In the 6th grade, Zana Pascoe, a 2016 graduate from the University of Kansas, was kidnapped by her elementary school basketball coach, but she and her family never reported it. She’d known the coach since the beginning of the school year and trusted her — she knew almost everyone in her small Mississippi town. Zana’s family planned to go shopping later that day and had about an hour before they had to leave. It seemed like any other day, but it wasn’t. Here’s what it feels like to be kidnapped. 

There was a knock on the door — it was Ms. Hamilton, my basketball coach and my sister’s pre-K teacher. She asked my mom if I had time to practice basketball.

“Sure. Just have her back in an hour,” my mom said.

I put on my puffy purple jacket, got into Ms. Hamilton’s old rusted pickup truck, and we started driving.

I lived right across the street from my elementary school where we normally practiced. I thought that’s where we were going to practice, but we drove past it. Maybe she was taking me to the rec center instead, but we drove past that too. Maybe we were going to another gym in town. We passed that one too.

Where were we going, I wondered? Were we picking up some of my teammates?

We got to a bridge and a sign read “Welcome to Arkansas.” I didn’t think much of it. I was getting impatient. I just wanted to play basketball.

We drove down a dusty road with trees all around before stopping at a trailer park. It didn’t look like anyone lived there.

We went in Ms. Hamilton’s rundown white trailer and played the game “Sorry” for a while. She asked me questions like, “Do you like living at home with your dad and your mom? Do you like your brother and sister?”

She then asked if I wanted to move her truck for her. My mom only let me drive when family was in the car, so I thought it was cool and moved her truck. When she went to the restroom, I called my mom with her phone to tell her how excited I’d been to drive. 

“Mom, I got to drive...”

My mom was panicked. “Zana, where are you? It’s been more than an hour.”

We were at Ms. Hamilton’s, but where was Ms. Hamilton’s?

Ms. Hamilton saw me on the phone, grabbed it from me and then spoke with my mom. She was angry. “She’s mine. I’m keeping her,” she said, before hanging up.

Next thing I know, she grabbed me by my jacket hood, put me in her truck and started driving. She sped down the forested dirt roads on the wrong side of the road. She scraped the side of her rusted truck against the bridge as we drove, sparks flying from the impact. She was silent. 

But then, I saw a big green truck coming toward us. Ms. Hamilton stopped, and I jumped out. I thought I recognized the truck. It was my family in our green truck. They got out, picked me up and drove away. They didn’t say anything about what had happened. I didn’t look back at Ms. Hamilton.

Had that really happened to me? Had I really been kidnapped? No. That didn’t happen… Did it?  

The next Monday, I dropped my sister off at her classroom expecting to see Ms. Hamilton. I prepared myself for the awkward encounter — but she wasn’t there.

She was gone. I never saw Ms. Hamilton again.