Happy endings like the one in Cleveland don't happen often in cases of missing people, but luckily they do happen sometimes.
Eleven years after she was abducted, tortured, and held captive in what police describe as a dungeon in a Herndon, Va. town home, Alicia Kozakiewicz still can’t shake the horrible memories.
“I knew my parents would look for me, but there I was in Hell. How could they find me?” she says.
Kozakiewicz was just 13 years old when she was taken from her Pittsburgh home and driven to Northern Virginia. She had no idea where she was. Her only thought was that she was going to die.
“At one point he said, ‘I’m beginning to like you too much. Tonight we’re going for a ride.’ I knew it was game over and I decided I was going to fight and do whatever I could to get away, but accepted that it probably wasn’t going to work, but wouldn’t accept that I was not going down without a fight,” she says.
When FBI agents showed up to rescue her a few days later, she thought they were men her abductor, Scott Tyree, sent to kill her.
Kozakiewicz now counsels other survivors and families who have missing loved ones. She was doing that when the news broke that the girls in Cleveland were found alive.
“It was so amazing to watch these parents,” she says. “Their faces lit up because it was their hope that could be their child.”
Kozakiewicz’s face lit up too, but as a survivor she knows that the girls’ exuberance of new-found freedom will wear off soon.
“They’ve been hurt and when you’ve been hurt it’s OK to hurt. To have nightmares and flashbacks, that’s understandable. It’s a moment of weakness, but it doesn’t mean that you are weak,” she says.
Kozakiewicz’s hope is that, much like herself with her public speaking, the women will eventually find purpose to outweigh the pain they’ve endured.
“I wish I could hug them all and tell them I’m here for them and that people are here to support them.”
Kozakiewicz says she still has nightmares and suffers from PTSD. Her advice to the newly-freed Cleveland women is to surround themselves with loved ones. Her advice for families with missing loved ones is to never give up hope.