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The Kidnapping Of Abby Hernandez And How She Escaped A Nightmare
It’s every parent’s nightmare: their child doesn’t come home from school as expected. That’s precisely what happened to Zenya Hernandez when her 14-year-old daughter, Abigail “Abby” Hernandez, went missing on October 9, 2013. After speaking with the school personnel, Zenya learned that her daughter left school on time. Police were called in immediately to begin searching for the teen.
Abby was gone for nine months, during which time she was held only 30 miles away from her New Hampshire home. Abby endured awful abuse during her time with her captor, Nathaniel Kibby, but still managed to build a rapport with him in an effort to escape. Thankfully, her plan worked, and Abby was released from a shed on Kibby’s property on July 20, 2014.
Abby’s decision to befriend her attacker was what likely saved her and allowed her to return home. In 2022, a movie based on Abby’s ordeal was made, Girl in the Shed, to share her life-saving tactics with millions of people.
• Freshman Abby Hernandez Was Last Seen Walking Home From School
Abby Hernandez was 14 years old and a freshman at Kennett High School in North Conway, NH, when her life changed forever on October 9, 2013. She didn’t return home from school that day and her mother, Zenya Hernandez, spoke with a school librarian who confirmed Abby left at dismissal with the other students. Zenya filed a police report that evening and the search began for Abby.
Police pulled up cell records to find Abby texting her boyfriend, Jimmy Campbell, at 2:53 pm with a heart emoji before her signal was lost at 3:07 pm. The cell was cut off only a mile from the Hernandez home.
• Her Family And Friends Knew Abby Hadn’t Run Away
Family and friends were immediately convinced that their animal-loving Abby had not run away and had been abducted. Her 15th birthday was only three days away, and Abby was ecstatic about her upcoming party. On the day of her abduction, Abby and her best friend were taking selfies and acting silly in classes together. Zenya was so used to texting with her daughter that it was the lack of responses that led her to Kennett High School to look for her daughter. There was no way in any of their minds that Abby had walked away from the life she loved with no warning.
• 13 Days Later, Her Mother Received A Letter From Abby
Zenya grew obsessed with looking for her daughter, driving around town and wondering if someone she knew might be the culprit or had information. She was so entrenched in finding Abby that she stopped checking her mail and almost missed a letter from her daughter. The letter read in part:
Dear Mom, I miss you and love you more than you can imagine. I’m sorry I did this. I’ve seen the newspaper and TV reports, and to answer your questions, yes I’m alive. … I miss you Mom, but I won’t tell you where I am.
Zenya was happy but also knew that the letter didn’t sound like her daughter at all. Police determined through DNA that Abby had indeed written the letter. It would later come to light that Abby’s captor forced her to write it but that didn’t stop rumors from flying around town concerning the missing teen.
• Abby Was Being Held Just 30 Miles Away During The Nine-Month Search
On October 9, 2013, Abby was walking home from school when Nathaniel Kibby kidnapped her a mile from her home. He handcuffed Abby, put a jacket over her head, and held her at gunpoint as he crushed her cell phone to disable the GPS chip inside. Once inside Kibby’s vehicle, Abby attempted to peek out the window to ascertain a location or direction, receiving a stun gun to the leg when her abductor noticed.
Eventually, they arrived at Kibby’s property, located only 30 miles from the Hernandez home. Kibby led Abby into a dark storage container where he taped her eyes, put a T-shirt over her head, and placed a motorcycle helmet on her before assaulting her. This storage container was Abby’s prison for nine months while she endured abuse.
• Abby Attempted To ‘Work With’ Her Kidnapper, Building Trust
From the first moment Abby realized Kibby intended to abduct her, she began to work on forming a human bond with her attacker. She said:
I remember thinking to myself, ‘Okay, I got to work with this guy.’ … I said, ‘I don’t judge you for this. If you let me go, I won’t tell anybody about this…’ I told him, ‘Look, you don’t seem like a bad person. Like, everybody makes mistakes… If you let me go, I won’t tell anybody about this.’”
Abby continued to gain his trust, later telling 20/20, “Part of how I gained his trust, I guess, was… I went along with whatever he wanted to do.” That included watching the live press conferences of her mother pleading for her safe return and all of the steps police were taking to find her. She also acquiesced to writing a letter to her mother telling her that she was fine and implying she had run away on her own.
• Abby Discovered Kibby’s Name In One Of His Books
As Kibby began to trust Abby more, he told her about his childhood and the time he spent in juvenile facilities for petty crimes. He was currently a counterfeiter printing fake bills inside his home.
One day, he decided to bring Abby into his trailer to assist with the counterfeiting, but he had some rules for her, including referring to him as Master. Abby said:
He said, ‘You know, I’m thinking of finding something a little more humane for you to keep you quiet.’ He said, ‘I’m thinking of a shock collar.’ I remember he put it on me. And he told me, ‘Okay, try and scream.’ And — I just slowly started to raise my voice. And then it shocked me.”
Kibby also started to slip up, falling asleep next to Abby and unintentionally revealing his face to her. He also gave her some books to read, including a cookbook with “Nathan Kibby” written on the inside cover. After Abby inquired, he confirmed his identity to her, and she promised not to tell anyone.
• Kibby Panicked As Authorities Closed In On Him For Counterfeiting
In July 2014, Lauren Munday made a call to Kibby that would change everything. The two had met on the internet, and Kibby gave her $150 in counterfeit $50 bills. Munday was arrested trying to spend one of the bills at a local Walmart, and she called Kibby to let him know she had given his name to the police.
Kibby panicked and made Abby promise never to reveal his identity to anyone. He then started to clear his trailer of anything tying him to the counterfeiting operation. He also decided to let Abby go.
• She Was Dropped Off Feet Away From Where She Was Abducted And Walked Straight Home
On July 20, 2014, Kibby drove Abby back to the spot where he abducted her nine months earlier and let her walk away. Abby finished the final mile home on foot, and the Hernandez family security cameras caught her walking to the door. Abby told 20/20:
I remember looking up and laughing, just being so happy. Oh my God, this actually happened. I’m a free person. I never thought it would happen to me, but I’m free.
When Abby first arrived home, she remained faithful to the agreement with her captor to keep his identity a secret. She provided a sketch to the police but only gave Kibby’s name and location to her mother. Zenya immediately alerted the police to the new information on July 27, 2014.
• Kibby Was Sentenced To 45 To 90 Years
One week after Zenya Hernandez provided police with Kibby’s information, they raided his property and found the storage container that was Abby’s home for nine months. Kibby was arrested and charged with over 200 crimes, including kidnapping and counterfeiting. A 2016 plea deal that kept Abby from reliving her trauma on the witness stand was reached with Kibby. He pled guilty to seven counts, none of which involved counterfeiting.
Kibby received 45 to 90 years in prison for his kidnapping and multiple assaults on Abby.
• Hernandez Was Executive Producer On Her Own Lifetime Movie ‘Girl in the Shed’
In 2022, Abby acted as executive producer on a Lifetime Network movie about her ordeal called Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez. The movie stars Lindsay Navarro as Abby, Ben Savage as Kibby, and Erica Durance as Abby’s mother Zenya. Abby told news outlets that she saw the movie as a way to tell others to keep fighting and never lose hope. She said:
Not everybody, but a lot of people have that voice in the back of their head. ‘If I disappeared it wouldn’t matter.’ And I learned that yeah, it does matter. It affects a lot of people and it will forever.”