How Abby Hernandez Convinced Her Kidnapper To Let Her Go
January 5, 2023 ~ By Shari Rose
Abby Hernandez spent more than 9 months in a windowless shed but never lost the will to escape her kidnapper
Abigail “Abby” Hernandez was 14 years old when she was kidnapped and held captive for 9 months in a shed by a man named Nathaniel Kibby. This young girl’s resolve to stay alive and gain her kidnapper’s trust over those grueling and abusive months is a story of perseverance and hope despite unfathomable circumstances.
The 2013 Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez
Before her kidnapping, Abby Hernandez was a 14-year-old freshman at Kennett High School in North Conway, a small New Hampshire town with a population of 2,000. She walked to and from school every day, and October 9, 2013 was no different. The school librarian watched Hernandez leave campus around 2:30pm, and the teen walked her usual route home.
On the day she disappeared, Hernandez was wearing new boots that hurt her feet as she broke them in. While she walked along the roadway after school, a man driving a pickup truck asked if she wanted a ride home. Seeking relief for her aching and blistering feet, Abby Hernandez agreed to get in the man’s vehicle for a short ride to her mother’s house. However, the seemingly kind stranger, a local resident named Nathaniel Kibby, showed his true intentions within minutes after picking her up.
Kibby quickly pulled a gun on Hernandez and threatened the girl, saying, “If you try to scream or try to escape or make any effort to escape, there will be consequences.”
Hernandez says that she realized she had to work with her kidnapper to try and get him to trust her. She reassured him that he wouldn’t get caught if he released her, and that he could still do the right thing.
“I said, ‘I don’t judge you for this. If you let me go, I won’t tell anybody about this, you actually seem really smart,’” she recalled in a 2018 interview with 20/20.
While in the car, Kibby placed handcuffs on Hernandez as well as a shirt over her head. He also broke her phone, fearing its tracking capabilities. Hernandez says she tried to peek through the car window to discern where she was, but Kibby fired a stun gun at her leg.
After a frightening car journey, Kibby parked his truck at his mobile home in Gorham, about 30 miles north of Hernandez’s home. Kidnapped three days before her 15th birthday, Abby Hernandez would spend the next 9 months held as a captive on Nathaniel Kibby’s property in a small storage shed.
Hernandez Classified as a Missing Person After Disappearance
Zenya Hernandez knew something was wrong when Abby didn’t return from school on October 9. She texted her daughter’s phone, but got no response. Zenya drove to Kennett High School to see if Abby simply lost track of time talking to her friends after class. She spoke to the school librarian, who saw Abby leave around 2:30pm. Zenya then began to worry that her daughter suffered an injury or some sort of medical emergency while walking home.
“My thinking was, okay, what if she had an injury, broke her leg, appendicitis, who knows, got hit by a car?” Zenya recounted in an interview with 20/20.
She called the local hospital, but Abby wasn’t there either. Around 7pm that evening, Zenya filed a missing persons report with the Conway Police Department. Abby Hernandez’s disappearance hit local television news the following night.
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Abby Hernandez Held Captive in a Shed
After kidnapping and driving the teen to his property in Gorham, Nathaniel Kibby brought Abby Hernandez to a cramped, windowless shed on his property. He covered her eyes with tape, a shirt, and a motorcycle helmet before sexually assaulting her. Hernandez would endure repeated sexual abuse in that shed for more than 9 months until her release.
Among the myriad of abusive and horrific actions that Kibby subjected her to, Hernandez said her kidnapper made her wear a shock collar, the sort of instrument made for dogs to control barking.
“I remember he put it on me, and he told me, ‘Okay, try and scream.” Hernandez said. “I just slowly tried to raise my voice and it shocked me, so he’s like ‘Okay, now you know what it feels like.’”
Hernandez says the shed she was trapped in always had a security camera fixed on her. Kibby demanded that she call him “master,” and cut off her access to sunlight and fresh air.
As the news of Abby Hernandez’s disappearance spread around town, local media outlets covered the story extensively. Hernandez says that Kibby allowed her to watch news coverage of her own missing person investigation, and she watched her mother plead for her safe return during a press conference with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office.
Both local Conway police and the FBI conducted searches for the teen, and the efforts to find Hernandez became one of the largest missing person investigations in New Hampshire’s history. But these efforts uncovered no clues connected to her disappearance.
Zenya Hernandez Receives a Letter from Her Daughter
About two weeks after Hernandez was kidnapped, Kibby let her write a letter to her mother. Hernandez says she wrote a first draft and used her fingernail to imprint the word, “help,” on the paper. However, Kibby noticed it and viciously attacked her before she was able to write a new draft.
The letter Hernandez wrote to her mother was postmarked October 13, 2013, but it did not arrive in her mother’s mailbox until November 6. Zenya Hernandez says she knew immediately that the letter was Abby’s handwriting, but there was something off about it.
“It’s her, but it’s not her,” Zenya recalled.
The letter said nothing of her captivity and the daily abuse she was subjected to. Instead, Abby wrote that she was “staying strong” and that she was “sorry [she] did this.” She told her mother how much she loved her, and apologized for being unable to tell her where she was.
