Jeannette Tamayo: How Did She Escape Her Kidnapper?

PHOTO: Jeanette Tamayo appears on "2020"ABC News
Jeanette Tamayo appears on "2020"

Though hundreds of thousands of children are reported missing every year, few experience so-called stereotypical kidnappings, when children are abducted by strangers and held captive for long periods of time, or worse, killed. Just 0.04 percent of missing children are victims of such crimes, according to government reports.

In 2003, Jeannette Tamayo was one of those unfortunate few, but because the 9-year-old kept her cool like few would, she managed to live to tell her story and bring about the arrest of her captor.

On June 6, 2003, Jeannette was coming home from school when a man followed her into her house in San Jose, Calif. When her mother and brother arrived at the home shortly thereafter, he beat both of them severely, handcuffed Jeannette and stuffed her into a box in the backseat of his car.

As police searched, her parents prayed. Experts say if an abductor intends to kill a victim, the murder will take place within the first few hours of the abduction. The stories of Jaycee Dugard and Elizabeth Smart, who both survived long-term abductions, are practically unheard of.

PHOTOS: Kidnap victims Jeannette Tamayo and Midsi Sanchez.

Jeannette was taken to a house and handcuffed in a second-story bedroom. The man threatened to kill the young girl and sexually abused her for two days.

Jeannette said she was scared, but her actions show that she was cool-headed and resourceful, too. She knew she couldn't escape him by physical force, she told Chris Cuomo in 2005, so she decided to outsmart him.

"I had to get his trust," she said.

Jeannette Tamayo: Building Trust With Her Captor

"Killers often dehumanize their victims," said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Matt Braker, who prosecuted the case. Jeannette might have kept herself alive by talking to her abductor.

"Every step of the way, she was not just quiet, not scared to death to the point where she wasn't talking. ... She kept interacting to the point where she became a real person to him," he said.

Jeannette said it was hard to speak to her abductor.

"I really just wanted to punch him and hit him!" she said.

But she says she treated him like a "normal" human being and her plan began to work.

"He started trusting me," she said.

Soon he removed her handcuffs and let her walk freely around the house, and Jeannette continued to build trust with him. She told him about her plans for the future and her love for her family.

When he let her watch TV, Jeannette got an idea.

"I heard they were testing bunnies and other people for asthma. I decided to say I had asthma and a disease," she said.

She told her abductor she would die without her medicine.

Authorities are not sure if it was Jeannette's athsma story that touched her abductor, but soon after she told him about it, he dropped her off on a street corner and let her go.

After Captor's Arrest and Conviction, Trauma for Kidnapped Girl Remains

Police picked up Jeannette and took her for medical care, and she was soon reunited with her family. But the young girl's work was not done.

She had remembered every turn her abductor took after he put her in his car, and she led police back to his house.

"She'd been raped, tied up," Braker said. "To survive that and to recall where the turns were, how far they were -- It's just an amazing act."

The police found David Montiel Cruz, then 26, preparing to flee when they arrived. Jeannette's court testimony helped lead to his conviction, and a judge sentenced Cruz to more than 100 years in prison.

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ABC "20/20" anchor Chris Cuomo recently traveled back to California to catch up with Jeannette and another woman with a similarly horrific tale, Midsi Sanchez.

Midsi was kidnapped on Aug. 10, 2000, and survived two days of sexual abuse chained in a car. Her kidnapper was Curtis Dean Anderson, a notorious serial molester who, years later, admitted to killing two little girls, Xiana Fairchild and Amber Swartz. Anderson was caught hours after Midsi escaped from his car.

The years have not passed easily for Midsi or Jeannette. For years, Jeannette dealt with her personal pain by writing about it in her diary using invisible ink. She almost never left her house, stuck in the clutches of a paralyzing fear.

"Fear was taking the best out of me. It was taking over," Jeannette told "20/20." "I was afraid of people, especially men. Even the men in my family."

Jeannette underwent years of therapy before she could feel comfortable venturing beyond her fortress of solitude. She recalled one specific day at the mall, three years ago.

She was 15 and remembered thinking, "I'm OK. I can do this. Everything's going to be OK. No more fear."

Watch Jeannette Tamayo and Midsi Sanchez tell their stories on "20/20."

ABC News' Alison Hall contributed to this report.