On October 9, 2013, Abigail Hernandez went missing after being abducted on her way home from school. It was like something all adults warn you about when they teach you “stranger danger.” She innocently accepted a ride home and disappeared without a trace. However, she wasn’t that far from her family.
She was held just 30 miles from her house. The search for Abby was the largest in New Hampshire’s history. Her disappearance occupied the minds of her family, investigators, and the community for nine months until Abby showed up on her family’s doorstep in July 2014. Here’s how Abby was abducted and how she escaped.
The Day Everything Changed
Abigail Hernandez was born in 1998 in Manchester, New Hampshire. She had an uneventful childhood until October 2013, when her life changed forever. Abby’s teachers said she was a terrific athlete and her classmates described her as a kind, positive, and joyful person. Unfortunately, that demeanor was taken away.
Abby lived with her mother, Zenya, and sister, Sarah Hernandez. She had recently graduated from middle school and started ninth grade at Kennet High School. Abby usually took the bus from school, but she decided to walk one day. However, on October 9, 2013, she didn’t return home. So, Zenya started to investigate.
Her Mom Wasn’t Worried at First
When Abby didn’t come home from school right away, Zenya didn’t think it was strange. She assumed the 14-year-old was with her friends at school. Zenya, a nurse, had a happy life raising her two daughters. But her world changed forever that day. Her worst fear as a parent was realized.
Zenya described Abby as a kind animal lover. She especially loved horses. As a new high school student, Abby studied German and robotics and loved classic rock. Zenya said she and her daughter were close, so when her text messages went unanswered, that’s when she began to worry.
She Exhausted Her Options
Zenya decided to go to Abby’s school to see if she were there. The librarian said she saw her leave, and Zenya worried. Abby had never not shown up at home before, so Zenya thought maybe she was injured. She wondered if Abby had broken her leg, had appendicitis, or gotten hit by a car.
She called the hospital to see if Abby had come into the emergency room, but no one had seen her. Zenya was frantic at that point. Her daughter’s 15th birthday was just a few days away, and Abby had been excited to celebrate. Why would she just leave?
No Reason to Run Away
When her mom filed a missing person’s report, there was no evidence of domestic problems at home, and Abby had no reason to run away. She was a happy teenager, and no one could figure out why she would have left on her own. Therefore, her family and the police feared the worst.
Their gut feelings proved to be right as Abby had been abducted. Her captor, Nathaniel Kibby, was a petty criminal who printed counterfeit money in his trailer. But he turned into a kidnapper when he spotted Abby walking home and offered her a ride home. Abby knew better, but he was stronger.
She Accepted a Ride
As Abby walked home from school, Kibby was driving down the road. He offered the young teen a ride, and she accepted. She asked him to drop her off at a nearby restaurant, but Kibby quickly revealed his intentions when he said he needed to stop somewhere first.
Abby realized she was in danger and tried to unbuckle her seatbelt. However, he pulled out a gun and pointed it at her. Kibby threatened to kill Abby if she didn’t follow his instructions. To make sure she wouldn’t run, he handcuffed, blindfolded, and tased her when she managed to look out the window.
Into the Dark
Kibby’s car came to a halt 30 miles later at his house in Gorham, New Hampshire. He pushed Abby into a dark room without windows; there was just a flag on the wall. Kibby taped her eyes shut, wrapped her head in a T-shirt, and put a motorcycle helmet on top of everything.
After he made sure she couldn’t see anything, Kibby assaulted Abby for the first time. Abby remembered thinking that she had to cooperate with him. She told him, “I won’t judge you for this. If you let me go, I won’t tell anybody about this.” She pleaded with him.
Her Efforts Didn’t Work
Abby’s words didn’t soften Kibby. After he finished assaulting her, he threw Abby into a storage container in his yard. She was locked in there, and Kibby would visit her regularly to assault and abuse the young teen. Abby was always terrified when she heard the door open.
