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Shade Gap kidnapping victim shares story at MCTC

Peggy Ann Bradnick Jackson's ability to forgive impresses inmates

April 23, 2010|By DAN DEARTH
  • Peggy Ann Bradnick Jackson spoke to inmates at Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown on Friday.
Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN -- Peggy Ann Bradnick stepped down from the school bus one spring day in 1966 and her life changed forever.

William Diller Hollenbaugh, a former mental patient whom residents in Bradnick's hometown of Shade Gap, Pa., called Bicycle Pete, rushed the bus and abducted the 17-year-old.

The incident led to an eight-day manhunt through the mountains of Pennsylvania that left Hollenbaugh and an FBI agent dead. A deputy sheriff was severely wounded.

That abducted teenager, now 62-year-old Peggy Ann Bradnick Jackson, went to the Maryland Correctional Training Center south of Hagerstown on Friday to share her story with about 75 inmates. Her appearance wrapped up a weeklong series of speeches at the prison held to recognize National Crime Victims' Rights Week.

Many of the inmates who attended the event said Jackson helped them to see their crimes through the eyes of their victims. They said they were most impressed, however, by Jackson's strong Christian faith and the way it helped her to forgive Hollenbaugh.

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"I was impressed by her forgiveness," said Francis Lee, 40, who is serving an 11-year sentence. "She wasn't traumatized by what happened. She was able to move on with her life. I give her much respect. It takes a lot of courage to come forward."

Jackson said Hollenbaugh told her during the ordeal that he planned the abduction by watching her over the course of many months. He said he watched her hang laundry out to dry and often stood on her roof at night.

Jackson said she started speaking in public about her experience eight years ago as a way to continue the healing process. She said she forgave Hollenbaugh, even though he savagely beat her and stuck a knife down her throat when she refused to eat peas from a can.

"I made a choice to move on," Jackson said. "I made a choice to put myself in God's hands. My God tells me to forgive."

Jackson said she couldn't escape because Hollenbaugh restrained her with chains and used a knife and sawed-off shotgun to exert control.

As she and Hollenbaugh rested on her fourth day of captivity, they heard a sound in the woods. Jackson said Hollenbaugh, an experienced woodsman, suspected the noise was an approaching human, and laid in wait with his shotgun. Jackson said she watched in horror as Hollenbaugh shot FBI agent Terry Anderson in the stomach.

Anderson later died of his wound.

On the day of her rescue, Jackson saw a vision that frightened her at first, then eased her anxiety. She said a white cloud appeared that she interpreted to be a sign of death. But a serene voice followed, saying "you can do this."

"I knew it was God speaking to me," she said.

The beginning of the end came when Cambria County (Pa.) Deputy Sheriff Francis Sharpe found Jackson and Hollenbaugh, who shot the deputy in the abdomen and forced the wounded man to drive them to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Jackson said they made it as far as a farm near Burnt Cabins, Pa., where Hollenbaugh was killed in a shootout with authorities.

Inmate Kevin Curry, 28, said many of the prisoners appreciate speakers who take the time to come to the prison.

"It's always good to see that even though we are incarcerated, people from the outside want to come here and help," he said. "I think it's remarkable to have programs like this."

Inmate Jamie Hoffman, 47, said he believed that Jackson showed courage to come forward with her story.

"The lady showed great empathy to the man who was killed and abducted her," Hoffman said. "I thought she was fantastic."

The speakers are invited to the prison to show the inmates that their actions have repercussions, said Tom Nittinger, case management manager at MCTC.

"It's to bring awareness to the victims and to give the inmates a chance to hear the stories of these victims," he said.

Too often, inmates see themselves as victims because they've been incarcerated, he said.

Five speakers reached about 800 inmates over the course of the last week, Nittinger said.

Jackson said she intends to keep doing about 60 speaking engagements each year.

"Maybe one thing I say today will make a difference in one of your lives," she told the inmates Friday. "Life is good for me -- very good for me. And it can be good for everyone."

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