'Girl in the Closet' Speaks Out 15 Years Later About Being Tortured by Parents for 6 Years
It has been 15 years since Lauren Kavanaugh was found tortured and starving in the closet of her family’s Texas home, and she still has flashbacks about the horrific, six-year ordeal.
“My life’s been pretty hard. I’ve been struggling a lot. I hardly sleep any more. My anxiety is terrible,” Kavanaugh told Dr. Phil McGraw in a two-part special this week on his eponymous series.
“I’ve tried to commit suicide over 30 times,” Kavanaugh revealed. “Sometimes I have flashbacks about my past, my childhood. Sometimes when I have flashbacks, it’s of [my parents] beating me.”
Authorities say that from age 2 to 8, Kavanaugh was mostly kept by her mother, Barbara Atkinson, and her stepfather, Kenneth Atkinson, in a roughly 4-by-8-foot closet in their trailer in Hutchins, Texas — a tiny space covered in trash and feces, according to CBS News and the Dallas Morning News.
Kavanaugh was repeatedly sexually abused as a child, police told the Morning News.
“I could not get out, no matter what I did. It was always dark. I didn’t get fed. I didn’t get to eat,” Kavanaugh told McGraw. “I had to go to the bathroom in the closet, where I slept.
“I had a pillow on the floor and maybe a blanket every now and then, if I was good. I would cry until I fell asleep.”
Kavanaugh weighed only 25 lbs. when she was rescued in 2001, CBS News reports. A doctor later testified the little girl had been sexually abused so badly that she needed surgery.
“My mom would bring home guys or girls to have sex with me. If I screamed or yelled, that really made them mad,” Kavanaugh said. “My parents thought it was hilarious for them to watch. And I had to do what they said, so I could stay alive.”
She said her parents often beat and cut her, adding, “My stepdad would get the gun beside his bed, put it to my head and pull the trigger, pretending to shoot me.”
Police allege that Kenneth sexually abused Kavanaugh, and her older half-sister told the Morning News that Barbara also allegedly sexually abused the girl.
Barbara and Kenneth are serving life sentences after being convicted of felony injury to a child, according to CBS and the Morning News.
They have denied raping Kavanaugh and were never prosecuted for sexual abuse.
“Lauren was so developmentally traumatized and emotionally traumatized, she really wasn’t in any condition to talk about the sexual abuse,” one prosecutor explained to the Morning News. “We went with the stronger case, and the one that wouldn’t require her to testify.”
“I know what they did to me, and they know what they did to me,” Kavanaugh previously told the Dallas paper. “They can deny it, but we both know what they did to me.”
Barbara and Kenneth are reportedly eligible for parole in 2031.
How It All Began
Kavanaugh’s captivity started when Barbara, her birth mother, demanded custody of her again after agreeing to a private adoption with Bill and Sabrina Kavanaugh years before, according to ABC News.
After caring for the little girl for two years, Bill and Sabrina were forced to hand her over to Barbara.
One of Kavanaugh’s five siblings testified at Kenneth’s trial that they were warned to not tell anyone of Kavanaugh’s confinement, according to CBS. One of Kavanaugh’s half-sisters said she didn’t know the girl was being sexually abused, according to the Morning News.
After her rescue, when she was returned to her adopted parents, Kavanaugh said she had a difficult time in her social life. She told McGraw she was tormented in college.
“Some players on the football team read my story, and they made fun of me and bullied me and harassed me because of it,” Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh’s girlfriend, Janae, told McGraw that Kavanaugh has nightmares about the abuse nearly every night. “I can’t touch Lauren when she’s having a night terror,” she said. “If you do, she will hurt you.”
“Before we go to bed, I normally put everything away that’s sharp,” Janae said. “Anything that she can hurt herself on. I literally have to baby-proof the house.”
A child psychologist who worked with Kavanuagh after she was saved told the Morning News that Kavanaugh may grapple with more obstacles than other people, but she has the same lifelong goal:
“Every single human being — whether gifted with intelligence or the ability to earn money or personal attractiveness — we all come with gifts and we all come with burdens. And we spend our lifetimes maximizing our talents and working with our burdens. Lauren has more than her share, but her job is to be the best Lauren she can be.”
The second part of Kavanaugh’s Dr. Phil special will air on Thursday. Check local listings.