In June 2016, Rosalynn McGinnis and eight of her nine children fled from a remote village in Mexico where she had been raped, beaten and tortured since she was reported missing on Jan. 31, 1997 – the day she says her stepfather Henri Piette abducted her from sixth grade.
Last week, Piette, 63, was found guilty by a federal jury of kidnapping and travel with intent to engage in a sexual act with a juvenile after a 7-day trial, according to a press release issued from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.
During the trial, witnesses – including McGinnis – testified that Piette forced McGinnis and their children to move dozens of times across the United States and Mexico, often changing their names and appearance, according to the press release.
“He controlled the victim by violence, threats of violence, and sexual abuse against her and her children,” the release states.
A year after her escape, McGinnis, now 35, sat down with PEOPLE at an undisclosed location in the Midwest and shared the chilling details of her years-long ordeal and quest for freedom.
McGinnis was lying in a tent in rural Mexico, wracked with pain as she tried to recover from a primitive surgery to remove her gallbladder. But instead of resting, like the doctor ordered, Piette forced her to get up and work around the house.
In their tent, despite her condition after her procedure, Piette began screaming and getting violent – again.
At that moment, she knew she had a choice to make. “I knew that if I didn’t get out of there,” she recalled, “I’d either go insane or I would end up dying and leaving my kids with that man.”
She grabbed what few funds she had earned, and paid for a taxi to take her and her children to Oaxaca City, Mexico, where she made a call that would change her life. She contacted the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) and told them what happened to her.
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After years of being abused, threatened and forced to lie, “it was so nice to be able to tell somebody the truth,” McGinnis said. “I was still scared, but it was wonderful not to have to lie anymore.”
On Sept. 7, according to the federal complaint, there was a development in the case: An FBI special agent was notified that Piette, who had resided in Central America and Mexico for a lengthy period of time, “visited the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City attempting to obtain a U.S. Passport.” He was arrested in Dallas on Oct. 6, according to documents.
At the time of his arrest, McGinnis released an exclusive statement to PEOPLE.
“‘Relief’ is such a small word in comparison to how I feel about the capture of Henri Piette. However, it is the closest I am able to come to describing my overall demeanor at this time,” she said. “Knowing that the man who physically took 22 years from me, leaving me with a lifetime of painful challenges, has been captured makes today one of the most pivotal times of my life.”
“My children and I suffer daily as a result of this predator’s abuse,” she said. “Now, we look forward to continuing our newfound life of freedom and moving forward, having a lifetime of happiness and success.”
Attempts to reach McGinnis were unsuccessful, but sources confirmed she is doing well.
“The victim endured two decades of horrific abuse by the defendant. Her courage lead her to escape and rescue her children and allowed investigators and prosecutors to seek justice on her behalf. Ultimately her courage ended the defendant’s reign of terror,” said United States Attorney Brian J. Kuester. “I know this verdict cannot heal the countless wounds inflicted by the defendant. It should prevent him from ever inflicting more.”
The attorney’s office stated Piette’s entencing will be scheduled following the completion of a pre-sentence report.