Lying there on a makeshift bed of leaves in a murderer’s basement, 13-year-old Sarah Maynard had seen and endured an unimaginable horror. A stranger had burst into her home last November and stabbed to death Sarah’s mother, her 11-year-old brother and a family friend, then kidnapped Maynard and kept her for four days as his prisoner and the victim of his sexual assaults. And yet, through it all, the courageous young girl never gave up hope that she would be rescued.
In an exclusive interview Tuesday, Maynard told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira that she’s speaking out now because she “wanted to let people know how I could survive what he did to me.” Despite everything, she still is “making my life go on, and not thinking about the past.”
Maynard’s father, Larry, also appeared in the studio with his daughter. “It’s still a nightmare every day knowing that part of our family is not with us,” he said.
The horrific chain of events that led to the murders and Maynard’s kidnapping began on the night of Nov. 9 when 30-year-old Matthew Hoffman, a tree trimmer by trade who had recently lost his job, began staking out the house where Sarah, her young brother Kody, and her mother Tina Hermann lived. He spent the night in a sleeping bag across the street from the family home. And though Hoffman would later claim that he intended only to rob the house, he carried with him a knife that he had recently purchased online.
Larry Maynard told Vieira that he does not believe this was just a burglary gone bad. “A thief steals, and a murderer kills,” he said. “If he was there to burglarize the home, why did he stake it out the way he did, why did he purchase a knife online a week prior?”
Gruesome home invasion
It was a little after dawn on the morning of Nov. 10 when he burst into the home. He stayed for about an hour, basking in what he later told authorities was the “excitement” of breaking into someone’s home, when Hermann returned home. He attacked her, knocking her unconscious, he told authorities. After family friend Stephanie Sprang, a 41-year-old mother of three, entered the house, he stabbed both women to death. Hoffman then turned on the family dog, killing it as well. He was loading the bodies into the back of a car when Sarah and Kody came home. “I stabbed the boy in the chest a couple times,” the killer later told authorities. “I ran into the bedroom after the girl to make sure she was not on the phone for help ... I saw the girl was not on the phone, and I could not bring myself to kill her.”
He had something else in mind for her. He dragged her to his home — a bizarre lair filled with hundreds of bags of leaves, marked with weird, childish scrawling on the door, dead squirrels stashed away in his freezer — and kept her captive in his basement.
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Hoffman tied her up on a bed of leaves and sexually assaulted her, repeatedly. He never let her up, even to shower, Maynard told Vieira. “I just listened to everything he told me to do … just hoping that someone would find me so I wouldn’t have to live with him again.”
It took four days before authorities got a break. A witness told them about a strange man who had purchased a tarp at a local hardware store, and authorities traced him to his basement in Mount Vernon, Ohio, where they found Maynard bound and gagged.
Coping with grief
It was only after she was rescued that the full scope of the horror the family had suffered became clear. At first, Hoffman refused to talk, but when prosecutors promised that he would not face the death penalty, he admitting to killing the two women and the boy, and then he led the investigators to a hollow tree in a remote area where he had stuffed their dismembered bodies.
Even then, Hoffman tried to excuse his savagery, telling authorities that he had made hamburgers for the sole surviving victim of his bloodlust. “I think he was just trying to say that … to make people think that he felt good about himself,” Sarah Maynard said, “to say that he fed me, and he didn’t.”
Hoffman has been sentenced to life without parole.
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In the months since, Maynard has been seeing a grief counselor, and with her father, she has established a nonprofit organization, Healing Hearts, to help other victims of violent crimes. She chokes up when she speaks of her mother and brother. “She took really good care of us, made sure we had food, heat and clothes,” she said, her voice trembling slightly. “And Kody, he was just a really good brother, even though we fought a lot.”
But despite her ordeal, she still found the strength to pen a letter that was read aloud at Hoffman’s sentencing. “I wanted to tell him that I was not scared of him. I just wanted to live my life,” she told Vieira.
And that courage and devotion to life is what makes Sarah a heroine, her father said. “She’s even an inspiration to me,” he said. “As her father I’m supposed to be the teacher … I think she’s taught me far more than I could probably ever teach her about life.”
For more information about the Healing Hearts Memorial fund, which aims to provide grants and assistance to survivors and victims of violent crimes, click here.
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