Rosalynn McGinnis was kidnapped by her stepfather when she was just 12-years-old and held captive for nearly 20 years before she was able to escape. Her stepfather raped and beat her repeatedly, impregnating her nine times while she was in captivity. She gave birth to her first child when she was just 15 years old.
McGinnis did not tell her children what was going on, though they were all held together in a house in Mexico. Her stepfather, Henri Piette, was found guilty of kidnapping and travel with intent to engage in a sexual act with a juvenile in June.
Rosalynn McGinnis, kidnapped at 12 by her stepfather and held prisoner for 19 years details her brave escape with her children.
“They didn’t know,” she told Dr. Oz during a recent interview. “I kept the truth from them until I escaped from Mexico.”
While they were in captivity, Piette would “treat them like animals, [saying] that the only reason they’re alive is because ‘your mother’s here. Otherwise, if she wasn’t, I’d kill all of you,’” McGinnis shared during her interview.
Rosalynn McGinnis’ missing person poster from the National Missing Children Center.
“He would hit them and then I would step in, and it was just horrible,” she continued. “Any kind of abuse that you can think of, he did to me.”
Over a 20-year period, Piette “moved with the victim and children dozens of times within the United States and Mexico. He used numerous aliases and forced the victim to use aliases and dye her hair black and wear glasses to change her appearance. He controlled the victim by violence, threats of violence, and sexual abuse against her and her children,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In Mexico, McGinnis became friends with a couple who suspected something wasn’t right with the “family.”
The friend told McGinnis, “I know there’s something wrong. If you can ever get away, I’ll help you,” McGinnis shared.
In June 2016, McGinnis made her escape with eight of her children (her ninth child had run away earlier and was reunited with his family after their escape). She made enough money by selling coffee, honey, or ice cream to take a ferry Oaxaca City, Mexico. Once there, she called the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
The family spent two months in hiding until it could be arranged for all of them to get emergency passports and fly back to the U.S.
“I knew that if I didn’t get out of there,” McGinnis told PEOPLE after her escape, “I’d either go insane or I would end up dying and leaving my kids with that man.”
When I’m not hanging out with my three-year-old and husband in Brooklyn, I’m busy writing stories for Mamas Uncut and managing PR + Marketing for Magnolia Bakery, based in New York City. On weekends, you can usually find me at a local park or playground pushing my daughter on the swings, “researching” the best almond croissants in Park Slope or launching into impromptu family dance parties at home, the sidewalk or, every once in awhile, a restaurant bathroom. I’m still trying to master the whole parenting thing, but I have learned that copious amounts of coffee, humor and humility are involved on a daily basis.