Abby Hernandez’s story: Her kidnapping made her appreciate life more

Abby Hernandez disappeared in October 2013 and endured nine months of torture and sexual abuse at the hands of Nathaniel Kibby. Hernandez walked back home after Kibby dropped her at the spot where he picked her up, promising to give her a lift. 

Hernandez said that she saw the stress of nine months on her mother’s face. “I could see stress, months of stress in her face, and it kind of killed me a little bit,” Abby said

Abby Hernandez’s story features in Lifetime’s Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez. She relived her harrowing yet inspiring story as an executive producer of the movie. 

Abby Hernandez was on her way home from school when Nathaniel Kibby offered her a ride to a nearby restaurant. However, Nathaniel drove to a local Home Depot and held a gun to Abby’s head when she tried to get out. 

Kibby placed a jacket on Abby’s face to prevent her from seeing what he was doing or where they were going. Abby remained alert, however, and heard Nathaniel break her phone to prevent GPS tracking. The last text she sent that day was to her boyfriend, Jimmy Campbell, at 2:53 p.m. 

Hernandez tried to convince Kibby to let her go, vowing not to report him to authorities. She told ABC’s 20/20:

“I told him, ‘Look, you don’t seem like a bad person. Like, everybody makes mistakes… If you let me go, I won’t tell anybody about this.’ I really always kinda put it – you know, ‘This strategy is always there.’”

Abby’s pleas fell on deaf ears. She tried to peak around the jacket, but Nathaniel caught her and placed a stun gun on her thigh. Kibby drove to a location 30 miles north of Conway, New Hampshire. 

He led Abby into a dark room resembling a tool shed where he taped her eyes, put a t-shirt and motorcycle helmet over her head, and raped her. It was the first of countless times that Nathaniel would sexually assault Hernandez. 

Nathaniel placed a shock collar on her neck to prevent Abby from escaping. Kibby then tested it to ensure Abby knew it was working. Hernandez explained:

“I remember he put it on me. And he told me, ‘OK, try and scream.’ And, I just slowly started to raise my voice. And then, it shocked me. So, he’s like, ‘OK, now you know what it feels like.’ “He told me, ‘Call me, call me Master.’”

Hernandez resolved to stay alive for as long as possible. “I just really wanted to live,” she said. Abby said on 20/20 that she never said ‘amen’ during prayers as she didn’t want God to leave her. 

Abby chose to gain the trust of her captor as she devised ways to escape her bondage. “Part of how I gained his trust, I guess, was… I went along with whatever he wanted to do,” Abby said. Hernandez even helped Nathaniel create counterfeit bills in his basement. 

Hernandez knew that Kibby was a volatile character, so she went out of her way not to anger him. The first time she saw his face, she averted her gaze to avoid punishment for seeing too much. However, Kibby failed to punish her transgression, showing that Abby’s efforts to gain his trust were paying off. 

Abby’s break came via Lauren Munday, an acquaintance of Kibby’s who claims to have met him online. Nathaniel gave Lauren three fake $50 notes, one of which Walmart flagged. Lauren immediately pointed authorities towards Kibby but warned him that police were coming.

“So, I told him, ‘Whatever you’re making in your damn basement, you better clean it up right now, because they are coming for your ass,” Lauren said on 20/20. Kibby took the warning seriously and threw away everything, including Abby Hernandez.

However, he made her promise not to reveal his identity. By then, Abby knew his name, having seen it on one of his cookbooks. Nathaniel dropped Kibby off a mile from her house. Hernandez talked to 20/20 about the euphoria of regaining her freedom:

“I remember looking up and laughing, just being so happy. Oh my God, this actually happened. I’m a free person. I never thought it would happen to me, but I’m free.”

Former FBI profiler Brad Garrett said that Abby’s trust-gaining tactics secured her release. “If I were going to write a textbook about how victims should deal with abductions, the first chapter would be about Abby,” he said. “it’s always about bonding to the bad guy.”

Abby’s mother, Zenya Hernandez, didn’t think it odd when Abigail Hernandez failed to arrive home at her usual hour. However, Zenya’s concern grew when her texts to Abby went unanswered. After the school librarian told her that Abby had left school, Zenya’s mind started playing out worst-case scenarios. 

“My thinking was, ‘What if she had an injury? Broke her leg. Appendicitis. Who knows? Got hit by a car,’” Zenya Hernandez told 20/20. “I called the hospital at that time. They have not seen her. At that point, (I’m) kind of getting frantic actually.”

It was three days before Abby’s birthday, which she was excited about celebrating, so it didn’t make sense for her to run away from home. Abby broke down as she watched her mother plead for her return via a media broadcast. 

Police ruled out Abby’s inner circle as suspects following a thorough investigation. However, Zenya suspected everyone. Unbeknownst to Zenya, Abby had sent her a letter from captivity, urging her to stop searching. 

Hernandez wrote the letter at Kibby’s request; he thought it would convince authorities that Abby had run away of her own volition. Abby had tried to inscribe a hidden message on the letter, but Kibby discovered her plan and discarded that draft. Still, the letter from Abby looked suspicious, Zenya said:

“She said, ‘Dear Mom, I miss you and love you more than you can imagine. 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.’ It’s her, but it’s not her.”

DNA analysis confirmed that the letter came from Abby. However, it didn’t make sense for Abby to run away: she lived a happy life and didn’t have enough clothes or money to survive alone. Deputy AG Jane Young explained: 

“People just don’t disappear off the face of the Earth, especially a 14-year-old girl. She didn’t drive. We knew that there was money at home she didn’t take. She had only the clothes on her back. No matter where she was, it fit the definition of kidnapping.”

However, for some in the community, the letter provided sufficient proof that Abby was alright. 

Zenya sank further into despair and desperation as the months rolled on. “I was just always looking for her,” Zenya said. “I did see a girl who looked a lot like her and got out of my car, and I followed her on foot. It was kind of weird, but I did that.”

Then, seemingly out of the blue, Abby Hernandez returned home. 

Initially, Abby declined to reveal the identity of her captor. After a few days, she opened up, leading to the arrest of Nathaniel Kibby. 

It turned out that Nathaniel had a history of stalking, criminal trespass, and assault. Conway police had arrested Kibby in March for assaulting a woman on her driveway, but they didn’t connect him to Abby’s disappearance. 

Nathaniel Kibby pleads guilty to seven felony charges, including sexual assault and kidnapping. He accepted a plea deal to prevent Abby from recounting her ordeal in court. The court sentenced Nathaniel to 45 to 90 years in a facility outside of New Hampshire. 

“Some people might call you a monster, but I’ve always looked at you as human,” Abby said during Nathaniel’s hearing. “And I want you to know that even though life became a lot harder after that, I still forgive you.”

Authorities remained in awe of Abby’s composure during her abduction. It helped her recall information that proved crucial to Nathaniel’s arrest and conviction. Deputy AG Jane Young told The Concord Monitor:

“What’s important to highlight is the courage that she had to survive for all of those months and her intelligence and her will to live; the fact that her family never gave up; the fact that law enforcement looked for her day in and day out for nine months – going to measures that the public will never know the extent of – to find her.”

Abby’s ordeal instilled in her a greater appreciation for life. “Every time I go outside now, I really try to appreciate sunlight and fresh air,” she said. “I really try to never take that for granted.”

Zenya hopes that Abby Hernandez’s miraculous story can inspire people to stay positive even in the worst times. “We want the world to know that horrible, senseless things happen, but there’s hope even in the darkest times … and that it’s possible to survive even if it’s not always joyful,” Zenya said