It’s 2016, and Rosalynn McGinnis has just arrived in the Mexican border city of Nogales. With eight children in tow, she waits nervously for the papers that will allow her to return to the United States – almost two decades after she disappeared from an Oklahoma school. Here is the story of her horrific ordeal.
Rosalynn’s nightmare apparently began when she was a mere ten years old and living in Springfield, Missouri. There, she had enjoyed a relatively normal childhood, playing in the local park with her brothers and learning to play the violin. And as a student on the honor roll, the young girl had a future that looked bright.
Even at such a tender age, Rosalynn had big plans. In a November 2018 interview with KSHB Kansas City’s 41 Action News, she recalled her youthful aims, saying, “I wanted to grow up and be a veterinarian and to teach violin. I had goals as a very young child.” Sadly, however, her life was to play out in a very different way.
When Rosalynn was ten, her mother, Gayla, met one Henri Piette while distributing leaflets in their neighborhood. What’s more, soon the pair’s friendship became a romance. And yet Henri apparently had a dark side. According to Rosalynn, he started to sexually abuse her – a trauma that she says remains etched into her memory to this day.
“It’s like life stops the moment you are [sexually] abused,” Rosalynn told 41 Action News. “You can remember every detail – everything – like where you were. The sun was shining,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to explain to someone [who] hasn’t been through that. But it’s like imprinted on your mind.”
Furthermore, Rosalynn believes her mom, Gayla, was aware that Henri was abusing her – and claims that she did nothing to prevent it. And it seems that things got worse when Henri later relocated the family to Wagoner, Oklahoma. There, you see, the McGinnises found themselves cut off from their loved ones back in Missouri.
Henri soon married Gayla too – but Rosalynn says she never saw him as a father figure. “He knew exactly who to target and how to get what he wanted,” she continued. “He was never a stepfather. He was a child predator who moved into my neighborhood and targeted my family.”
In Oklahoma, Rosalynn claims, the abuse continued. Then, when she was 11 years old, events reportedly took a bizarre turn. Allegedly, Henri attempted to marry his young stepdaughter, asking his son to officiate a ceremony in a van. It’s also said that he subjected Gayla to at least one violent beating.
By all accounts, Gayla then decided to leave her abusive husband, taking her children back to stay with a grandparent in Missouri. However, Henri apparently caught up with them there and forced them to return to Oklahoma, where they moved into a tent outside the small town of Gore. And yet soon enough, says Rosalynn, Gayla tried to escape once more.
This time, it seems that Gayla fled with her children to a women’s refuge – but that this still wasn’t enough to keep Rosalynn safe. And on January 31, 1997, she was attending Pansy Kidd Middle School in the city of Poteau, Oklahoma, when a man arrived to collect her, whisking her away from her family to begin an allegedly terrifying ordeal.
With her daughter now missing, Gayla reached out to Child Search Ministries; and soon, the organization had produced flyers bearing Rosalynn’s details – along with the heartfelt plea, “Please help find this child.” The accompanying text also suggested that Henri might have played a role in the young girl’s disappearance.
However, Rosalynn appeared to have vanished without a trace; and just prior to her 13th birthday, the searches would ultimately cease. For 19 long years, in fact, her whereabouts remained a mystery. But then, in 2016, she reemerged – saying that she had been held against her will by Henri in Mexico during the intervening time.
A shocking story then began to emerge. According to Rosalynn, it was her stepfather, Henri, who had kidnapped her from school all those years ago. “I didn’t know what was happening,” she reported to 41 Action News. “The next thing I know, my mother’s not there, my brothers are not there, and none of my family are there, and I am by myself with this man.”
Rosalynn said that Henri had taken her to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he rented a hotel room. And there, it’s claimed, he managed to convince the terrified girl that she had been complicit in his abuse – and that she faced being sent to a mental institution if they were found. “That was the last thing that made me feel helpless,” she recalled.
It’s reported that in order to disguise Rosalynn’s identity, Henri forced her to wear glasses and dye her hair black. He also apparently told her that she would have to relinquish her name and instead gave her the first of various aliases. And allegedly, after months of being sexually and physically abused by her stepfather, Rosalynn fell pregnant – although she ultimately lost the baby.
“I was scared, and I was so confused and didn’t even know what was happening,” Rosalynn has said. “Looking back on what happened to me, I don’t even know how any human can do that to a child – what he did to me.” However, by all accounts the abuse continued – with Henri shuttling his stepdaughter between different hotels during those initial months.
It’s claimed that Henri was then eventually able to smuggle Rosalynn south into Mexico. And it was apparently there, a few years later – when she was just 15 years old – that Rosalynn gave birth to their first child. Despite the arrival of a young son, though, it seems that they were living in abject poverty, sleeping in a rotting mobile home without access to proper utilities.
What’s more, Rosalynn’s brood continued to grow – despite her desperate circumstances. And reportedly, while Henri spent what little money they had on drugs and alcohol, his stepdaughter resorted to begging in order to keep the children fed. Rosalynn says that at one stage she raised funds by selling homemade ice cream – but that Henri kept her under close observation even then.
Rosalynn also claims that on a number of occasions she attempted to escape her captor. Yet it seems that he always managed to catch up with her – doling out harsh punishments to boot. “When I was caught, the consequences were great,” Rosalynn continued in her interview with 41 Action News. “Eventually, at one point in time, it didn’t affect me anymore, because I was used to it.”
Then as the years passed, the violence reportedly continued. In fact, according to Rosalynn, Henri regularly beat her with weapons and other objects, even going so far as to shoot her a few times. And on one occasion, she claims, he assaulted her with a frying pan, injuring her so badly that her arm was sliced to the bone.
