Missing Persons

7 Times People Went Missing And Were Later Found Alive

In some cases, more than a decade later.

Police say that the chances of finding a missing person are greatest during the first 48 hours after their disappearance. After that, their case starts to grow cold. Sometimes the missing person is presumed dead. At other times, theories develop that keep their loved ones guessing — and hoping. This is true of Maura Murray, who disappeared 13 years ago after emailing her college professors that she was taking time off due to a death in the family. Turns out, there was no death. Oxygen’s The Disappearance of Maura Murray,” premiering Sept. 23 at 8:15/7:15c, sheds light on unexplored leads. But for the people on this list, they were found alive months or even decades after they went missing. Hopefully Maura Murray will join them. 

1. JAYCEE DUGARD

In 1991, 11-year-old Jaycee was kidnapped outside her school. The abduction happened in broad daylight, in front of other students and Jaycee’s stepfather. Years and years went by before she was found—and nearly 20 years later, in 2009, Jaycee was found. She was abducted by convicted sex offender Philip Garrido and his wife Nancy, who kept her handcuffed to a bed. She was raped repeatedly, resulting in pregnancies during her long-term hostage situation. After being rescued, Dugard suffered symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome and has spent years rehabilitating herself and healing from her abductors’ brainwashing. She wrote a memoir of her experiences titled "A Stolen Life."

[Getty Images]

2. BRENDA HEIST

The 57-year-old was declared legally dead in 2013. She had disappeared from Pennsylvania in 2002, not long after she was turned down for housing assistance for herself and her two children. She and her husband were going through a divorce when she vanished, and he was looked at as a suspect. He took a polygraph and was cleared. In the end, it was discovered there was no foul play. She was found alive in Florida 11 years later. The day she went missing she was approached by a man and woman who invited her to join them on a hitchhiking journey to Florida. She spent the next decade and some change working odd jobs, living out of an RV and grappling with drugs. When she reunited, she told them she had succumbed to stress. They were reluctant to forgive her. Her ex-husband was angry over the effect her disappearance had on their children.

[Alachua County Jail]

3. ELIZABETH SMART 

She was 14 years old when she was kidnapped from her own bedroom in 2002 in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was kept captive as a sex slave for 9 months. Her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, took her out in public and they were spotted. Elizabeth was able to be rescued at that point. She has helped promote The National AMBER Alert, The Adam Walsh Child, and the Protection & Safety Act. Elizabeth and other abduction survivors worked with the Department of Justice to create a survivors’ guide called “You’re Not Alone: The Journey From Abduction to Empowerment.”

[Getty Images]

4. CARLOS SANCHEZ ORTIZ DE SALAZAR

He was a doctor from Spain who went missing in 1995. Friends described him as severely depressed, leading many to believe the worst. He was officially declared dead in 2010. But, he wasn’t. In 2015, two mushroom pickers were walking down a remote Tuscany coastal line when they found De Salazar's secret home. He had lived like a hermit on the coast since 1997. Despite Carlo’s requests that he be left alone, officials contacted his family. But when they arrived in Italy for a reunion, their relative had already disappeared into the forest again.

5. SHAWN HORNBECK 

Shawn was 11 years old when he was abducted while riding his bicycle in a St. Louis suburb in 2002. Four years later, police raided a Missouri apartment less than 60 miles away to find Shawn, then 15, and Ben Ownby, 13. Ben had been missing only four days. Michael Devlin had kidnapped them both. Shawn started his own abducted children foundation.

[Getty Images]

6. THE CLEVELAND ABDUCTIONS

For nearly eleven years, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Georgina DeJesus were considered runaways by police. Instead they were being imprisoned by a man called Ariel Castro, who repeatedly beat and raped them. Amanda even had a child, fathered by the abductor. In 2013, a neighbor heard the three women crying inside the house. The neighbor, and a few other witnesses broke down the cellar door and freed the three captives. Michelle went missing in 2002. Amanda went missing in 2003, and Georgina vanished one year later in 2004.

[Getty Images]

7. CARLINA WHITE 

In 1987, 19-day-old Carlina White was kidnapped from the Harlem Hospital. As she grew up, Carlina began digging into her past. Her suspicions started around her 16th birthday, because she didn’t resemble her family members. Carlina eventually contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and in 2011, at age 23, she was reunited with her biological family.

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