When she was left with her thoughts in the dark, Abby would pray because she wanted to survive. She recalled omitting “amen” at the end of her prayers because she “didn’t want God to leave” her.
Her Time in the Shed
Kibby made Abby call him “master.” He forced her to wear a shock collar and held a stun gun to her feet as punishment. Abby tried to send a letter home, but Kibby caught her. She realized that she had to figure out how to gain Kibby’s trust so he would go easy on her.
She started agreeing to everything he wanted, so Kibby began trusting Abby. He was a little nicer to her as she obeyed his rules. Abby was always in survival mode, and she thought that establishing a bond with Kibby would help her survive.
She Managed to Send a Letter
Although Kibby caught her writing a letter, she managed to send another. The letter was postmarked on October 23, but it didn’t arrive until November 6. It gave her family, and investigators hope that she was safe. It was unclear how she sent the letter.
Initially, the letter was kept private because law enforcement feared Abby would be in “grave” danger and could be used for sexual exploitation if she were still alive. The police also declined to reveal where the letter was postmarked or what Abby wrote.
He Enlisted Her Help
Abby was able to gain Kibby’s trust. He enlisted her to help him print counterfeit money in his trailer. It was the first time Abby got to leave the shed since the day he kidnapped and locked her in there. Abby strategized and got out of her terror state and problem solved.
The help Abby provided Kibby with the fake money would ultimately be her ticket to freedom. He started giving her books to read, and one day she discovered his name in one of them. Abby asked, “Who’s Nate Kibby?”
She Discovered His Name
When Abby asked about the name in the book, Kibby said, “How do you know my name?” Although she now knew who he was, Kibby didn’t do anything different. He let her help him with the money and gave her more books. However, he continued to abuse her.
Abby never lost hope and made Kibby believe they were friends. He let her come out of the shed a few times, but she didn’t try to run because she was afraid of what he would do. Abby just wanted to see her family again.
They Held a Vigil
Three days after she went missing, Abby’s birthday arrived. Instead of their planned celebration, the community held a vigil in her honor. Zenya said, “There are people you interact with on a daily basis that may have changed their behavior from that day forward.”
Within 48 hours, the FBI got involved, and they didn’t believe Abby left on her own either. Throughout the time Abby was missing, her mother kept saying that she wanted her daughter to come home safe and healthy. She had no idea where she could be.
Her Mom Never Gave Up
While Abby was trapped 30 miles from home, her mother, Zenya, never gave up hope. Two weeks after Abby disappeared, Zenya knew that her daughter had to have gotten in a car with a stranger and realized she was in trouble.
Zenya didn’t know why Abby decided to walk instead of taking the bus as usual. Investigators were baffled and couldn’t figure out who could have taken her daughter. Many wondered if her daughter ran away or met up with someone she possibly met online.
Her Last Text
Investigators were desperate for any information. All they knew was that Abby was last seen walking home from school while her boyfriend, Jimmy Campbell, was on the bus. The two had been texting, and she sent him a heart at 2:53 p.m.
Fourteen minutes later, Abby’s cell signal disappeared about a mile from her home. The police looked into her messages with her boyfriend and their relationship. Investigators dove into the people closest to her and checked their alibis. None of them were involved in the crime.
The Shock Collar
Kibby let Abby come into his trailer to help print money, but when she went inside, he presented her with a new torture tool. He told Abby he found a “more humane” way of keeping her quiet and pulled out a shock collar.
He put the shock collar on her and told her to try and scream. Abby slowly raised her voice, and he shocked her. Kibby said, “Now you know what it feels like.” He thought she wouldn’t do anything bad if she knew how painful the collar was.
An Alarming Call
In July 2014, Kibby received a call from Lauren Munday, a woman he met on the internet. Munday had been arrested for passing fake $50 bills. She called Kibby to warn him that she told the police he printed them. Panic set in, and Kibby needed a plan.
He thought the police would show up at his house at any moment, so he had to get rid of the evidence. Kibby also didn’t want them to find Abby. He had to decide what to do because she knew his name from the books, he gave her.
