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'I Was Abducted:' One Woman's Mission To Remember Her Past31:53
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"Overflow” by u/Oxidative
"Overflow” by u/Oxidative

TL;DL (Too Long; Didn’t Listen)

Monique has always known she was abducted as a child, but specific details about what happened, and why, have been elusive. It wasn’t until she posted to Reddit that she found real leads and painful memories started flooding back.

This episode contains accounts of childhood trauma and attempted suicide. Below are some resources, if needed:

  • The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-422-4453.
  • The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: 800-843-5678.
  • The Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.

Links: 

-Monique's Reddit post

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Thanks to u/Oxidative for this week’s artwork, "Overflow." You can find more of his work at his website and on Instagram.

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Full Transcript:

This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.

Monique: I always knew about the kidnapping. I always knew that it happened to me. I would have really vivid dreams. I would have anxiety about going to the beach. I hated the beach. There were just certain triggers that would remind me of my kidnapping.

(music plays)

Ben Brock Johnson: This is Monique.

Monique: I was born in Oxnard, California. I do attend community college out here and I do a lot of odd jobs just to provide for myself.

Amory Sivertson: Monique is 20. She’s a student. She’s got a boyfriend. She works odd jobs to make ends meet.

Ben: Every day, she wakes up at 6 or 6:30 in the morning. She goes to class. She gets out at three. She works on homework, takes a nap. She goes to work one of her part time jobs at 6pm until about 11. She goes home, maybe a little more school work. Bed. Then she gets up and does it all over again. The routine of a college kid.

(music plays)

Amory: A lot of Monique’s life has not been routine. And the evidence of that is in a special folder on Monique’s desk. It contains a police report with her name on it. Up until a few weeks ago, Monique had been looking for that police report for 15 years, even though she might not have realized it. It’s at the center of a mystery she’s trying to solve.

Ben: A mystery about a day she’s just starting to fully remember again.

Monique: So I was five years old and we were living in Saticoy and I used to play with this little girl that would come over once in a while. And we were playing in the front yard and this guy came up. And I knew this guy. This guy was always around. He was my mom's friend, maybe her boyfriend. I don't really know. And he was like, “Oh, your mom needs you. Come in the car with me. We have to go to your mom.” And, you know, I was a little kid, I'd seen this guy before. So I was like, “Okay, yeah, he's a friend.” We got in his car. We started driving and we drove right past my mom and she was on her bike. And she immediately turned the bike around, started chasing after us, yelling. And, you know, I was so confused. I really didn't know what was going on because I thought we were going to see my mom. And he ended up telling us, "Well, we're going to have a fun day. We're going to go to the beach." And as we were driving to the beach, he had a couple of porn magazines and he ended up giving us the porn magazines and made us look through them and kind of suggested that we do that. I was just looking at a magazine. I didn't know. I thought it was weird but I didn't know what was going on. I didn't have a concept of what that was. So I was just really confused.

Ben: Some of this story, Monique has always known. Other parts have come back in bits and pieces over the years. For parts of her abduction, she seems to remember feelings more than specific details.

Monique: We ended up going to the beach and spending quite a lot of time there. And when we got there we were playing in the water. We didn't really care about anything. I thought I was safe, I thought I was in good hands. 

(music plays)

Monique: Then he did take us back to his car but he made us get undressed. And I don't really remember what exactly happened. I think that's just the way my brain protects myself from remembering that horrible time.

(music plays)

Monique: By the end of the day, he just dropped us off at a park and said, “Oh, I have to go to work, stay here.” And, you know, we were both cold. We just got back from the beach. Our clothes were soaking wet and it was getting later. And so we decided to just try to find someone to help us.

Amory: What happened next is another blurry part of Monique’s memory about the abduction. But she thinks she and the other girl crossed the street from the park and started looking for help. They started crying. Eventually they found an adult, and got to the police. An amber alert that had gone out, was lifted.

Monique: We were so hungry, we ended up going to Carl's Jr. and they gave us these kids meals, the star-shaped nuggets, and that's kind of useless information because I don't remember anything else but I remember those star-shaped nuggets. And after that, I was reunited with my mom. She actually told me, “Oh, you're gonna be on the news. Stay up and watch it with me.” And I ended up just falling asleep because I was so tired and just so exhausted and just really confused.

