No. 4: Jaycee Dugard

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: A stranger comes out of nowhere, snatches a child, and they vanish. Statistically, it’s a rare occurrence. According to the Department of Justice, about 200,000 kids per year are abducted by family members, and almost 60,000 are kidnapped by strangers. Only about 115 kidnappings involve a stranger abductor who transports the child 50 miles or more, holds the child overnight, and intends to demand ransom and to keep or kill the child. Such cases may be statistically rare, but they capture the public’s attention.

These terrifying odds made the story of Jaycee Dugard, and her 2009 emergence after 18 years in captivity, all the more compelling. Dugard has stayed out of the media spotlight since reuniting with her family, but in March they released a home video showing Jaycee baking cookies and laughing with her mother and half sister at home. Her family says she and her daughters are happy and well adjusted. But excerpts from Dugard’s diary, released by prosecutors in February, provided a glimpse inside the mind of a girl who missed her freedom but had also grown attached to her captors.

This past July, California state lawmakers approved a $20 million settlement for the kidnapping survivor. Her family had filed a suit against the state, accusing officers of failing to adequately supervise Phillip Garrido, a convicted sex offender who, with his wife Nancy, allegedly abducted 11-year-old Jaycee in 1991. Last year Dugard was found living with the Garridos, along with her two daughters, who had been fathered by Garrido. The state estimated that lifetime therapy for Dugard and her girls would cost $7 million.

Indicted on charges including kidnapping and rape, the Garridos will have a hearing in late 2011 at the earliest. A trial is years down the road.

That was the case for another high-profile kidnapping victim, Elizabeth Smart. After waiting eight years, she took the stand this fall to describe her ordeal with Brian David Mitchell, who crept into her home at night and abducted the then 14-year-old from her bed. The trial had been delayed by questions of Mitchell’s competency, and Smart recounted her experience in detail for the first time during the October 2009 proceedings.

With the trial finally begun on November 1, Smart once again went into horrifying detail. She described the “wedding” that Mitchell claimed made her his wife (in addition to his co-defendant Wanda Barzee) and the subsequent nine months of her captivity, including the time a detective came close to discovering her.

Now 23 and serving on an evangelistic mission in Paris, Smart was poised and clear as she rejected defense attorneys’ claims that Mitchell is mentally ill and believes he is God. In fact, she said, Mitchell only used religion to justify his selfish desires for sex, drugs, and alcohol. Her testimony was backed by Mitchell’s wife, who called her husband “a great deceiver.”

Not long after her return, Smart had done a few media interviews, but understandably resisted giving any details for years. (Her parents had written a 2003 memoir, which focused mainly on their faith, and which later became a TV movie.)

Jaycee Dugard’s silence will not last that long: She signed a deal to write a memoir, set to be published in 2011.

–Cicely Wedgeworth