There have been various high-profile cases of young women and girls being abducted and held captive by men worldwide, and Hailey Burns was one of the most recent victims of this kind of crime, held prisoner by a man named Michael Wysolovski for 13 months.
During her time imprisoned in Wysolovski’s home, Hailey suffered various kinds of awful abuses. This is the full story of how Hailey was tricked into becoming Wysolovski’s captive, what happened during those 13 terrible months, and what happened next.
Hailey Elizabeth Burns was born on the 5th of May, 2000. Her parents were Tony and Shaunna Burns, and the family lived together in Charlotte, North Carolina. Hailey seemed to be a perfectly normal teenage girl outside, but that didn’t tell the full story.
Hailey was actually struggling with a lot of mental health issues as a teen. In interviews, her parents later explained that she had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and, in her father’s words, “was troubled.” He also explained that she was bullied and had few friends at school.
Like many teens and young people struggling with certain issues, Hailey turned to the internet for help. She discovered chat rooms with people and communities willing to listen to her talk about her emotions and share her concerns.
Chat rooms can be very helpful for many people. They can even be a way to find friends and love, but as many stories have proven, they’re also a place where malicious individuals can lurk, ready to strike vulnerable individuals in a range of terrible ways. And that’s what happened to Hailey.
Hailey spent a lot of time in an eating disorder chat room, as she had her own personal struggles with weight and dieting. It was there that she met a man named Michael Wysolovski. At the time, he seemed friendly, compassionate, and eager to help her.
Hailey developed a bond with Michael and began talking to him very regularly. She began to confide in him, sharing all her thoughts, feelings, and secrets with him. Meanwhile, she grew further apart from her parents, who struggled to understand or communicate with their daughter.
As time went by, Tony and Shaunna Burns saw that they were losing the connection they once had with their little girl and didn’t know what to do about it. They had grown concerned about her use of chat rooms after discovering some worrying messages that she’d been sending.
So, they decided to restrict her use of the computer and confiscated her cell phone. However, it was later discovered that Hailey simply used school computers and classmates’ phones to keep up her interactions with Michael without her parents knowing.
Hailey spent several months chatting with Michael in chat rooms, and as time went by, the pair developed a plan to meet up in person and begin a relationship together. However, Hailey was only 15 at the time, while Michael was 31.
Hailey, therefore, began using the internet to search for ages of consent in different states. She learned that, in Georgia, the age of consent was 16. So, as her 16th birthday approached, she started to plan to run away from her home and be with Michael in Georgia.
On May 23rd of 2016, only a couple of weeks after her 16th birthday, Hailey decided to leave. She sneaked out of the family home in the middle of the night and walked to meet Michael, who was parked in his car nearby.
When asked about that moment, later on, Hailey said that she knew right away, from the moment she got into that car, that she had made a mistake. Unfortunately, there was no going back from that point. She was completely at the mercy of Michael.
After getting in the car, Hailey was driven to Michael’s home in Duluth, not far from Atlanta, Georgia. Once they arrived at the home, Hailey was taken to one of the back bedrooms, where Michael immediately assaulted her.
And this was only the first of a long series of assaults, abuses, rapes, and torturous acts that Hailey was forced to endure for the many months that followed. From that point on, she was treated like Michael Wysolovski’s own personal slave.
Meanwhile, in North Carolina, Hailey’s parents were just waking up and expecting a regular day to begin. However, it would turn out to be one of the worst days of their lives, with a morning they would never forget.
Hailey’s mom had gone into Hailey’s room at around 6 am to wake her daughter up, discovering nothing but stuffed animals in her bed. She called her husband, who searched the house and discovered that the front door was open. It didn’t take long for them to realize that Hailey was missing.
Hailey’s parents were in a state of total shock. Her father began searching every room in the house, looking for some sort of sign or clue that might indicate where Hailey had gone and help them track her down and get her home.
He went to the garage and started looking through the trash cans. There, he discovered a huge stack of papers that had been tossed out—the lists of ages of consent in different states that Hailey had been researching before running away.
Tony Burns then went up to Hailey’s room and read through her journals to see what information he could find. There, he found a list entitled “Daddy’s Rules.” It was a list of rules that Michael had given her to follow.