He Liquidated Everything
Kibby was spooked, so he started getting rid of everything, including Abby. He hid all the money he had printed and stashed the printer. Kibby also wanted to get rid of Abby, so she convinced him to let her go by promising she wouldn’t turn him in.
On July 20, 2014, Kibby drove Abby back to North Conway, New Hampshire, close to where he had abducted her. When she got out of the car, he said he would kill her if she told anyone who kidnapped her.
She Showed Up at Home
Abby walked the last mile to her mother’s house. She remembered looking up at the sky and laughing. Abby was overwhelmed with happiness because she was a free person, and she never thought she would get away from Kibby alive.
She knocked on her mom’s front door, and Zenya couldn’t believe her daughter was standing in front of her alive and safe. Zenya told media outlets that her family are “the happiest people on earth.” Abby embraced her family in a tight hug and didn’t want to let go.
Investigators Were Puzzled
When news spread that Abby had returned home, her photo was removed from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s website. The word “found” was scrawled over all the missing-person posters that lined the streets of Abby’s hometown.
While her family, friends, and the community at large were overjoyed that she was safe, investigators were left with many questions about how and why Abby disappeared on October 9. The police asked for the public’s help to figure out the identity of who could have taken her.
Using All Their Resources
Senior Assistant Attorney General Jane Young, who heads the criminal bureau, told news outlets that law enforcement was devoting all their resources to unravel the mystery of Abby’s abduction. Abby was hesitant to help the police because of her promise.
However, after a little time at home, Abby started to open up. Instead of giving his name, Abby gave a general description to authorities. They released a sketch of the man she said drove her away, but at the beginning, they were still determining if she left willingly or was coerced.
Her Health Deteriorated
After being contained in a windowless shed and being subjected to torture and abuse for nine months, Abby needed medical attention. She had lost a lot of weight and needed to rebuild her strength. Abby also needed to work on her mental health.
When she came home, Abby couldn’t even eat solid foods. She was only able to keep liquids down because she hadn’t had proper meals for the entirety of her captivity. Abby was afraid that Kibby would find her, but he didn’t know where she lived.
They Revealed the Letter
The letter Abby sent to her mom was kept private at first, but police late made it public when Abby was home and safe. When the letter surfaced, FBI special agent Kieran Ramsey thought Abby could have run away willingly or that someone convinced her to leave home.
It was as if they didn’t believe she was kidnapped. Bob Lowery, vice president of the missing children division at the NCME, reported that Abby’s return after many months was “unusual but not unprecedented.” Typically, the longer children are missing, the less likely they are to be found alive.
What Did She Write?
When Abby was abducted, her mom drove around, suspecting everyone. She was in despair and consumed by the search. When Zenya got Abby’s letter in the mail, she was so happy. The letter said, “Dear mom, I miss you, and I love you more than you can imagine.”
Abby added, “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 didn’t believe Abby had written that, but the DNA matched her.
It Was Impossible
While investigators had theories that Abby had run away, other experts said it was almost impossible. The police found no evidence of foul play during the search for her but worked tirelessly to find her because Abby “went dark.” She just vanished into thin air. Abb
Attorney General Jane Young said, “A child cannot do this on their own with this level of sophistication to stay off the grid. Especially a child of this age – they live through phones and social media.” A 14-year-old would never be able to live without their phone.
Abby’s parents were separated and lived apart. At the request of the Massachusetts-based Mission for the Missing organization, retired New Hampshire State Police Lt. John Healy combed through letters and statements issued from Abby’s parents over the nine months she was missing.
Healy noticed that none of the letters showed any sense of fear or desperation. Based on the letters and statements from her parents, Healy “strongly suspected she was gone voluntarily.” However, law enforcement didn’t reach the same conclusion and refused to give up on the investigation.