Amory: This story, awful as it is, is incomplete. For 15 years, all Monique has had are the fragments. She hasn’t known the name of her abductor. Or the other girl.

Ben: Part of the reason is that she’s estranged from her family, and her abduction is a touchy subject. Regardless, she’s on a mission to solve the mystery of what happened to her

(music plays)

Ben: I’m Ben Brock Johnson.

Amory: I’m Amory Sivertson, and you're listening to Endless Thread.

Ben: The show featuring stories found in the vast ecosystem of online communities called Reddit.

Amory: We're coming to you from WBUR, Boston's NPR station.

(music ends)

Ben: One of the reasons that Monique needs to solve this mystery of a day in her life when she was five years old, is that almost nobody in her family will talk to her about it.

Amory: Which makes more sense when you learn that Monique’s family has been caught in a cycle of violence.

Monique: My mom, she was abused by my grandma. She was kicked out. She was really depressed. She actually tried to kill herself when she was younger. She didn't have the best life growing up. And I think that she never got help for it.

Ben: Monique says that before she was born, her mom was using cocaine on the weekends. But cocaine is expensive. And soon her mom’s habit lead to other habits. Meth. More drugs. Monique says her mom went from having a life full of possibility, to a life full of illegal drugs.

Monique: And not to say she's not a great person. She always tries to make the best of out of everything. She's always tried to be the best mom she could be for me. But there's just so many things she's been through. The reason we don't talk anymore, it's not because I hate her or I don't love her. It's more like, after a while, she has to help herself.

Ben: This is a familiar refrain to anyone who has been close to drug addiction. Eventually, the final battle of an addict often becomes a very lonely one. Because people around them, who love them, have to draw clear lines.

Amory: But it doesn’t happen overnight. Especially when the person who ends up being responsible for drawing those clear lines, is really just a kid.

Monique: When my mom told me she was selling drugs, I knew that I couldn't tell anyone. Because she made it clear she could get in trouble for that. So I knew that it was something that was supposed to be kept a secret. And I did keep it a secret, but I really had nothing else to compare it to. All my friends were my mom's friends, too. So they were all going through similar things. So it was kind of normal.

Ben: Monique has a god-sister, Sophia, who is one of her closest friends.

Monique: The other day we were talking to each other and I was like, "You remember when I would come over with my mom and then your mom and my mom would go into their room and lock the door and be in there for hours?" We just realized like, oh, they were probably doing drugs together. And that's why they were in that room and we weren't allowed to talk to them. Even if we knocked on the door being hungry, it was, “We’re busy right now. We’ll feed you later, we'll do something later.”

(music plays)

Amory: Monique doesn’t know if her mom’s drug addiction played a role in her being abducted.

Ben: What Monique does know is that right after this happened, her mom made a big move. From California to Iowa. Monique doesn’t know why. She’s wondered if it had to do with Child Protective Services. Or maybe her mom wanted to get them both away from this guy, who abducted her.

Amory: She never got any real answers about her abduction. But maybe she wasn’t asking as many either. When you’re a kid and something gets swept under the rug, sometimes you move on to other things and it’s not until you’re older that the nagging questions return.

Ben: Monique says she and her mom stayed in Iowa, picking up work wherever they could, from kindergarten up until just before 6th grade. Then, one day, her grandmother died. Monique and her mom went back to California for the funeral. And her mom suggested they move back to California, then and there.

Amory: Monique says this is around when her mom’s drug use jumped to a new level.

Monique: My mom started getting really heavily into drugs and that resulted in my aunt actually getting custody of me. And it was a huge change from always hopping around to actually being in a set place for about, I want to say five, six years of my life. It was nice but at the same time, my aunt wasn't like my mom. It was like I was walking on very thin ice all the time. I had to be really careful what I said, how I expressed my emotions and how I just carried myself.

Ben: Was that because your aunt was basically suggesting that you wouldn't necessarily keep staying with her if you, you know, did the wrong thing or something?

