Shasta Groene can vividly recall the moment she was rescued after surviving seven weeks of captivity and sexual assault.
It was 2005 and Groene, then 8, was recognized by customers and employees at a Denny’s restaurant in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, after arriving with Joseph Edward Duncan, a registered sex offender from Fargo, North Dakota. The 42-year-old spent much of his life in prison and at one point, told a therapist that he estimated he had raped 13 younger boys by the time he was 16.
"The day before, he was telling me that he wanted to take me to North Dakota and meet his mom and family," Groene, now 25, told Fox News Digital. "At that point, I was trying to earn his trust and make him believe that I didn’t want to leave his side. I would tell him that I wanted to show him all the places I grew up in, where I went to school because I loved school, where I used to hang out, basically show him my life because I had no family. That made him feel good because he felt that I trusted him. He felt that he was learning about my life and getting to know a vulnerable part of me. I was just trying to manipulate him."
"He asked if I was hungry and told him not really," she continued. "But he said, ‘Come on, we can go to Denny’s and get a milkshake or something.’ I said OK. So we pulled in. I looked up and saw this guy. He looked at me, and I nodded my head. He nodded back. And I can tell from his eyes that he knew who I was. I was trying to tell him through my eyes, that it was me. This man, Nick Chapman, went to the waitress.
"She looked over at my table. She then came over to me and was trying to talk to me, giving me a coloring book and keeping me busy. All of a sudden, she brought the milkshakes out and said she was going to get me a little paper crown. She ran back, and that’s when I saw the police. The officer walked up behind her toward our table. He asked me who I was. I told him that my name was Katie. Joseph Duncan told me, ‘It’s OK, you can tell him.’ That’s when I said, ‘My name is Shasta.' The cop then grabbed Joseph Duncan and handcuffed him right away."
The story of Duncan and his horrifying crimes are the subject of the two-hour, Season 6 premiere of "People Magazine Investigates" airing Monday night on Investigation Discovery (ID). The true-crime series explores some of the most shocking cases across the country and how they were solved. It features interviews with survivors, loved ones of victims, investigators and other experts closely associated to the stories being told.
Groene witnessed the night that Duncan sneaked into her family’s home in Wolf Lodge, Idaho, and murdered her mother, stepfather and one of her brothers. She and her other brother were kidnaped by Duncan. Her sibling was later killed. Groene has attempted to stay out of the spotlight for 17 years but was compelled to come forward for the special.
"For a long time, I wasn’t in a place where I felt confident enough to speak out," she explained. "I wasn’t ready. But by the time we began filming, I was in a really good head space. Joseph Duncan had passed away, and it almost felt like a new start for me. I felt like I suddenly woke up and said, ‘I want to help others with my story.’"
Groene described growing up within a close-knit family that bonded over the outdoors. Gatherings consisted of barbecues, hunting and fishing.
"I had my brothers with me all the time," she reflected. "And that’s exactly how I wanted it to be. I always wanted to be with them. I was the youngest and the only girl. I was the little sister my brothers protected. And my mom made sure that the family was always together."
Duncan’s most violent string of crimes occurred in May 2005, when he was driving across the Idaho Panhandle on Interstate 90 and spotted two children playing in their swimsuits in the yard of a home next to the freeway. He pulled off the road and started surveillance of the home.
Using night-vision goggles, he broke in and tied up Brenda Groene, 40; her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, 37; and her son, Slade Groene, 13. Then he beat them to death with a hammer. Two of Brenda’s other children, 9-year-old Dylan and Shasta, were missing when authorities got to the house.
Duncan had taken the children into the wilds of western Montana, where he tortured and abused them for weeks before killing Dylan.
"I honestly have no idea what gave me strength or hope," Groene admitted. "But there was something inside of me that was pushing me to say or do certain things to be on Joseph Duncan’s good side and earn his trust. I believe that was my mom’s spirit guiding me. She wanted me to get out safe and alive. I felt like I was getting help from her spiritually. But there were times when I really thought, ‘How long am I going to be alive?’"
Groene said that following her rescue, she struggled to put the pieces of her life back together. She described missing a whole year of school because her father didn’t think it was safe. Cameras would flock to her home as they attempted to get every detail of her harrowing journey. Rumors and speculation surrounding the Groene family intensified, leaving the little girl helpless in trying to protect her family’s memory. The appointments with counselors were constant, along with the many meetings involving attorneys and investigators.
"It felt weird being in a house with my dad and his girlfriend with none of my brothers," she said. "I was just so alone. He was a truck driver, so it was very seldom that we saw him. But that’s how he paid the bills. I also became really sensitive about my weight and the things that I ate. I think it was a way to punish myself. I developed an eating disorder at a very young age. If I ate, I made myself throw up. I then started self-harming. I was hiding a lot from my dad. And then he got throat cancer. He almost died from it. So much has happened that I never fully got to heal."
There was also the survivor’s guilt.
"I had promised my brother [Dylan] that I would make sure that we got out alive," said Groene. "I carried so much guilt because he didn’t live, and I did. I felt like it should have been the other way around. I handled all of that in very unhealthy ways. I started drinking at age 13, smoking marijuana and hanging out with older people. I was trying to numb everything. And there was a possibility that my dad might die. I didn’t know what to do."
Today, Groene is a mother to four sons under the age of six. She has a fifth due in August. Her life consists of play dates, walking her dog at a local park and working as a supervising housekeeper at a nearby hotel. She described her life as "a healthy chaotic" as she continues in her recovery from the trauma. But, "I’ve got all my kids and I get to wake up every day and be a parent," she added.
Following Duncan’s conviction, he was extradited to Southern California to be tried for the death of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez of Riverside County in 1997. Duncan was linked by DNA to the killing. He pleaded guilty and received a sentence of life in prison. In 2021, Duncan died of brain cancer while serving multiple life sentences on federal death row. He was 58.
"When I got the call, I just cried and held my baby," she said. "I thought of my mom, my family. But after that first week, I felt, ‘OK, now we can start to live our lives without feeling like we’re being held down by something or somebody.’"
Groene hopes that in sharing her story, others who have suffered from trauma will be empowered to never give up as they rebuild their lives.
"There were so many times in my life where I gave up on certain things," she said. "Looking back on them today, I wish I never did. I’d probably be a lot further in my life than I am now, even though I am far… But I didn’t know how to heal. I didn’t know how to grieve. I do think it’s important to start the grieving and healing process. Otherwise, you’ll just keep living your life, not realizing that there are parts of you that are falling behind. It’s OK to struggle in your life, but it’s the resiliency that matters."
"People Magazine Investigates" airs at 9 p.m. ET on ID and streaming on discovery+ . The Associated Press contributed to this report.