The list of rules made for very frightening reading. It showed that Hailey was not allowed to eat certain foods or watch certain things and had a list of “punishments” if she broke a rule. At that point, Hailey’s parents knew that a predator had gained control over their daughter.
Immediately, Tony and Shaunna got to work to try and track down Hailey. They contacted the police, as well as news stations. They put up posters around the local area as well and even hired a private investigator.
The mother and father were willing to do absolutely anything to get their daughter back. Both of them were terrified and heartbroken, thinking of their innocent and naive daughter out in the world with a man who had dark intentions towards her.
After some time, the FBI heard about the case and contacted Hailey’s parents to offer their assistance. “As soon as the FBI got involved, they took all of our cell phones, they scrubbed every computer,” explained Tony.
The FBI agents also got in touch with people that Hailey had been speaking to online, trying to track down her internet contacts and see if any of them could provide some sort of clue. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find anything at all, and Hailey’s parents feared they’d never see their girl again.
Meanwhile, back in the Georgia city of Duluth, Hailey’s nightmare was only just beginning. She and Wysolovski had discussed entering into a consensual sexual relationship when they got together, but Wysolovski immediately took the “relationship” to an extreme level.
From the first day, Hailey made it clear she wanted out, but Michael refused to let her go, telling her that she was stuck and that this was her life now. From that point onward, he began to rape, assault, and abuse her regularly.
Michael Wysolovski began to treat Hailey like a dog. He even attempted to train her with a clicker, a little device used in dog training. Hailey explained that every click was connected to a certain command that she had to learn and obey.
For example, a certain number of clicks meant that she had to remove her clothing, another number of clicks meant that she had to go to bed, and so on. She was also forced to sit whenever Michael told her to and even bark at his command.
Hailey suffered unspeakable treatment at the hands of Michael Wysolovski. She says that almost every day of her time in his home was “horrific abuse” and that she “was not treated like a human being.” He exerted total dominance over her.
Not only was she trained and treated like a slave or dog, but she was also punished in various ways, such as being tied up or made to sleep in a small dog cage. Michael also starved Hailey and would beat her if she failed to meet the “weight goals” he made up for her.
Wysolovski created a system of rewards and punishments to build his control over Hailey further. He would “reward” her for certain things, such as obeying him, starving herself, or performing sexual acts, by allowing her to eat a certain food or taking her to the supermarket with him.
However, if she angered him in any way, such as refusing to obey, fighting back or struggling during sex, and so on, he would punish her by punching her in the face or chest, raping her, grabbing her hair, choking her, holding her underwater, and so on.
Thankfully, Hailey was eventually able to escape from Michael, and the story of her escape almost sounds like something from a movie rather than real life. She was able to access a computer and get into a chat room.
Usually, Wysolovski made it impossible for Hailey to have any real access to the outside world. Still, this time, she managed to get online and started talking to a woman halfway around the world in Romania named Kat.
Hailey opened up to Kat, an American student living and studying in Romania at the time. The pair chatted for a little while, and Hailey revealed that she was a missing person. At that point, Kat did a little research.
It didn’t take Kat too long to find out about Hailey’s case and find her parents on Facebook. On June 23rd of 2017, she sent a message to Shaunna Burns, saying, “I think I know where Hailey is.” She also provided the family with a photo of Hailey that she’d received from their chat as proof.
Hailey’s parents got in touch with the FBI and police. They began communicating with Hailey, asking questions to try and find out where she was. But it was Shaunna who helped to solve the mystery. She used a photo that Hailey had taken from the house’s window where she was being held.
Shaunna zoomed into the photo and spotted a “For Sale” sign at a nearby house, using the internet to track down Hailey’s precise location and informing the authorities, who sent units to the home. At the same time, Hailey waited anxiously to be rescued, with Wysolovski in the next room playing video games.
Thankfully, the authorities could enter the home, arrest Wysolovski, and save Hailey without any problems. Hailey was reunited with her parents later that day, who were so grateful to have her back, and Wysolovski was put behind bars, awaiting sentencing.