Monique: Yes. I go to therapy now because of this. One thing that I'm learning to understand is that when you're a kid, you're gonna make mistakes, you're gonna get in trouble, you're gonna get grounded. But for me, it seemed like I wasn't allowed to make mistakes. We didn't really trust each other. I would get picked up from school and not be talked to and not be asked about my day, and then as soon as my cousins were in the car, it was like, "Oh, how was your day? What did you do at practice? What was this blah blah blah?" It just makes you feel not worthy of that love and affection and like you need to search for it elsewhere.

(music plays)

Ben: This home life, is what led to Monique running away when she was 17. She stayed with her other aunt in Las Vegas. Who agreed to take her in up until she turned 18. In the meantime, she got her GED, several months before the rest of her classmates graduated.

Amory: Through all of this, Monique was finding her way. But the stuff that she went through as a kid, the remaining questions about her abduction, it was all still there.

Monique: I don't have good communication with my family. My mom was really honest with me about her selling drugs, but I feel like this whole kidnapping thing, she felt like it was all her fault. And my family felt like it was all their fault, too. So they just completely didn't bring it up. It was never brought up unless I brought it up. And when I brought it up, it was kind of a taboo thing to talk about. So I didn't really talk to anyone about this.

Ben: And eventually, not talking about what happened to her caught up in a way that — considering family history — felt all too familiar.

Monique: About two years ago, I had this mental breakdown. And I ended up trying to kill myself. It was a failed suicide attempt. So I ended up in the mental hospital. And after the whole breakdown in the mental hospital, I couldn't take care of myself. I couldn't shower. I couldn't eat. I couldn't get up out of bed. That whole experience made me realize I really have good friends because all my friends came to visit me when I was in the mental hospital. All of them were so supportive. I would call them and they would pick up the phone and talk to me during the times when I was allowed to have the phone. And I'm really grateful because my god-sister actually moved from Las Vegas to live with me. And, you know, she helped me get a job. She helped me take care of myself again. She made sure I ate. She made sure I took my medication. Made sure I went to therapy, was taking me to my therapy sessions. She really helped me. And, honestly, all of my friends have that attitude. And it’s really, to be completely honest, more than my actual family has shown me.

Ben: Monique’s more positive outlook in recent months is definitely because of her friends. It’s also because she knows much more about what happened to her. And that is because of her post on Reddit.

Amory: More in a minute.

(Sponsor break)

Amory: Monique has always known she was abducted. And through therapy Monique has realized that knowing the full story about what happened to her is an important part of moving past it.

Ben: But getting the full story has been impossible. Her memories are incomplete, she was only five when she was kidnapped. And since the memories are traumatic, digging into them has also been really scary. On top of that, Monique’s not on the best terms with her family, and nobody in her family is willing to talk about it.

Amory: Monique’s friends on the other hand, have wanted to talk about it.

Monique: I was with my friend Alyssa. And we were just talking about everything about our lives. And mentioned the kidnapping. And she's like, "Do you even know who this guy is? Do think he's in California still? Do you know what happened to you?" Just asking me questions that no one really asked me before. And it kind of made me think, "Actually, I don't know this guy. I don't know where he is. I don't know the dates that it happened. I don't know why I got kidnapped. I don't know any of this." And we spent maybe two, three hours just Googling “two girls kidnapped,” “found at park,” dates, everything that we could to just try to find something. And we didn’t. There was nothing there.

Ben: But that same night that Monique and her friend Alyssa had been trying to find information online with no luck, Monique did something a little radical.

Monique: I'm new to Reddit. I think I started last year getting into Reddit.

Ben: But she says all of her friends love Reddit and send her stories about how people solve all kinds of mysteries on Reddit. So, why not try asking for help there?

Amory: The title of her post reads, “I was abducted as a child.” It was posted to the Reddit Bureau of Investigation community, which is described as quote “using the power of the internet to solve real world problems.”

Ben: Monique’s post was just a few paragraphs, describing the town she was in when it happened, some other vague details. And it closed with this statement: “I’m hoping that finding out more about this case will bring me peace and help with my healing, I hope that one day I could be reunited with the girl who was abducted with me, but that may never happen. I’m desperate for any help/guidance/advice.”

Amory: She wrote the post, and went to bed.

