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Video: 13-year-old recalls nightmare kidnapping

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    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: But we're going to begin this half-hour with a 13-year-old sole survivor of a brutal crime in Ohio . Sarah Maynard was found tied up in the basement of a man's home after her family was kidnapped. We're going to talk to her exclusively in a moment, but first, Natalie is back with her story. Natalie :

    NATALIE MORALES reporting: Well, Meredith , these horrible crimes gripped the country, a mother and her two children missing along with a family friend for several days. And in the end, only one of them survived. She's been called the epitome of bravery, 13-year-old Sarah Maynard .

    Ms. SARAH MAYNARD (13-year-old Girl Held Captive in Ex-convict's Basement): Yeah, I'm brave because I can -- people ask me a lot of questions and I tell them that -- about what happened.

    MORALES: What happened was a brutal home invasion in which her mother, 11-year-old brother Kody and a family friend were savagely murdered.

    Mr. JOHN THATCHER (Prosecutor, Knox County, Ohio): Very few cases in Ohio history that I can think of that are this bad.

    MORALES: Last November, police were called when Tina Herrmann did not show up for her job at Dairy Queen . She, her two children and a family friend named Stephanie Sprang had vanished, leaving a terrifying clue behind, police discovered large amounts of blood inside their Ohio home, but no sign of the four .

    Sheriff DAVID BARBER (Knox County, Ohio): So I have never experienced a case this big, this serious and this tragic.

    MORALES: Investigators and volunteers combed the area. Four days after the four disappeared, a break in the case. Police arrested a 30-year-old unemployed tree trimmer named Matthew Hoffman after he was spotted suspiciously buying a tarp at Walmart . In his basement, they found Sarah bound and gagged on top a makeshift bed of leaves . Authorities say she'd been imprisoned and repeatedly assaulted for four days. Miraculously, she was still alive.

    Mr. LARRY MAYNARD (Sarah's Father): For her to survive the wrath of his evil and to be sitting here next to me today, you know, it's just incredible.

    MORALES: Hoffman 's home was a house of horrors, mysteriously filled with leaves , leaves filling the living room, bags of leaves floor to ceiling in the bathroom, a peace sign scribbled on a door and a knife, dead squirrels in the freezer, but no trace of the other victims. For four days after his arrest, Hoffman refused to tell police what happened to the others, confessing only after prosecutors promised not to seek the death penalty. Finally, he led authorities to the bodies, which he had dismembered and concealed inside a hollow tree .

    Sheriff BARBER: Elated as we were Sunday morning when Sarah was rescued, I think the tragedy today is just devastating.

    MORALES: In a chilling written confession, Hoffman said, quote, "I did not enter the house to kill those people." Hoffman claimed it was a robbery gone wrong and that he couldn't bring himself to kill her. Hoffman will spend the rest of his life behind bars without the possibility of parole while young Sarah , the only survivor of this terrible tragedy, works to move on with her life. And Hoffman pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts. In his confession he told investigators he did not know Sarah or the other victims prior to breaking

    into the home. Meredith: Natalie , thank you. Sarah Maynard is with us exclusively along with her dad Larry . Good morning to you both.

    VIEIRA: Good morning.

    Mr. MAYNARD: Morning.

    Ms. MAYNARD: Sarah , I think that you are an incredibly brave young lady given everything that you have gone through. And I want the audience at home to know that this is something you wanted to do, you wanted to come forward and speak out. I know that you're working with a grief counselor back home, but your family supports this decision to be here. So tell us why you wanted to be here this morning and what it is you want to say.

    VIEIRA: To let people know how I could survive what he did to me. So I just listened to everything he told me to do and...

    Ms. MAYNARD: And got through it. He -- your kidnapper held you for four days, it had to be very scary for you, how did you stay strong through all of that, Sarah ?

    VIEIRA: Just hoping someone would find me and so I won't have to live with him again -- or stay there with him.

    Ms. MAYNARD: Yeah, he said during his confession that -- he admitted that he bound your hands and your feet, but he also said that he made hamburgers for you. How did he act around you? Was he trying to befriend you or was he constantly threatening you, Sarah ?

    VIEIRA: No, I think he was just trying to say that in his letter to make people think that he felt good about himself, to -- for him to think that he fed me and stuff, and he didn't. He didn't let me shower or do any of that stuff.

