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Abby Hernandez was held captive for 9 months when she was 14. She's forgiven her captor.

This post discusses child abuse and sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers.

Abby Hernandez was making plans for her 15th birthday party when she disappeared. The high school student - known for being quiet, smart and a fast runner - left her school in Conway, New Hampshire on October 9, 2013 while she was walking home and texting her boyfriend along the way. 

But when her mother Zenya, a nurse, got home later that day, Abby wasn’t there. 

Police swung into action. A huge search was co-ordinated, with officers covering more than 1000 acres of nearby wilderness. Human remains were found, but they turned out to belong to two different people. 

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Three days after Abby vanished, Zenya stood with her other daughter, Sarah, on the steps of the Conway police station and, through tears, made a plea to TV cameras. 

"Happy birthday, Abby," she said. "Please come home. We miss you so badly."

When the plea went to air, Abby was being held captive in a storage container about 50km from Conway. She’d been kidnapped by Nathaniel Kibby, who was repeatedly raping her. Kibby, who had a criminal record for assault and other offences, was a gun nut and conspiracy theorist, known to his neighbours as 'Crazy Nate'. 

He told Abby to call him "Master" and put a shock collar around her neck to stop her from calling out for help. 

"And he told me, 'Okay, try and scream,'"Abby later told 20/20. "And I just slowly started to raise my voice. And then, it shocked me. So, he's like, 'Okay, now you know what it feels like.'"

But Abby never stopped thinking of ways to escape. She found a book in the storage container with "Nate Kibby" written on the front and worked out that was her kidnapper’s name. She tried to form a bond with him. 

"I told him, 'Look, you don't seem like a bad person. Like, everybody makes mistakes... If you let me go, I won't tell anybody about this.'"

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Image: Conway, NH Police 

After Abby had been held captive for a couple of weeks, Kibby ordered her to write a letter to her family, to stop police searching for her. Abby used her fake fingernails to carve Kibby’s name and his vehicle’s details into the letter. But Kibby saw what she’d done, used a stun gun on her, and made her rewrite the letter.

When Zenya found the letter in the mail, she called it "the greatest gift I ever received". But she was confused by what Abby had written. 

"I miss you Mum, but I won’t tell you where I am," read one line. 

When police examined it, they feared that Abby was still in "grave danger". 

"Someone may now be coercing her," FBI special agent Kieran Ramsey said at a press conference. "Someone may now be manipulating her."

As the months passed, Abby kept trying to bond with Kibby. Eventually, he trusted her enough to get her to help him with his counterfeit money operation in his basement. 

"If I were going to write a textbook about how victims should deal with abductions... the first chapter would be about Abby," former FBI profiler Brad Garrett told 20/20. "It’s always about bonding to the bad guy."

Kibby passed some of his counterfeit money on to a woman called Lauren Munday. When she found out the notes weren’t real, she rang him to say she was turning him in to the cops. Knowing he was about to get busted, Kibby decided to release Abby. So, after making her promise not to reveal his identity, he let her out of his car, near where he’d kidnapped her nine months earlier. 

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"I remember laughing, just being so happy, like, 'Oh my God. This actually happened. I'm a free person,'" Abby told 20/20.

She walked home to her mother. It was "such a beautiful moment" for Zenya. But her daughter looked "very thin" and "very pale".  

"She had a look in her eyes that I've never ever seen before," Zenya told Today. "That's something that's haunting me and I think will haunt me the rest of my life."

A week later, police arrested Kibby for his crimes against Abby, including kidnapping and sexual assault. He was sentenced to between 45 and 90 years in prison. Abby faced him in court. 

"Some people might call you a monster, but I’ve always looked at you as human," she said. "And I want you to know that even though life became a lot harder after that, that I still forgive you."

Abby is now 23, working as a hairdresser, and mum to a three-year-old boy. She was recently an executive producer for a Lifetime movie based on her ordeal, Girl In The Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez. 

As she told KGET, she doesn’t feel as scared anymore. 

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"Obviously, it’s a weird experience to have this happen in the first place," she said. "And then to have it made into a movie is obviously like an even weirder experience. But ultimately, I did find it healing in a weird way just to have it out there."

Lindsay Navarro plays Abby in the movie. She told Oxygen.com that Abby was "so open and compassionate and ready to answer anything that I asked her".

"She desires to inspire people, and that is the point of this movie," she said. "Even in the face of such evil, such wickedness, there can be good. There can be light at the end of it."

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

Feature Image: ABC News / Mamamia / Conway, NH Police.