Monique: When I woke up, it was crazy, just so many responses, so many private messages from complete strangers. People I don't know. I was blown away by the whole community.

Amory: Monique got a lot of love and support. Including a private message from a Redditor who related to parts of Monique’s story.

Kat Ramzinski: This was one of those cases that definitely caught my eye. Let's just say that.

Ben: Kat Ramzinski has some experience in real estate. So in addition to offering emotional support and advice, she also helped Monique take some immediate next steps.

Amory: Step 1: try to find the address of the house Monique and her mom were living in when she was taken from the front yard.

Kat: Let's find the house. Let's do a background check on your mom. Let's look up the entire area in newspapers.com. Let's go look at old periodicals and anything we could find from that time about kidnapped children.

Ben: Kat’s ingenuity got the ball rolling for Monique. She decided to ask her god-mother for more information.

Monique: It wasn't until after Reddit that I was able to actually go to my godmother. She told me, "Yes, this could have been really dangerous, your mom owed him money. And if she didn't get the money, something bad was gonna happen to you." And she was telling me, "I honestly didn't believe that he was gonna do anything. But that's why we didn't even do the Amber Alert until way later, maybe two or three hours after."

Amory: The possibility that her mom owed this guy money was a revelation for Monique. It also made her mom’s refusal to talk make more sense.

Monique: I had my god-sister call her and she refused to talk about it. She got so mad. She was like, "None of that, nothing happened. I don't wanna talk about it." And just hung up and hasn't spoke to my god-sister or even tried to reach out to me since then.

Amory: Dead end. But another Redditor reacting to Monique’s post, a librarian, found an actual lead.

Pseudonymph: I’m a helper. It’s why I’m in education. It’s why I like librarianship. And I hate the idea of somebody not being able to help heal themselves because somebody’s keeping information from them. And I know that sounds like Mary Poppins of libraries, but it’s kind of why we all do what we do.

Amory: This Mary Poppins of libraries — known as Pseudonymph on Reddit — also had a useful tool at her disposal: access to pay-walled newspaper databases.

Pseudonymph: And just looked up a few different search terms. I think I looked up “Amber Alert,” I looked up the city she was in at the time and a date range. And it pulled up about 40 different newspaper articles. And I just read through the bits and pieces that they had available and one of them sounded just like her.

Ben: In the span of a lunch break, Pseudo-Nymph found what Monique had been searching for for years. Among some old clips of The Ventura County Star newspaper. Not searchable in the newspaper’s own archives. But in this separate database.

Monique: She ended up finding six pages just about the kidnapping and it actually provided a name too.

Amory: The name of her abductor. Also, a date: May 13th, 2005. And a description of the kidnapper’s car: a dark blue, 1995 Honda Civic. Small forms of validation for vague memories from 15 years ago.

Monique: When I got the article and the ages matched up, the location matched up, and then I had a name, it was this sense of relief like, “Oh, my goodness,” like, “I'm not crazy. This happened.” It kind of made it more real. And when I actually searched his name and I saw his picture, my body started shaking. His face was familiar. It was like my body remembered.

(music plays)

Monique: And I was also realizing a lot of thoughts that I have were tied to that specific incident. With the porn magazines, until recently after this all came out, I was like, “Wait do not all males keep porn magazines in their car?” And it made me realize there's so much trauma that I've been through that I kind of just normalized it. And it was like, "Now what do I do?"

Ben: This was a good question. Monique’s abductor got off with a slap on the wrist 15 years ago. He pleaded guilty to one count of “child endangerment” — a misdemeanor. Basically, he was found at fault for dropping the children off in the park and leaving them alone. His case was originally treated as a kidnapping, but investigators found that, quote, “the mother had omitted important information about her relationship with the defendant.”

Amory: Which begs the question: what exactly was her mom's relationship to this guy? Regardless, this was difficult for Monique to learn.

Monique: I've been living with this for 15 years and this is something he did in a matter of a day. And it's still stuck with me for 15 years. That's not fair. And he just got off with child endangerment, a misdemeanor. That's not fair at all.

Amory: After processing this new information, and her own new memories about the incident, Monique wanted justice. But she didn’t really know how to go about getting it.

