Abby Catt was 18 when her family recruited her to rob banks; now she's trying for a fresh start
Abby Catt drove the getaway car as her father and brother robbed two banks.
Abby Catt was just a teenager when she began helping her father and brother rob banks in Texas. After struggling with being in and out of jail over the past six years, she says she feels like her life is finally moving in the right direction.
“I just want to progress now, I don't want to fall back,” Abby Catt told “20/20.” “[I’ve] grown up a little bit… just life is better on this side.”
Watch the full story on "20/20" THIS FRIDAY, June 28, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC
Abby Catt said she was 18 years old when her father, Scott Catt, had used her brother, Hayden Catt, who was 20 at the time, to convince her to be their getaway driver on their first bank heist in August 2012.
“Well, the way that he [Hayden] presented it to me was like, ‘We need you in order to be successful,’ and then it was just like, ‘Okay,’” Abby Catt said. “There was no question I was going to do it… I had no questions. They told me they needed me, so I did it.”
Abby Catt said the first bank they robbed was the Comerica Bank just blocks away from the family’s home in Katy, Texas. She said her father instructed her on where to drop them off and where to pick them up.
Hayden Catt and his father entered the bank wearing disguises, with pellet guns drawn, while his sister waited outside in the getaway car. The Catt family got away with a garbage bag containing $70,000 that day.
Then in October 2012, they robbed the Katy branch of First Community Credit Union. Scott Catt went in with his son with different disguises while his daughter waited in the car. The father was the only one holding a gun at the time. With this second heist, the family had gotten away with an estimated $100,000 total.
Abby Catt said she knew it was only a matter of time before they were going to get caught.
“I knew… I could just feel it,” she said. “How long does three people think that they can just rob banks for, you know? It doesn't last forever.”
Police quickly identified the Catt family by the construction worker vests that Scott Catt directed his children to buy as disguises for the second robbery. They had used his debit card to make the purchase at a local Home Depot. On Nov. 9, 2012, Scott, Hayden and Abby Catt were all arrested.
Scott Catt admitted to police that he had previously robbed banks in Oregon by himself before he moved his family to Texas, where he convinced his children to help him rob more banks. Their mother had died of breast cancer when the kids were young and Hayden Catt said their father told him money was tight.
Scott Catt pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and accepted a sentence of 24 years in a Texas prison. Hayden Catt accepted a plea deal with a 10-year sentence. Abby Catt accepted a plea deal with a five-year sentence. But instead of sending her to prison, Fort Bend County, Texas, Sheriff Troy Nehls decided to keep Abby Catt at the county jail.
"I just feel that she's more of a victim in this. So my goal is to try to educate her, get her where she could get her GED and try to teach her some type of a skill set here so when she gets out she can lead a productive life," Nehls told "20/20" in a 2013 interview.
In an unprecedented gesture, Nehls allowed ABC News' "20/20" to bring Hayden and Abby Catt together for a reunion in 2015 at the Fort Bend County Courthouse in Richmond, Texas. At that point, it was the first time the siblings had seen each other in a year.
"I don't blame you for anything. Nothing," Abby Catt told her brother during their emotional reunion.
"It's going to be a long...time until I see you," he responded.
Abby Catt used her time behind bars to study for her GED, and worked sewing patches on uniforms and hemming pants. After two years and 10 months in jail, she was released on good behavior in September 2015 under the condition that she remain in Texas.
But that wasn’t the end of Abby Catt’s story.
After “20/20’s” first report aired in 2013, a viewer named Susie Gregory, who had volunteered as a sewing instructor at the jail where Abby Catt was incarcerated, offered to take her in when she was released. In 2015, Abby moved in with Gregory and her husband, Steve, and got a job working at a fast food restaurant.
“Our number one requirement was that she attend church on Sunday morning,” Susie Gregory told “20/20.” “We said, ‘School night, you really need to be in by 10:00 because you're going to have to get some homework done. And on — you know, on the weekends, you need to be home by midnight.’ … Those were our rules.”
But adjusting to this new life wasn’t so easy for Abby Catt. Gregory said Abby Catt would blow past her curfew and come home early the next morning or sometimes she would go out and not come home at all.
“I didn’t want any rules,” Abby Catt said. “My problem was that the only people that I knew were the people I had met in the jail. And I'm bored. I need someone to hang out with. I need someone to do something with. And slowly that kind of takes you down the wrong path.”
Although Abby said she no longer uses them, she admitted that at the time there were “a little drugs involved here and there.”
Then finally, after several days of Abby Catt’s failing to show up back at Gregory’s house and ignoring her phone calls and text messages, Gregory said she told Abby Catt she was changing the locks.
