In 1997, Henri Michelle Piette kidnapped his 12-year-old stepdaughter, Rosalyn McGinnis. He proceeded to father her nine children and was recently convicted for his crimes on February 20. The now 65-year-old was found guilty of kidnapping as well as traveling with a minor to engage in a sexual act, as well as sentenced to life in prison.
When McGinnis was just 10 years old, her stepfather began to sexually abuse her. But on January 31, 1997, Piette crossed the line even further. According to prosecutors, he requested his son pick up McGinnis at her middle school before he brought her to a hotel room two hours away in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Piette originally told the middle schooler how her mother would be joining them, but after the two left town, he claimed that her mother no longer wanted her, stated she was now “a runaway,” and if she told anyone the truth about who she was, she would be in grave trouble.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” McGinnis recalled with KSHB. “The next thing I know, my mother’s not there, my brothers are not there, and none of my family is there and I am by myself with this man.”
Not long after taking McGinnis, Piette allegedly took her to a van where he “married” her in a ceremony where he “gave her a ring,” according to an FBI affidavit obtained by the Associated Press.
The two would jump from hotel room to hotel room until they eventually fled the country and settled in Mexico.
“Over the course of the nearly 20 years that followed, the defendant [Piette] repeatedly raped and inflicted additional physical and emotional abuse upon the victim,” a statement released by the U.S. Department of Justice asserts, according to People. “The victim gave birth to nine children, the first being born in 2000 when she was 15 years old.”
McGinnis revealed how she would beg for food on the streets because Piette would use their money on drugs and alcohol. The teen would even sell homemade ice cream to make ends meet, but Piette instructed her to keep conversations to a minimum check-in with him hourly.
McGinnis also shared how she had attempted to escape multiple times but each time was caught and resulted in a beating from Piette.
Then, McGinnis thankfully befriended an English-speaking couple who had recently moved to Oaxaca — a woman named Lisa and her husband, Ian (both requested their last names not to be revealed due to safety concerns.)
The couple crossed paths with McGinnis at the grocery store one day at a time when she was going by the alias Stephanie.
“We were in line and they were in front of us,” Lisa told KSHB. “They had two giant carts of groceries. One was entirely filled with meat, which the children told us later was only for him, and they couldn’t pay the bill. They were short on money so Ian and I just gave them money. And she was grateful.”
She then also noted that McGinnis’ children were almost always barefoot when she would see them, and seemed “desperate to talk.”
“Not the very youngest ones, because they wouldn’t say anything until they got to know us,” she explained, “but they just wanted anybody to talk to because it was not something they were allowed to do.”
McGinnis and Lisa became fast friends, despite Piette attempting to break their bond by moving the family to another city. Thankfully, the two kept in touch and eventually, Lisa came to visit McGinnis and noted how bothered she was at the family’s living situation as well as how isolated they had become.
“There were three stalls, for lack of a better word, there all in a line with a raw cement floor,” Lisa shared. “And they had holes in the walls for doors and windows but no doors and windows. And on the floor of each of the cubicles were very, very thin — maybe a quarter of an inch thin — foam exercise mats and that was the kids’ beds. I don’t remember seeing pillows, but they might have had them.”
And when Lisa and Ian did the math, McGinnis’ relationship with Piette did not add up.
“We went home, and I said, ‘Ian she’s 32 years old,’” Lisa said. “Her oldest kid would be turning — I think at that point he was to be turning 17 — and I said, ‘That’s wrong.’ You take 17 from 32 that’s 15. He’s 62.”
“She could have been 14 when she got pregnant,” Lisa reasoned. “This is wrong. There’s something seriously wrong.”
Lisa offered to help McGinnis while the two spoke by phone when her husband was not around but it was not until several weeks later in June 2016 McGinnis would finally escape. It began one night when Piette was passed out from drinking.
McGinnis and eight of her children (her eldest child had managed to escape the home previously) hopped in a taxi and set off to find Lisa and Ian. After she made it to safety after meeting up with them, McGinnis was able to report Piette and have him arrested, which bought her enough time to raise funds for a move back to the United States.
And after many weeks, McGinnis finally trusted Lisa enough to share her real name, along with her difficult tale.
“She turned to me and said, ‘I’ve been waiting 20 years for somebody to do the math and figure out that a 15-year-old or 16-year-old shouldn’t have babies like this, and that at 20 I shouldn’t have grown children,” Lisa said. “I’ve been waiting all this time and I couldn’t say anything. You’re the first person who ever noticed that things were wrong and did something and I’m so grateful.'”
After McGinnis was able to cross the US-Mexico border, the FBI started a search for Piette. And now, just two weeks ago, McGinnis was finally able to watch justice be served.
On February 20, Piette was given life in prison for the kidnapping charges but was given an additional 360 months (or 30 years) for traveling with intent to engage in sexual acts with a juvenile at his sentencing hearing. In addition, he was given a $50,000 fine and ordered to pay $50,067 in restitution.
Federal prosecutors revealed to People how they hope the verdict will give McGinnis a sense of closure.
“Life in prison is a sentence the law reserves for the most serious offenders — offenders like Henri Michelle Piette,’ said US Attorney Brian J. Kuester. “For 20 years he inflicted extreme physical and emotional abuse on the victim and her children. For 20 years she feared for her and her children’s lives.”
“The victim’s courage ended the defendant’s reign of terror,” he added. “Unfortunately, the horrific memories may very well last a lifetime. It is fitting that the defendant’s sentence will also.”
And while McGinnis attempts to move on, it has not been easy.
“Relief is such a small word in comparison to how I feel about the capture of Henri Piette,” McGinnis shared with People in an exclusive interview. “However, it is the closest I am able to come to describing my overall demeanor at this time. Knowing that the man who physically took 22 years from me, leaving me with a lifetime of painful challenges, has been captured makes today one of the most pivotal times of my life.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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