Hailey had to begin a very long road to recovery from that point on, while her parents gradually learned more about the terrible ordeal their daughter had endured. Meanwhile, Wysolovski spent several months in jail, facing several charges. Everyone awaited the court hearing and possible trial that would decide his fate.
Unfortunately, when the time came for a court hearing on the case, Gwinnett County Assistant District Attorney Michael DeTardo faced a difficult situation trying to get Wysolovski convicted and sentenced with any kind of serious punishment for a few reasons.
The first reason was that Hailey was technically legal age to enter into a sexual relationship, as the age of consent in Georgia is 16. Interviews and research showed that Hailey was aware of this, along with Michael, so any child molestation or cruelty charges couldn’t apply.
Additional interviews revealed that Hailey had allegedly agreed to enter a relationship where she and Wysolovski would “simulate non-consensual sexual acts.” This put the relationship into a “gray area of consent,” in DeTardo’s words, which made the case even more difficult to navigate for the attorney.
Even though Wysolovski later made Hailey do things she didn’t want to do and exerted an intense level of dominance and control over her life, DeTardo knew that it would be difficult to convince a jury and get a conviction due to the aforementioned “gray area.”
Because of the various difficulties associated with the case, DeTardo knew that the chances of getting a conviction in front of a jury were low, and Wysolovski had various arguments and pieces of evidence that he would be able to use in his defense.
DeTardo, therefore, suggested to the Burns family that the best plan of action was to arrange a plea deal. He drew up a plea agreement, adjusting the list of charges to remove rape, aggravated sodomy, and false imprisonment.
After removing certain charges, DeTardo asked Wysolovski to agree to first-degree cruelty to children and interstate interference. But that wasn’t all; the assistant district attorney also wanted to make sure that Wysolovski wouldn’t be able to repeat his actions and hurt anyone else.
So, as part of the plea agreement, he demanded that Wysolovski would have to follow certain rules, including a lack of contact with anyone below the age of 18, as well as random searches of his electronic devices to reduce the risk of him chatting with other people in difficult situations online.
The Burns family understood that the plea deal was the best chance of getting a good result from the hearing, so they agreed. Wysolovski agreed as well, pleading guilty to the judge and accepting the new charges and conditions, as set out by DeTardo in the agreement.
This reduced his sentence from a possible 25 years in prison down to a 10-year sentence with just eight months behind bars, which he had already served before the hearing took place. The remaining nine years and four months of the sentence would be served on probation.
After Wysolovski had pleaded guilty to the adjusted list of charges that he was facing, Hailey had a chance to stand up in the courtroom and share some words of her own. She took the opportunity and was emotional but brave as she addressed her captor.
“The second I left my home, my life was ruined,” Hailey said, telling the court how Wysolovski had affected her life in so many tragic ways, “He lowered my self-esteem greatly and left me to believe I would never be loved or have a proper life if I gained weight.”
Hailey went on to share additional details in her statement of how Wysolovski had tortured and raped her before explaining how his actions had affected her mental health and would have severe consequences on her for the rest of her life.
“I severely mutilated myself hoping I would become unlovable so no one would hurt me as he did. I am deformed,” she said, in one of the most powerful and damning lines of her statement, revealing just how deeply her captor had hurt her and affected her life.
There are many situations in courtrooms where victims are invited to make statements about what has happened to them or even directly address the people who have harmed them. In many cases, victims are too hurt, frightened, or mentally scarred to take the stand.
Many people might have expected Hailey also to be too hurt to stand up and share her words. Still, she showed a huge amount of courage and bravery on that day, and many people present were impressed with the way she managed to read her statement with Wysolovski watching on.
Many people in the courtroom and those watching the scenes later on the news were emotionally affected by Hailey’s words and felt great sympathy for the teenage girl. But one person in the courtroom showed no emotion at all: Wysolovski.
In news reports, it was revealed that the defendant was notably unemotional, showing no real response or any kind of remorse for his actions, even when Hailey stood up and read her statement or when her parents took to the stand to share their thoughts and feelings on the case.
Hailey’s father, Tony Burns, also had a chance to face the defendant and say a few words. He called Wysolovski “The boogie man all parents warn their kids about,” summing up exactly how many people felt when they heard about what the Duluth man had done.
