It's a nightmare for many parents, and 11 years ago it became a reality for the family of one young girl in rural Wisconsin.
Jessyca Mullenberg, then 13 years old, was abducted by a man who had intricately woven himself throughout her life for several years.
Mullenberg, whose parents are divorced, vanished while spending a weekend with her father in the town of Eau Claire, Wis.
Mullenberg's mother, Monica Lukasavige, recalls her reaction.
"My ex-husband phoned me, and when I first heard him say the words, that she was missing, I screamed. … It's horrible. It is indescribable. You don't know where your child is. You don't know if they're being hurt. You don't know if they're cold or hungry, or being abused," she said.
Unlike most victims' parents, though, Mullenberg's parents knew who had taken their daughter. On the day she was abducted, Mullenberg had taken a trip with her creative-writing "mentor," Steven Oliver.
Oliver first met Mullenberg when he was a teacher's aid in her school. The father of one of her classmates, Oliver ran a writing club for interested students.
Mullenberg says Oliver was obsessed with her. He had followed her family to two different Wisconsin towns and moved in across the street from her father.
Ultimately Oliver abducted Mullenberg and held her captive for more than three months, bringing her childhood to an unnatural and abrupt end.
Oliver told Mullenberg that a publisher was interested in a short story she had written.
"He said that [the story was] going to be published, and we were going to go to Madison and get it all laid out," Mullenberg said.
On Sept. 16, 1995, she agreed to go with Oliver in his car to see the publisher. Mullenberg dozed off in the car and when she awoke, both her feet and hands were bound.
"I woke up, and … my hands were tied behind my back," Mullenberg said. "And then he had ropes, like, over my legs and then under the seats. He told me he was taking me and that there was nothing that I could do."
After an eight-hour drive to Kansas City, Mullenberg and Oliver boarded a plane to Houston, where Mullenberg would spend the majority of her captivity in a motel room.
Oliver registered them at the hotel as father and daughter. He invented a story of family deaths, and changed Mullenberg's appearance.
"He cut my hair, dyed my hair. &30133 And he would tell hotel workers that the reason why I would look depressed or sad was because my mom and twin brother [were] just killed in a car accident."
For the next 3½ months, Mullenberg's survival skills were tested like never before. Mullenberg was told that her name was Cindy Johnson, that she was to call Oliver, "Dad."
"He threatened me all the time with, 'I'm going to kill your parents' and 'I'm going to kill your siblings if you ever say anything,'" she said.
Oliver got a job as the motel's painter and kept Mullenberg in a small room in an abandoned wing of the motel.
Each day began with a "perimeter check." Oliver would scour the parking lot for Midwestern license plates, and when he was satisfied that no threat seemed imminent, he locked Mullenberg in the room and went to work.
Mullenberg says that physical, sexual and mental abuse were common.