and kept him chained by the fireplace, where he was forced to defecate and urinate on himself. Along with a neighbor, Anthony Waiters, they repeatedly assaulted Kyle with caustic chemicals, choked him, beat him into unconsciousness, sliced him, and burned him. He was also beaten with an aluminum baseball bat, which they heated in the fireplace.
Kyle eventually coaxed his captors’ two-year-old child to bring him Michael’s keys, which he used to unchain himself and make a desperate dash for freedom into the backyard. He jumped on a trampoline to help him climb over a 2.4-meter (8 ft) retaining wall and ran into the nearby health club, where shocked staff contacted the police. Despite being 16 at the time of his escape, Kyle was so malnourished that he had not yet begun puberty.
Carmen, Kelly, and Michael took plea bargains and are serving 30 years each. Waiters pleaded not guilty and is serving three consecutive life sentences. In 2011, attorney John Demas filed a civil lawsuit against Sacramento County’s Child Protective Services for negligence, violating protocol, and repeatedly breaking the law during the seven years leading to Kyle’s captivity and torture. In 2015, Sacramento County agreed to pay Kyle $ 4 million to settle the claim.
Kyle now hopes to become a psychologist so that he can help other children who have suffered. He holds no bitterness toward those who wronged him, and he hopes that his captors will find their peace.
4 April Sykes
On November 27, 2005, 18-year-old April Sykes met with her ex-boyfriend Brandon McMinn to go joyriding. Brandon brought his friend Virgil Samuels, a violent gang member, along for the ride. Virgil had been drinking and was high on both cocaine and marijuana. He knew April was a cop’s daughter and became suspicious that she and Brandon were setting him up. Virgil eventually snapped and attacked Brandon, locking him in the trunk of April’s car. Brandon’s only words were, “Do whatever you want to her but leave me out of it.”
Virgil then savagely beat April and repeatedly sexually assaulted her over the next seven hours. He choked her into unconsciousness multiple times between rapes. Virgil later tried to run April over and then stabbed her with a screwdriver, at which point she decided to play dead. Virgil locked April in the trunk, not registering that Brandon was no longer there. (He’d escaped but didn’t attempt to help April or call the police.)
Virgil poured gasoline over April and set her on fire before closing the trunk and leaving her to burn. April knew that if she attempted to escape before he was gone, he would catch her and kill her, so she waited as her body burned until she heard his car drive away. She didn’t pull the emergency release cord until she knew he was gone. By the time she escaped the burning trunk, April had suffered third-degree burns to 65 percent of her body. She lost all the fingers on her left hand and lost her right arm below the elbow. Virgil was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
April is now living happily with her fiance and their young son. She says she will not be sad about what happened because that would not help her: “I had to be strong and live or die. And I chose to live.”
3 Lydia Tillman
On July 4, 2011, a stranger followed 30-year-old Lydia Tillman home after a fireworks display. The stranger forced his way into her apartment and assaulted her so brutally that when he was done, he assumed she was dead. He’d beaten her, raped her, stomped her, and strangled her. He then doused her body and apartment in bleach and set fire to her bedroom where she lay, presumably dead. Lydia regained consciousness and was able to throw herself out the second-story window onto concrete to escape the fire. She had been strangled so violently during the attack that a blood clot had formed, and shortly after her escape, she had a massive stroke.
Doctors assumed Lydia would die due to the extent of her injuries, explaining that the damage done to her body was indicative of a high-speed car accident without a seat belt. Her lungs were bruised, her ribs were broken, her brain was bleeding, her eye sockets were both crushed, and her jaw had been shattered in a dozen places. She was kept in an induced coma for over five weeks, and when she awoke, she’d completely lost her ability to speak due to the extent of her brain injuries.
Her attacker’s DNA was found under her fingernails. Travis Forbes, who had already been under investigation for murder, was arrested. He took a plea bargain in exchange for revealing the location of the body of 19-year-old Kenia Monge and was sentenced to life without parole. In court, Lydia’s father read out a statement that Lydia had prepared, forgiving Forbes. Lydia wrote, “Travis Forbes, you caused me no harm. My spirit and my soul, in my mind, remain untouched.” She explained that to forgive is easier than holding anger.