Tony also shared his ordeal, saying that every time he heard about a body being found on the news, he feared it was his daughter, as well as telling the judge, “Your honor, I will not allow the defendant to hurt her anymore. And I will do everything in my power to make sure he never does this to another family like mine.”
Hailey’s mother, Shauna Burns, noticed that Wysolovski showed a lack of remorse for his actions, telling him, “You are a coward. A silver-tongued abuser who preys on young women and girls. You rape them. You torture them. You control them. You’re sick and sadistic.”
Shauna went on to say, “You are not a monster, but you are a pitiful man who will now learn that actions have consequences.” Like her husband Tony, she had suffered a great deal while Hailey had been gone and didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to share how she felt with the defendant.
After the hearing, news media reporters and journalists asked about the family’s views on the decision to let Wysolovski get off without any additional jail time. The prosecutor for the case stated that the Burns family was satisfied with the result.
The prosecutor went on to say that Hailey and her parents still weren’t entirely happy with how the hearing had turned out, as they felt like Wysolovski belonged behind bars and deserved to spend more time in jail than he had.
After it was announced that Wysolovski would be staying out of jail and continue living his life, albeit with new controls and conditions, many local community members and others following the story worldwide were shocked and disappointed.
There was a lot of public backlash against the decision, with many people feeling that Wysolovski deserved a harsher punishment for what he had done, especially regarding the rape and torture of Hailey. Responding to this, DeTardo acknowledged the public’s frustrations but reiterated that the circumstances of the case would have made it difficult to get a conviction.
Upon hearing about the story of Hailey, many people wondered why she hadn’t tried to escape sooner. When you learn the case details, you find certain moments where she could have attempted to escape, such as the supermarket visits with Wysolovski.
Hailey could have potentially put an escape plan into action when the pair temporarily lived in a different home with a few roommates. However, Dr. Michele Galietta, Associate Professor of Psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, explained when consulted on the matter.
Dr. Galietta explained that people tend to act in situations like Hailey’s in ways we wouldn’t expect because their situation has damaged their mental state, to the point that they give up hope entirely. The doctor also said that it’s hard for most people to imagine how they’d react in that situation.
“You give up hope,” she explained, “No one knows how they would act when they are removed from all social support and tortured, beaten, starved, and deprived of contact.” So, while it might seem simple from the outside for her to have escaped, the situation was very different in Hailey’s mind.
In an interview with People, Galietta explained that when a person is subjected to so much stress and abuse, they start to lose all hope and trust in anyone around them. “All the normal rules of the world kind of fall apart,” explained the doctor.
So, even when she was living with other people in addition to Wysolovski, Hailey had no real way of knowing whether or not she could trust them. She might have wanted to escape but worried that those other people would hurt her or tell Wysolovski about her plans.
Dr. Galietta also put forward another theory for Hailey’s lack of action during the 13 months: she suggested that the girl’s weight loss might have made it harder for her to think clearly and make sound decisions.
Hailey lost over 30 pounds from when she went missing to when she was found, with Wysolovski repeatedly starving her. This drastic weight loss and undernourishment can impact a person’s cognitive abilities, making it hard to think straight. Galietta explains, “You’re just surviving, just moving from one thing to the next.”
So what about Hailey herself? How did she explain why she had waited so long to ask for help? Well, when asked about the matter, she blamed the manipulative techniques of Wysolovski himself, saying that he had convinced her she had no other option but to stay with him.
Hailey explained that Wysolovski had told her that her parents didn’t want her and wouldn’t take her back. Not only that, but he controlled every aspect of her life so closely, from her diet to her clothing to her weekly routine, so she effectively felt that she had no control over anything she did.
So how has Hailey been doing since she got back? Well, a friend of the Burns family named Tom McNamara was questioned on the matter and said that Hailey was “getting better by the day with her family.”
Undoubtedly, her road to full recovery will be a long one, and she may never forget or fully overcome the horrible things that happened to her in those 13 months. However, with the help and support of her loving family, along with mental health experts and doctors, she is in the best possible hands to start getting better.