In Canada, roughly one in five Canadians are affected by mental illness, anxiety and depression. Those stats have increased even more in the wake of the pandemic.
These days, the hope is that those who are suffering can receive help without stigma. However, in 1984 when Lisa McVey was going through some heavy mental health issues, it was a very different story.
Why a 17-Year-Old Girl Thinking of Ending Her Life
At the time, the 17-year-old was biking home from work in Tampa, Florida. She had decided that night she would take her own life when she got home and says she was the happiest she had felt in a really long time. She had already written the note.
“I was happy. I was going to be free,” she recalled in an episode of Surviving Evil, as per a video on Unseen. It was there, while biking, that she saw a red car parked in front of a church. “I just kind of shrugged it off,” she added. “The next thing you know I was yanked off my bicycle… I felt the barrel of a gun to my left temple. I remember him putting a blindfold on my face and I was ordered to take all my clothes off,” she continued.
“My grandma’s boyfriend used to put a gun to my head every time he molested me for three years. It was nothing new to me,” she added.
McVey recalls being put in the car and the man driving her somewhere. In her head, she believed this would be it.
The Life-Changing Realization One Girl Had in a Dark Situation
Unbeknownst to McVey, the kidnapper was serial killer Bobby Joe Long. At the time he had already sexually assaulted and murdered ten women in the area and committed more than 50 sexual assaults. When he arrived at an apartment building, he untied McVey, told her to put her clothes back on and took her inside. There, he sexually assaulted her several times.
“I would just go far away and sometimes pretend I was in a field of flowers, a happy place. I would just disconnect from the rest of the world. I would become completely numb. I was tired of living, tired of being abused. I didn’t see any other way out. I didn’t want to live,” she said.
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She then thought about her family and her siblings and wondered what they would do without her. It was then that she realized she had to get out of her current situation no matter what, and motivated herself to fight.
I had to reach down deep in my soul. I had a new sense of wanting to survive. I would do whatever it took.
At that point, she convinced Long to let her go to the bathroom, where she put her fingerprints everywhere she possibly could. When she returned, she tried to sympathize with him and learn more about his story while showing him she respected him. When he revealed he had had a bad experience with a girlfriend, she tried to earn his trust and offered to be his new girlfriend.
“No, no, no, no I can’t keep you,” she recalled him saying before he promised it would be over in a little while.
How a 17-Year-Old Girl Used Her Wits to Escape a Serial Killer
By about 3:30 a.m., Long took McVey back out to his car, blindfolded, and drove her around. This time she clenched her jaw so she would have some give on the covering, and as they drove she noted everything she could about her location, from the sounds of the car to the lights of a hotel. Eventually, they got to a parking lot and Long told her to get out and wait five minutes.
“I was frozen, my mind’s racing. Should I run? Should I walk? Is he pointing a gun at me right now? Is he going to run me over with his car?” she recalled. Instead, Long left her there and miraculously drove off.
I took my blindfold off and the first thing I saw was this beautiful oak tree. I fell to my knees and I started crying. I knew right there and then my life was going to change forever. For me, it was a sign of a new branch of life. Now I wanted to live my life.
McVey went straight to the police with what she knew, but she initially had trouble convincing officers what had happened because she was so composed. Finally, Larry Pinkerton, the sergeant of the sex crimes division, came in and spoke with her. He promised to protect her, and he did. She told him every single last detail she could remember through tears.
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“I’d never seen a victim of a violent crime like this that had such recall,” Pinkerton said.
Eventually, McVey’s descriptions led police to Long’s car. She also pointed him out from a lineup of photos. From there the police had enough to arrest and charge the man on nine counts of first-degree murder.
How Catching a Serial Killer Gave One Girl Hope for a New Life
If it weren’t for McVey, there’s no telling how many more women Long would have targeted. Instead, she was able to help the police track him down so he was never able to hurt anyone else ever again.
The turn of events also pushed McVey in a whole new direction: She went on to have a career in law enforcement and worked for years as a sheriff’s deputy. On her watch, she was determined never to let another child be in her situation, and if they were, she wanted to be their voice and their advocate.
Today, I stand before God, the victims and the families of the victims and I vow to carry on and be their voice.
“Bobby Long, thank you. Thank you for choosing me instead of another 17-year-old little girl,” she said to ABC News, as per the Unseen video.
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This story is a harrowing one with a happy ending that reminds us to listen to victims and to also take mental health matters seriously. These days the stigma of mental health is improving, but there’s always more work to do. If you want to help, consider donating to centres that help victims of abuse or organizations that work to destigmatize the issues. If you know someone struggling with mental health issues, remind them you’re there for them with a hug, a drop by, a ear, or a text.
And if you feel as though your mental health is declining or like you need someone to talk to, there are plenty of resources out there. You’re not alone, and as McVey’s story reminds us all, sometimes it can take something really dark to finally find the light.
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