It’s alleged that ultimately Rosalynn gave birth to all of her total of nine children while in captivity, struggling to raise them as she dealt with an onslaught of abuse. Then towards the beginning of 2016 she met Ian and Lisa, a British-American couple who would finally provide a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
At the time, Rosalynn and the children were by all accounts living with Henri in the central Mexican city of Oaxaca. And when they first encountered Ian and Lisa, they were shopping in a local supermarket. “We were in line, and they were in front of us,” Lisa recalled to 41 Action News. “They had two giant carts of groceries.”
“One was entirely filled with meat, which the children told us later was only for him, and they couldn’t pay the bill,” Lisa continued. “They were short on money, so Ian and I just gave them money. And she was grateful.” Following this, a friendship soon formed between Rosalynn and the couple.
“They were just desperate to talk,” Lisa explained to 41 Action News. “Not the very youngest ones, because they wouldn’t say anything until they got to know us, but they just wanted anybody to talk to because it was not something that they were allowed to do.” Yet the relationship was cut short when Henri moved the family to a remote mountain village in the Oaxaca region.
Fortunately, however, Ian and Lisa remained in contact with Rosalynn – or Stephanie, as she was known to them. And it was during a visit to the mother’s new home that the British-American couple realized that something was terribly wrong. Lisa has said that they arrived to find the children dangling precariously off the balcony – a sign of their desperation, perhaps, for contact with the outside world.
Inside the home, meanwhile, things went from bad to worse. “There were three stalls, for lack of a better word, there all in a line with a raw cement floor,” Lisa recalled. “And they had holes in the walls for doors and windows but no doors and windows. And on the floor of each of the cubicles were very, very thin… foam exercise mats, and [these were] the kids’ beds.”
“You had eight children living in three cubicles that were little more than walk-in closet size,” Lisa continued. Then, on another visit, the couple apparently discovered one of Rosalynn’s daughters lying in a fetal-like posture on the floor. And all of the youngsters were painfully thin. “You could just feel [the desperation],” she said. “Both in the children and in her.”
Concerned for Rosalyn and her children, Lisa and Ian continued to visit them at their remote village home. And on one occasion, it seems that Henri revealed to them that he was 62 – three decades older than the alleged mother of his children. The couple then grew increasingly alarmed.
“We went home, and I said, ‘Ian, she’s 32 years old,’” Lisa recalled to 41 Action News. “Her oldest kid would be turning – I think at that point he was to be turning 17 – and I said, ‘That’s wrong.’ You take 17 away from 32 [and] that’s 15,” she added. “He’s 62. She could have been 14 when she got pregnant. This is wrong. There’s something seriously wrong.”
Around that time, Rosalynn fell ill and required surgery to take out her gallbladder. And the mother later claimed that while she was recovering in a tent following a crude operation, Henri grew violent and ordered her to do household chores.
According to Rosalynn, that was the moment when everything changed. “I knew that if I didn’t get out of there, I’d either go insane or I would end up dying and leaving my kids with that man,” she told People in 2017. So when Lisa reached out to offer her support, Rosalynn gathered the confidence that she needed to finally break free.
Rosalynn says that just weeks after speaking to Lisa, she waited until Henri was in an alcohol-induced sleep one day – and seized her opportunity to escape. By that point, her eldest son had fled to America, but she grabbed her other eight children and jumped in a taxi. Eventually, the family arrived at Lisa and Ian’s home.
While Lisa and Ian subsequently looked after the young family, Rosalynn began the process of arranging their return to the United States. And one day the mother confessed her real name. Lisa then quickly found Rosalynn’s details online – and realized that she is the same person who had gone missing 19 years earlier.
The family subsequently made their way to Oaxaca to speak to the U.S. Consulate in the city. However, officials there weren’t able to help. So, desperate, Rosalynn reached out to Lisa, who contacted the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on her behalf.
Using the organization’s advice, Rosalynn then took the children by bus to Nogales, a city some 1,600 miles north of Oaxaca. And there, they at last received the documents that they needed to make it home. Leaving their ordeal behind, they finally arrived back in the United States later in 2016, with their wider family greeting them in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Me and my kids rode an airplane together for the first time,” Rosalynn told 41 Action News. “I was scared. They were scared. But they were so excited too.” Yet even though she and her children were at last safely across the border, Rosalynn remained frightened that her alleged abuser would find her.
“She would tell me about the nightmares,” Lisa recalled. “‘Every single night. I swear to God he was standing over me.’” Eventually, Rosalynn decided to open up about her experiences in the hope that Henri might be brought to justice. And her wish seemingly began to come true in October 2017 when the authorities arrested him as he was trying to cross into the United States.
In November 2017 Henri appeared in court facing charges of kidnapping and traveling with the intent to engage in a sexual act with a juvenile. So far, he has denied the charges, claiming that Rosalynn is his wife and that the vast majority of her allegations are lies. As of December 2018, he is in Wagoner County jail, Oklahoma, awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, things have been tough for Rosalynn and her children. Apart from everything else, although the family are now safe from the alleged abuse, they have had to contend with financial difficulties. In fact, the costs of healthcare, rent and tutoring for the kids have left the family struggling to make ends meet.
Yet despite all this, Rosalynn has bright hopes for the future and plans to renovate a house to provide her children with a stable home. Meanwhile, a GoFundMe account established by her cousin Dana Archuleta has so far raised almost $40,000 to help them on their journey. And for now, it seems that McGinnis is simply happy to have escaped with her life. As she said to 41 Action News, “It’s a miracle I’m sitting here today.”