OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. - Being chained as a 10-year-old for more than two weeks in a coffin-size box in a suburban New York dungeon was, Katie Beers says 20 years later, "the best thing that happened to me" because it allowed her to escape a life of abuse.
On the 20th anniversary of her ordeal, Beers has co-written a book with a television reporter who covered her kidnapping. "Buried Memories: Katie Beers' Story" (Title Town Publishing) has a happy ending.
Beers is now a 30-year-old married mother of two who earned a degree in business management and works in insurance sales near her home in rural Pennsylvania.
Her kidnapping attracted nationwide attention in early 1993, when revelations surfaced while she was still missing that she had suffered years of neglect from her mother and had been repeatedly sexually assaulted by her godmother's husband since she was a toddler.
Beers was described in Dickensian terms back then — a louse-infested, filthy waif who had no friends and often was forced to lug the family's laundry down the block or fetch cigarettes and junk food for her elders.
After kidnapper John Esposito, a family acquaintance, admitted to detectives on Jan. 13, 1993, that he had kidnapped Beers and showed them the dungeon where she was hidden for 17 days under his Bay Shore, N.Y., home, the little girl was placed in foster care and raised in a comfortable East Hampton home with four siblings.
Her foster parents not only imposed newfound discipline into her life, making her go to school regularly and do small chores around the house, but they also shielded Beers from intense media interest. And reporters largely complied with a parent-like plea from a prosecutor to leave her alone.
"We as a society must protect this child, or our professed love for own children is just a fraud, and our so-called compassion for each other is just a mockery," said James Catterson, at the time the Suffolk County district attorney.
So Beers had barely been seen or heard from since until this week in a media blitz to promote the book. She appeared Monday on the "Dr. Phil" show and is the focus of a People magazine feature this week.
The abduction and subsequent rescue saved her life, Beers insisted in an interview with The Associated Press.
"The best thing that happened to me," she said. "I would have never gotten out of the abuse situation I was in."
She went on to play volleyball at East Hampton High, participated in drama productions and went to college in Pennsylvania, where she earned a degree and met the man who would become her husband and the father of their two children.
"There's no point really in me right now being sad or wondering what if," she told the AP.
"I try not to be sad about what happened, because ultimately it made me who I am today, and I'm very satisfied and happy with my life," she said.
Beers agreed about four years ago to co-write the book with WCBS-TV reporter Carolyn Gusoff, although she had thought about writing a book for many years.
"I want to be able to help people who might not know where to turn," she explained. "To see that there is a road to recovery."
She has declined to disclose her exact hometown, married surname or college alma mater, citing privacy concerns for her family.
In the book, Beers writes that she had been molested and raped by Sal Inghilleri — her godmother's husband — from the time she was a toddler. Inghilleri, who served 12 years in prison for molesting Beers, died in jail in 2009 following his arrest on a parole violation.
Beers also writes that Esposito raped her in the dungeon, explaining that she repressed her memory of the sexual assault for many years as a defence mechanism.
Esposito, who pleaded guilty to kidnapping, was never charged with rape. He is serving 15 years to life and has been denied parole several times; his next parole hearing is later this year. At a 2007 parole hearing, Esposito described himself as asexual and said while he kissed the child, he never engaged in sexual relations.
He told Gusoff in a letter published in the book that he believes he deserves to be released.
"I think Katie knows I will always wish her well," Esposito writes. "I'm sorry for what I've done. I'm sorry I even thought it up. It was a mistake."
During her time in the dungeon, Beers writes, she rarely slept, fearing abuse from Esposito. She said she was afraid Esposito might molest her while she slept, but also was concerned that he would photograph her sleeping and send the image to police. She feared if police had known she was dead, they might end their search for her.
She "celebrated" her 10th birthday while a prisoner of Esposito's and was heard on an audiotape found in the dungeon after her release singing "Happy Birthday" to herself, although she says today she has no recollection of that.
Esposito, she writes, fed her primarily junk food and soda; to this day she is repulsed by chocolate after-dinner mints because they were a staple in captivity. She did have access to a small television, but says she can no longer listen to Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You" because it played incessantly on MTV and VH1 while she in the dungeon.
She didn't realize it until many years later, but says now that she frequently watched Gusoff — then a reporter for Long Island's News12 cable station — filing reports on the police search for her while she was missing.
"It was like I had known her for 16 years" when they met in 2008 to begin work on the book, she said.
Gusoff notes that as abhorrent as Beers' sexual abuse and neglect was at the hands of her elders before the kidnapping, it may have steeled her into a survival mode.
Dominick Varrone, the Suffolk County detective who led the investigation, agreed, telling Gusoff in the book that "because of her upbringing, the sexual experiences, the abuse, and street smarts and toughness, she was much more advanced than the normal 9-year-old, and we believe that contributed to her survival."
Marilyn Beers, who is described in the book as a hard-working but largely absentee mother who ceded responsibility for raising Katie and her older brother to Inghilleri's wife and others, did not return a telephone message seeking comment about the book.
"I hope that more does come out of the book," Katie Beers said. "I would love to be able to help other kids or adults or to be an inspirational or motivational speaker, something like that. But if I go back to my life in rural Pennsylvania and go back to my insurance sales job I would love that, too.
"I'm very happy with where I'm at."