“It was really hard,” Gregory said. “I really considered Abby to be the daughter of my heart… We let her see a family that cared for each other, that didn't rob banks. But, it just seems like the more I reflect on it, I feel like she just wasn't ready for it.”
Abby Catt said she left and ended up in Laredo, Texas, where she worked as a driver of a pilot car for wide loads. It was in that town where she said she met Ricardo Gonzalez.
“I’m just going to say he’s just not a good person,” Catt said.
Catt said she partied with Gonzalez and there was “obviously alcohol” and “maybe” some drugs “involved.” At the time she said she felt like she “didn’t have another choice” but to stay with him.
In the end, she said, he led her back to jail.
In August 2016, Gonzalez was arrested and charged with robbery at a gas station in Laredo. Abby Catt said they had pulled into the station and she thought he was just going to gas up the car, but then she said she “passed out.”
“I was high… and I ended up falling asleep right away,” she said. “Next thing, I was woken up by the police knocking on my window. … They pulled me out of the car and onto the ground… They say, ‘Do you realize that he's over here robbing people in the store?’ And I said, ‘No. I didn't realize that. I'm sorry.’”
Gonzalez, already a convicted felon, eventually pleaded not guilty to two counts of aggravated robbery. He is expected to go to trial this fall.
Abby Catt was not indicted in the alleged robbery, but at the time, she had a parole violation warrant for failing to report to her parole officer after being released from jail for the second bank robbery she had committed with her father and brother. She was arrested and sent back to jail for over a year for violating her parole.
“[I was] disappointed in myself, just as much as everybody else was disappointed in me,” Catt said. “But it’s always better to be in jail than it is to be dead.”
When Catt was released from jail a second time, she said she left wearing her jail clothes, walked to a Greyhound bus station and went to a halfway house in Texas. Then her aunt, Joanna Voss, her mother’s sister, took her in and brought her back to Oregon.
“She called and said she was being released… I didn't hesitate to go down and...be there for her, to bring her home,” Voss said. “I was hopeful...and she went off the rails quickly.”
Voss said Abby Catt started drinking and using drugs again after she moved in. Again, Abby Catt was made to leave and figure things out on her own.
After she left her aunt’s house, Abby Catt started working at a fish processing plant. She met her current boyfriend and they are expecting a baby boy later this year.
“Everything changes once you find out you're pregnant,” she said. “You can't be selfish anymore, that's for sure. And I know…I've always been a little bit selfish. So that feels good, though, it's kind of a relief.
Meanwhile, Abby Catt’s brother Hayden, now 27, remains in prison.
“I just want him to be OK when he gets out, because I know how hard it was for me. And he doesn't have nearly as much support as I do. You know, people almost hate him,” Abby Catt said. “They hate him just for who he is. But he was just, you know — he's still my brother.
“And I just worry about him,” she continued. “Because he's really got to be strong when he gets out. He has no idea. He has to be so strong…life out here is just different from in there."
Although the siblings haven’t seen each other for quite some time, Hayden Catt told ABC News in a recent interview that he believes his sister can turn her life around.
“The best thing that we have right now is we're both young and we've learned huge, life-shattering lessons at a young age,” he said. “I really feel like it's put us ahead of our peers.”
He said he is also in touch with their father “usually every week” through letters. He said he believes Scott Catt has changed.
“I think that he's found the same faith and redemption that I have here as well,” Hayden Catt said. “He did the best job with me and Abby that he could. He lost his way. That's for sure. We've had a lot of time [these six years] to think about that — what went wrong.”
Hayden Catt said he’s focusing on finishing his time behind bars and being a better person when he gets out. He has been denied parole twice and has three years left on his sentence.
“I'm better for having been taken out of that lifestyle,” he said. “I'm coming up on seven years [in prison]. So, in the next three years, I'll be going home. And I can't wait for it. I'm going to attack life with everything I got.”
Scott Catt, who is still serving out his prison sentence, declined to do another interview with ABC News after his initial sit-down in 2013.
"I made some really bad decisions," Scott Catt told "20/20" at the time. "I did something that — did some things I'm just not proud of."
"A lot of bad choices…were made under the influence of alcohol and cocaine,” he continued. "I'm paying the consequences, and I will pay… My children as well."
Abby Catt said she has visited her father in prison and she forgives him for the path he put her on.
“I think sometimes I blame myself more than him,” she said of her father. “I know he loves me. I know he loves me as his daughter, so it’s hard sometimes to really get what happened.”
The things that matter to her the most now, she said, are her son and her relationship. Voss told ABC News that she is allowing Abby Catt and her boyfriend to move back in with her once the baby is born.
“Those are two things that I can't lose. So that's it,” Abby Catt said. “I just hope to have a stable family…and to give [my son] the best life. You just want to be the best person that you can.”