March 16, 2007 — -- 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.
"Almost every day, I was either raped or I was hit. If for some reason I didn't complete a sexual act that he wanted done a certain way, I would spend the entire day chained or tied to the bed," she said.
The telephone in the room was disconnected, and the 13-year-old had no way to escape and no one close enough to hear her screams.
Within weeks, Oliver had convinced Mullenberg that her parents didn't want to get her back, and didn't love her.
Mullenberg says she became so completely disconnected from reality that she remembered very little from her past.
"After … probably a month … I couldn't tell you my name," she said. "It didn't pay not to go along with what he wanted [me] to do or to say, because, you know, instead of getting hit once, it would mean getting hit 20 times. Instead of … the back of his hand, it would be a pot or a chair or a broom. It was not worth it [to resist]."
Lost in a nightmare, she was ultimately rescued by an everyday hero: the motel's restaurant manager, who now wishes to remain anonymous.
A chance viewing of "America's Most Wanted" on television confirmed the manager's suspicions that Oliver was up to something. Immediately after recognizing Oliver's photo on the show, calls were placed to law enforcement and the FBI.
Authorities who raced to the hotel knew who Mullenberg was, but after 3½ months in captivity, Mullenberg did not. Only after authorities showed Mullenberg pictures from her past did she come back to reality.
Lukasavige remembers when she got the call from the FBI saying her daughter had been found. "It was just the most profound happiness I've ever felt in my life," she said.
Mullenberg had survived the ordeal, but another fight began once she got home -- a fight for acceptance and a fight against criticism and self-doubt.
She began to rebuild her life, going back to school, rekindling friendships and relationships, and dealing with an array of psychological and physical problems.
Lukasavige, her mother, said, "She used to be [a] very upbeat and loving child to be around, and happy. And now, you can tell that she's depressed, and day-to-day life is hard for her."
Mullenberg, now 24, is telling her story -- a rare look at abduction from the victim's perspective -- in the hope that families and other victims will gain understanding.
"Trust [was] a big issue," she said. "[I knew] it was going to take awhile to open up and trust people again."
Recently, Mullenberg received a degree with honors from the University of Wisconsin and is in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend, Curt Christianson.
Oliver is serving a 40-year sentence in federal prison.
She and Christianson would like to have their own family, but Mullenberg admits that while she may seem functional to the outside world, her wounds are still deep.
The abduction left her with a kind of life sentence.
"It's like I live two lives. That's how it's been since I was returned at 13," she said. "There's always the Mullenberg who was kidnapped part. And then there's the other one where, you know, I finished college and I'm working and I'm trying to go forward, but everything is being pushed back because of the kidnapping. So even though he's in jail, he still controls my life because I can't go forward."