Keeping a Secret
Abby was terrified to tell the police the name of her abductor. At first, she only shared details of what he looked like to a sketch artist. She only told Zenya Kibby’s name and made her mom promise not to tell anyone.
According to police, Abby confided in her mom that she didn’t tell law enforcement all the necessary information and knew who her captor was. Zenya wasn’t happy with her daughter’s decision and wanted her daughter’s kidnapper to be brought to justice. She had to tell the truth.
Revealing His Name
Despite Abby’s decision not to tell police Kibby’s name, on July 27, 2014, Zenya gave detectives his name. They looked into Kibby and got an arrest warrant. The police then apprehended Kibby and raided his property. Abby broke her promise, but he couldn’t hurt her if he were behind bars.
Initially, Kibby was charged with kidnapping, and the bail was set at $1 million. While he sat in jail, the charges against him started to add up. He was indicted on 205 charges, including sexual assault, robbery, and criminal threatening.
She Spoke Out
A few weeks after her return, Abby spoke for the first time to a local newspaper. She thanked everyone for their support. Abby told reporters that she would see her photo in the newspaper with the number of days she had been missing, and it gave her a sense of hope.
She started to feel better after a few weeks of medical treatment. But Abby said she didn’t want anyone to treat her like a victim. She told reporters that she wanted to be treated like a normal person.
He Threatened the Attorney General
A year after his arrest, Kibby was accused of making offensive threats to harm Young during a recorded phone call from the Carroll County House of Corrections. The charges were later dropped, and he wanted it removed from his record.
As he sat in jail, a judge refused to allow Kibby’s lawyers to interview Abby. They were initially preparing to go to trial and began collecting evidence to support Kibby. However, the judge didn’t want to subject Abby to more emotional distress, as she had been through enough.
He Didn’t Want a Trial
Kibby wasn’t dumb. He wanted to avoid a trial because he knew it meant the possibility of life in prison without parole. Instead of going in front of a jury, Kibby made a deal with the prosecutor two years after his arrest. He pled guilty to only seven of the charges.
With his deal, Kibby was sentenced to 45 to 90 years in prison and mandatory participation in a sexual offenders treatment program. He definitely got off easier than he would have if he had gone to trial.
He Could Be Eligible for Parole
Kibby’s conviction, which he is currently serving, can be broken down into the maximum sentences for each charge. He received 20 years each for the three counts of sexual assault, ten years for kidnapping, seven years for witness tampering, seven years for second-degree assault, and six for threatening.
The judge said Kibby got a lenient sentence because he could be eligible for parole as soon as he finishes two-thirds of his minimum sentence. At his sentencing, Abby said she forgave Kibby, even though what he did affected her everyday life.
Hopeful for the Future
In 2018, Abby gave her first televised interview to ABC’s 20/20. Abby and her mom said they are looking towards the future and are hopeful. Despite the traumatic experience, she spent time healing herself physically and mentally. But it will always be with her.
Abby decided to share her story with the world because she wants to raise awareness. Zenya said, “We want the world to know that horrible, senseless things happen, but there’s hope in the darkest times, and it’s possible to survive even if it’s not always joyful.”
Lifetime Made a Movie
On February 26, 2022, Lifetime released the film Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez. The movie revolved around her case and how she returned home alive. Abby served as an executive producer to help with the dramatized version of her ordeal.
Abby’s involvement helped the director and actors share her story through her point of view. Lindsay Navarro, who played Abby in the film, said she was amazed by Abby’s ability to fight and survive. Her faith and wits kept her alive.
Where Is Abby Hernandez Now?
It has been almost eight years since Abby returned home, but the pain from the ordeal will never fully go away. She recently said, “Not everybody, but a lot of people have the voice in their head that says, ‘If I disappeared, it wouldn’t matter.’ And I learned that it does matter.”
Abby realized that her experience will affect a lot of people forever. While it caused her heartache, Abby revealed she isn’t scared anymore. She found it healing to release the Lifetime film and share her story. She is doing much better these days and keeps her life private.