Monique: Thanks to the advice that Reddit gave me, they were telling me to go to the local police station, Ventura County, and ask for my records. And it will tell you all this information. They'll give you the case number. And they told me, we don't have these files about this this case because he got let go on a misdemeanor. They're kind of not accessible anymore.

Amory: Ventura County PD did give Monique the original police report from the day she was abducted. But her case file, with all the information about the police investigation, that’s a different story. They told Monique they throw out case files for misdemeanors after 10 years.

Ben: So Monique has now given new interviews to law enforcement, in hopes that police will investigate her abduction further. One complexity she’s still trying to figure out, though, a missing piece of the story. The other girl.

Monique: On the police report I provided, you know, that didn't have the other girl's name. It doesn't even have my mom's name because of privacy reasons. It only has my name. But they said once the case is reopened there's a possibility that I might get to talk to this other girl who was with me. She was maybe two years older than me. So I'm sure she might remember a lot more than I do. But, at the same time, I'm really scared to even talk to her about it because what if she doesn't remember at all? Maybe something even worse happened to her that she doesn't remember. And by me talking to her and having a conversation with her, you know, it could trigger things that just might have been better off not addressed for her because, you know, everyone's different. 

Ben: It’s not clear what Monique’s legal options are from here. It’s still early. But there are a few things worth noting.

Amory: One: it will help a lot if someone else can corroborate her story. If her family won’t talk, the other girl who was abducted might be the only person left.

Ben: Two, it’s highly unlikely that police could dredge up physical evidence of what happened to Monique 15 years ago.

Amory: But, they can look into the abductor to see if he has a pattern of similar offenses.

Ben: And now that we know the name of Monique’s abductor, we can find out that he’s a registered sex offender in California. He’s been in jail for a separate, more recent crime. And he’s out now. Living in the same area. According to the information online.

(music plays)

Ben: Legal matters aside, there’s something else Monique is focused on right now. She’s coming out of a long period of being too hard on herself. It’s something she’s changing. She’s doing the work.

Amory: Monique also wants to help her friends do the work. Friends she’s made in recent years who have supported her through tough times.

Monique: I know a good amount of my friends have similar stories to me. But there are a lot of people who are really scared to just take that first step. And it is scary. It's not easy. It's really stressful. But I'm hoping by sharing my story, that more people, no matter how long ago it was, will go and seek help. Because when you keep that in for so many years, it just eats you up.

(music plays)

Ben: Do you think you'll ever try to patch up your relationship with your mom or is it pretty much up to her or what are your thoughts on that?

Monique: I hope one day we could re-patch our relationship and just be talking again. She always tried her best. I want to make this clear, I'm being really open about this just because, you know, this was my childhood. But we had very open, honest communication with each other...at one point. But as of right now, it's all up to her. I can't stop my life for her right now. I have a lot of goals. I have a lot of plans, I have a lot of dreams. And she had the time to get better and she had the time to get back on her feet. And it's always just been excuse after excuse. Broken promise after broken promise. And I'm just tired of being disappointed.

Amory: For now, Monique’s focused on her next semester at college. Doing the odd jobs she needs to do to stay on her own feet because the traditional safety net, family isn’t really there. And re-visiting her case. It’s all part of her ending a cycle of pain created by generations of abuse and neglect in her family.

Monique: A lot of the things that I've been through, I've always blamed myself. I was like, "Well, this happened because I did this. My aunt treats me this way because I am I'm not good enough. I got kidnapped because I was dumb enough to go in the car." I believed that I deserved absolutely everything bad that's ever happened to me. And now I'm trying to be a lot kinder to myself. My goals and my dreams in life are just to be happier, to live life. I want to go to different countries. I want to go to Europe. I want to go everywhere! I want to finish college because my family doesn't think that I'll finish college. They all think that I'm going to end up like my mom, like a drug addict. And it's not only to prove ‘em wrong, but it's also for myself as well. I'm still gonna prove them wrong. I’m doing great right now. I’m doing everything I can by myself. I just have a lot of people to prove wrong.

Josh Swartz Twitter Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Josh is a producer for podcasts and new programs at WBUR.

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