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Kidnapping survivor tells tale of captivity in Tuscarora Mountains

October 17, 2008|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. -- "At the moment you are abducted, fear takes over. Common sense is gone. You forget who you are. You only want to please the person you are with. And he can never be pleased."

It has been 42 years since 17-year-old Peggy Ann Bradnick first felt the cold touch of William Hollenbaugh's gun pulling her away from her family and kicking off the largest manhunt in Pennsylvania history.

It has been 42 years since she heard his voice telling her to forget her life, her family and her home as he dragged her deep into the mountains of Shade Gap, Pa.

It has been 42 years since he put a rusty blade in her mouth and asked if she wanted to eat the beans balancing there.

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It has been 42 years since she saw his blood spill onto the green grass, a bullet finally ending his run.

It has been 42 years ... but she will never forget.

As Peggy Ann Bradnick Jackson shared her story of survival Thursday to a packed auditorium at McConnellsburg High School, she kept floating back to a theme of the good that has come from that week in 1966.

Her life was not destined to end on that mountain at the hands of a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, she said. She knew that now.

God, she said, had a different plan.

Part of his plan, is sharing her story and her caution to as many people as she can.

"Parents, pay attention to your kids," she said. "Every day when we would leave for school, my mom would say 'I love you. Um, you are not wearing that.' When I was taken, they asked my mom for a description and she could tell them what I was wearing down to my shoes."

No one knows why of all the children on the bus that day, Bradnick Jackson spent eight days captive in the Tuscarora Mountains near McConnellsburg.

"I will never know why he chose me, but he told me often during those eight days that I was his chosen one," she said.

She did not know why he chose her, but she remembered his plan vividly.

His plan was to take her to Mifflin County and keep her forever, she said.

"He had one goal. Every day, we made our way toward the (Pa.) Turnpike, where it was his goal to shoot someone, take their car, make me drive and go to Mifflin, where we would stay," she said.

Hollenbaugh's plan was foiled by the 1,000 Pennsylvania State Police, firefighters and volunteers who combed the woods looking for Peggy Ann.

Bradnick Jackson recalled being so close to officers that she could reach out and touch them from where she and Hollenbaugh were hiding.

"I was so close I could hear them talking," she said. "I could hear them light their cigarettes and blow smoke."

It has taken Bradnick Jackson a lifetime to accept and understand the torment and torture she endured that spring.

After repeatedly walking the path she once wandered as the prisoner of a man she described as having "no compassion, no thought for human or any life," she said she is at peace.

"Victims always look back, never reconcile, never understand. I am looking forward and upward to my Lord in heaven," she said. "So, victim I am not. Survivor I am."

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