    Ms. MAYNARD: Did he just keep you down in the basement essentially?

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    Ms. MAYNARD: And, Larry , during all this period, the first four days you didn't know where your children were, where their mother was. That had to be a nightmare for you.

    VIEIRA: Yeah. Oh, yeah, it literally was. You know -- and it's still a nightmare, you know, every day knowing that, you know, part of our family 's not with us.

    Mr. MAYNARD: You know, he had said during the confession, he said this was a burglary gone bad, he didn't intend to kill anybody. Do you believe that?

    VIEIRA: No, I don't. You know, a thief steals and a murderer kills. You know, if he was there to burglarize the home, why did he stake it out the way he did? You know, why did he purchase a knife online a week prior to make an entrance into this home?

    Mr. MAYNARD: You know, we have seen pictures of his home, they've been released, Sarah , and they are just disturbing images of doodles on the wall and those bags and bags of leaves . Even the bed that he had you on supposedly was made out of leaves , is that...

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    Ms. MAYNARD: Did he say anything about why that house was filled with leaves to you?

    VIEIRA: He told me that someone helped him bag the leaves and so that's why he just wanted -- he said he wanted to make my bed comfy, so he just put leaves there so I could sleep on them.

    Ms. MAYNARD: You know, the sheriff has since said that Sarah is the epitome of bravery, how would you describe her, Larry ?

    VIEIRA: Definitely. You know, she's even an inspiration to me. You know, me as her father, you know, I'm supposed to be the teacher, you know, of your children, but I think she's taught me far more than I could probably ever teach her about life.

    Mr. MAYNARD: You know, during the sentencing you wanted to confront your kidnapper, Hoffman , you had a statement written that was -- that was read out loud not by you but by others. What did you want to say to him and why was it important for you to face him?

    VIEIRA: I wanted to tell him that I wasn't scared of him, I just wanted to live my life.

    Ms. MAYNARD: What keeps you strong, Sarah ?

    VIEIRA: Just...

    Ms. MAYNARD: And so positive?

    VIEIRA: ...just making my life go on and not thinking about what's happened in the past.

    Ms. MAYNARD: And I know that you have started a nonprofit organization in honor of Tina , Sarah 's mom, and your son Kody .

    VIEIRA: Correct. It's called the Healing Hearts Foundation . It's strictly a nonprofit organization developed to help victims of violent crimes such as Sarah . So, you know, it's -- we think it's going to be a really good organization, you know, to try to help other families that may possibly go through the same ordeal that Sarah and the rest of our family has gone through.

    Mr. MAYNARD: Yeah. We've learned a lot about your mom and your brother, that your mom was just a real hard-working lady, put you and Kody above everybody else.

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    Ms. MAYNARD: And Kody at 11 was already sort of the star pitcher...

    VIEIRA: Yeah.

    Ms. MAYNARD: ...on his little league team. How -- what do you want people to know about your mom and your brother?

    VIEIRA: Well, mom, she took really good care of us and made sure we had food and heat and clothes. And Kody , he was just a really good brother, even though we fought a lot.

    Ms. MAYNARD: Well, that's what brothers and sisters do. I know they'd be very, very proud of you, you really are an incredible young lady . Congratulations again...

    VIEIRA: Thank you.

    Ms. MAYNARD: ...on the honor roll , that's fantastic. Larry , thank you so much for joining us.

    VIEIRA: Thank you very much .

    Mr. MAYNARD: Our thoughts and prayers are with both of you and also with the family Stephanie Sprang as well.

    VIEIRA: Definitely.

    Mr. MAYNARD: Thank you.

    VIEIRA: Thank you.

    Mr. MAYNARD:

TODAY contributor
updated 2/22/2011 10:14:27 AM ET 2011-02-22T15:14:27

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.”

Image: Larry Maynard, Sarah Maynard
Sarah Maynard’s father, Larry, appeared in the studio along with his daughter. “It’s still a nightmare every day,” he told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira.

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?”

Image: Sarah Maynard kidnapping
Sarah Maynard slept on a makeshift bed of leaves in Hoffman’s basement. “He said he wanted to make my bed comfortable so he just put leaves there,” Maynard recalled.

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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