Through strength of will and countless hours of hard work, Lydia slowly regained her ability to speak. She says she just wants to enjoy life as much as possible and hopes others will, too. She later explained, “I believe Travis Forbes was acting out of fear and hatred. I choose love and peace over fear. I won.” Lydia hopes Forbes will find peace in this life.
2 Thadius Phillips
On July 29, 1995, 17-year-old Joseph C. Clark abducted 13-year-old Thadius Phillips from his home as he slept. Joe’s house wasn’t far away, and by the time the two boys arrived at the filthy, garbage-strewn property, Thadius was disoriented and didn’t realize the danger he was in until it was too late.
Joseph took Thadius to his upstairs bedroom, threw the younger boy onto his bed, and twisted his right ankle around until it snapped. Thadius immediately attempted to escape, running down the stairs on his broken ankle, but Joseph caught him and forced Thadius’s right leg over his head until his thigh broke. Joseph continued to torture Thadius throughout the day.
That night, the older boy left the house, assuming Thadius wouldn’t be able to escape, due to his injuries. Thadius dragged himself to the stairs, and unable to crawl from step to step, he threw himself down the entire flight and then tried to drag himself out of the house. Joseph returned and found Thadius lying in the kitchen. After that, the torture escalated. Joseph broke the younger boy’s other ankle and his knee and twisted both broken ankles until Thadius’s feet faced backward and, in Thadius’s words, his skin looked like twisted rubber bands. Joseph then began repeatedly stomping and jumping on the injuries.
Between torture sessions, Joseph would calm down and treat Thadius’s broken bones with bandages and layers upon layers of white socks. Then he’d put leg braces on Thadius and try to make him walk. When Thadius asked why the older boy was doing this, Joseph replied, “I have a fascination with the sound of breaking bones.” He also revealed to Thadius that he’d previously tortured another boy named Christian Steiner.
The next night, Joseph locked Thadius in a closet before leaving again, assuming Thadius would die. Thadius found an old guitar among the rubbish in the closet and used it to smash through the door. He then threw himself down the stairs again and dragged himself to the kitchen, where he was able to phone the police. He was only hours away from death due to internal bleeding at the time of his escape.
Joseph was sentenced to 100 years in prison for the abduction and torture of Thadius. Police found a notebook in Joseph’s room containing a list of local boys’ names entitled “Leg Thing.” Thadius told police that Joseph had bragged about torturing Christian Steiner, whose bloated body had been found in a river a year earlier. His corpse was exhumed, and the leg bones were found to contain breaks and fractures almost identical to those Thadius had sustained, and Joseph was found guilty of murder.
Thadius explained later that it was his love for his family that helped him survive: “I didn’t want to lose them, and I know they wouldn’t want to lose me.”
1 Alison Botha
Around 2:00 AM on December, 18, 1994, 27-year-old Alison Botha was abducted at knifepoint by two men, who took her to a remote area in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and raped her. They then stabbed her chest, abdomen, and pubic area over 36 times before viciously slashing her throat at least 16 times and leaving her for dead. In the 2015 documentary Alison, she explains that she left her body for a short time at this point. She felt that she had the choice to die but instead chose to return to her body because she wanted to try to live her life better.
When Alison returned to consciousness, she realized her intestines were beside her on the ground. She had to manually hold her organs in place while she tried to crawl to the road, but she realized walking would be easier, so she decided to try to stand. Everything went black, and she found that her neck had been so badly slashed that her head had flopped back between her shoulder blades. She had to hold it up with her other hand so she could see. She says that at this point, it felt like someone else began moving her feet for her until she came to the road, where she fell onto the tarmac. A group of horrified motorists found her and called an ambulance.
At the hospital, it was discovered that her windpipe had been completely severed and that she had been breathing through a gaping hole above her collarbone. She’d also been completely disemboweled. The doctors who put her butchered body back together described her survival as a miracle.
Her attackers, Theuns Kruger and Frans du Toit, were both sentenced to life in prison but became eligible for parole in 2015. You can sign the petition to keep them behind bars here.
Alison is now a motivational speaker and the mother of two boys, despite having been told she’d never bear children as a result of her injuries. In an interview in 2014, she said:
Each one of us is valuable beyond measure, and we need to make choices that honor us. We should believe in ourselves beyond what we think is possible. And above all, we may not choose what happens to us in life—we cannot control what other people do or say, or the problems that come our way—but we always, always control how we respond. What we do or say is what we control—we control the choices we make.