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Abby’s mother gave the letter to law enforcement, and it was confirmed that the teen’s DNA was found on the document. But authorities had no way of knowing how Abby Hernandez got that letter out. Did she manage to send the letter without her captor’s knowledge, or did she mail it with his permission? If Hernandez did indeed send the letter without alerting her abuser, then releasing the document to the public could place her in even greater danger.
Law enforcement decided to hold onto the letter for one month before releasing it to the public. After the news spread, many local residents were furious with Hernandez and her family. They interpreted her letter as a confession that she simply ran away and was not a kidnapping victim. Much of the conversation on social media turned against her, and many individuals even demanded that her family pay for the resources that Conway police and the FBI invested in to find her.
But despite the vitriol and anger that the Hernandez family faced from those in their own community, the teenager’s family and friends knew she was not a runaway. They knew she was in grave danger and was probably being held against her will by an unknown assailant. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and other law enforcement agencies were not fooled, either. They believed that Abby Hernandez was indeed alive and likely being held captive.
Kibby Releases Hernandez After 9 Months
Over the seemingly endless months that Hernandez was being held in Kibby’s shed, she said she continued to hold onto hope that she would make it out alive. She prayed frequently throughout her captivity.
“I remember praying to God, and I remember I never said ‘Amen’ in my mind,” she said in a later interview. “I never wanted to end my prayers because I didn’t want God to leave me.”
Throughout her ordeal, Abby Hernandez learned more about her captor and sought to gain his trust. Over time, he allowed her to read books he had in possession. She learned his name was Nate Kibby after seeing it scribbled in a cookbook he gave her. Hernandez continually reminded him that he could let her go at any time and she would not share his identity with anyone.
“Part of how I gained his trust I guess was that I went along with whatever he wanted to do,” Hernandez said.
When Kibby got involved with a counterfeiting operation, he enlisted Hernandez’s help and she obliged. But when a sex worker that Kibby paid with counterfeit money tried to use the bills at a Walmart, local police learned about his illicit operation. The woman warned Kibby that he had better clean up whatever he was “making in [his] basement” because police were going to search his property soon.
During the evening of July 20, 2014, Nathaniel Kibby released Abby Hernandez on an abandoned road in North Conway, not far from the area where he had kidnapped her 9 months earlier. After he drove away, Hernandez says she inhaled the fresh air and could not believe that she was finally free.
“I remember looking up and laughing, just being so happy,” Hernandez said.
The 15-year-old recognized where Kibby had dropped her off, and she walked a mile back to her home. Security camera footage set up by her family in front of the house captured the moment Hernandez returned home.
“I remember when I came up to my doorstep, I could hear my mom talking on the phone, I could hear her voice,” Hernandez recounted. “I opened the door and I said, ‘Mom?’ I remember she said, ‘Abby?’ And then I remember she ran out and she said ‘Abby!’ And then she ran to me and we just hugged each other for the longest time. I just felt so happy.”
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Kibby’s Arrest and Felony Case
One week after Abby Hernandez returned home, Nathaniel Kibby was arrested. He faced a total of 205 charges, and initially pleaded not guilty to all of them. However, he later agreed to plead guilty to seven felony charges, including felonious aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping, witness tampering, and criminal threatening.
Court documents show that he threatened to kill Abby’s family and dogs if she identified him. Kibby was also accused of threatening Associate Attorney General Jane Young through a recorded phone call made from the Carroll County House of Corrections, though that charge was eventually dropped.
Nearly two years after she returned home, 17-year-old Abby Hernandez gave a victim impact statement at Kibby’s sentencing. It reads in part:
“It seems like forever, two years have gone by, both fast and slow in different senses. But I often think about Kibby and what he did affects my life on a day-to-day basis. My name does not mean the same thing anymore that it did before October 9th. I’m attending school, and I’m afraid to let anybody know what my last name is. Nobody knows what my last name is …
“ I did not put you in prison. You put yourself in prison. So I can’t carry that blame on my shoulders when it’s simply not true that I put you in prison. When you decided to point that gun at me, that was not my choice. It was not my choice to go to your house. It was not my choice for you to rape me. It was not my choice for you to threaten me. You did all that yourself …
“There are certain aspects of my freedom that I can never get back. But in that same aspect, I want you to know that I appreciate my freedom because of you. And that I enjoy and appreciate life because of you. I never look at sunshine in the same way. I never think about fresh air in the same way.”
Nathaniel Kibby was sentenced to 45 to 90 years in prison, and will likely die while incarcerated.
Abby Hernandez Today
Today, Abby Hernandez lives in Maine with her young son and works as a hairdresser. In February 2022, a Lifetime movie about her survival called “Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez” premiered. Hernandez served as executive producer on the film. She said it was tough to produce a movie about the worst experiences of her life, but she also found it healing to get her story out on her own terms.
“Obviously, it’s a weird experience to have this happen in the first place. And then to have it made into a movie is obviously like an even weirder experience,” she said in a 2022 interview with KGET. “But ultimately, I did find it healing in a weird way just to have it out there.”
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