How to help
An online Kickstarter fundraising campaign to help pay for the first run of books and editing of Shasta Groene's accounts of her seven-week ordeal with serial killer and sex offender Joseph Duncan III is at https://kck.st/2lbKx11. The campaign ends July 2. A website, www.ShastaGroene.com, is under construction.
Shasta Groene hopes to fulfill a promise she made to serial killer and sex offender Joseph Duncan III — on her terms.
"His last words to me were, 'Will you promise you'll come see me in jail?'" she said of the man who beat and killed three members of her family in May 2005. Duncan kidnapped Shasta and her brother Dylan from their Wolf Lodge home and eventually murdered the boy.
Shasta's Independence Day arrived on July 2, 2005, when the two were spotted at the Denny's in Coeur d'Alene. Duncan was arrested and Shasta, 8 at the time, was taken to the hospital.
In an interview last week with The Press, Shasta said she hopes federal prosecutors will allow her to come eye to eye with Duncan, who is on death row at an Indiana prison, as part of a documentary in the works. A book scheduled to be released as early as this fall is also intended to help bring closure to the horror story that gripped the nation. Shasta has not spoken to Duncan since he was arrested.
"I want him to hear from me that he's nothing," said Shasta, who is now 21 and engaged, lives in Nampa and has two boys and a third child on the way. "I want him to really understand he has no run of my life.
"He took everything from me as a child and tried to put me in a position that I didn't even love myself."
A book for ‘inner peace’
Shasta said she has wanted her survivor's voice to be heard through a book for a few years, but the births of sons Lorenzo, 2, and Omari, 10 months, postponed that until this year.
"It's totally for my own inner peace and to help others," said Shasta, who works as a laundry attendant at a hotel. "Money was not a factor in why I chose to write the book."
She said she remembers most of the horrific ordeal, including the murders and repeatedly being raped.
"When I started writing, it was hard to relive the memories," she said. "But I want the real story to be put out there and right now I'm in a spot where I'm content. In a couple years, I may not have the time. I feel like I'm ready now."
Shasta met local freelance writer and photographer Jamie Sedlmayer a few years ago on Facebook.
"She's been a huge supporter," Shasta said. "She's really one that I can confide in.
"I'm one of those stubborn people who hate to ask for help because I'm afraid it makes me look weak and I can't give back in the same way, and she's taught me a lot about that."
Sedlmayer calls Shasta a "tower of strength." She told Shasta she would help her write the book whenever she was ready.
"Watching Shasta feel like she is constantly failing while never using the murder of her family as a reason drove me nuts," Sedlmayer said. "She seems to want to look like everything is normal."
Sedlmayer said she hopes people not only get the details of the ordeal through Shasta's eyes, but a picture that all things are possible.
"The human spirit is resilient and beautiful," Sedlmayer said. "Humans can be warriors. Shasta is living proof in our lifetime."
Horror — and seeking change
Two years ago, Shasta started an online petition in support of locking up sex offenders for life after their first offense. It not only fizzled, but drew backlash, she said.
"People were messaging me saying, 'You got a second chance, so how come sex offenders can't have a second chance?'" she said.
Shasta said she hopes her book will help people see her intentions of making a difference, and she hopes to revive a similar effort or compromise proposal.
"(Duncan) was charged many times before my situation and was let out again and again," she said, adding that the system failed her and her family.
Shasta and her 9-year-old brother, Dylan, were kidnapped by Duncan after he murdered their mother Brenda, stepfather Mark McKenzie and 13-year-old brother Slade. Duncan later killed Dylan at a campsite near St. Regis, Mont., before returning to Coeur d'Alene with Shasta.
Duncan, sentenced in 2008, also pleaded guilty to the death of a 10-year-old California boy and was linked to the 1996 murders of two young half-sisters in Seattle. Before his Idaho murders, Duncan, who was convicted of sex crimes in Washington, was also on the run for a child molestation charge in Minnesota.
Shasta said Duncan had her brainwashed because he diverted the blame for his Idaho crimes.
"He said he did what he did because that's what God told him to do," she said.
Forgiving Joseph Duncan
Shasta believes it was "an accident" that she lived.
"I know I wasn't supposed to," she said. "He told a judge that I taught him how to love and that's why."
She said she finally had to mentally forgive Duncan to move on with her life.
"I have forgiven Joseph Duncan — not in a way that it was OK for what he did, but in a way that I was going to stop letting it control my life," she said. "There were so many times I'd think about the situation and feel bad about not doing something, but I now definitely put the blame on where it belongs."
Shasta spent most of her teen years in jail on drug-related charges before being placed in a two-year rehabilitation program in Salt Lake City. She received her high school diploma from the Juniper Hills boarding school in St. Anthony.
She said she contemplated suicide often and spent time at a psychiatric hospital.
"I had quite the rodeo as a teen," she said. "I definitely didn't have a childhood growing up. Before Duncan came into my life, I had a hard childhood because my parents and brothers had drug addictions."
Those unimaginable childhood challenges made routine social interactions almost impossible.
"Having gone through what I did, I had a hard time keeping friends who understood where I was coming from,” Shasta said. “I was a hard person to be with, and I had a lot of trust issues. I had gotten to the point thinking that maybe this was what life was supposed to be like."
She said life began to change at 18 after she was released from the correctional facility and had her first son.
"I had to stop being angry because that's what led to my drug addiction," she said. "When I started to make it a learning experience, things began to fall back in place. When I had my own place in Nampa, owned a car and I was working, everything just felt better.
"My kids helped sway me away from drugs and alcohol, but it's something I still face every day," she said. "There's always people from the past who I run into trying to sway you back into that. It takes time to overcome."
An old friend
Shasta said she still keeps in touch with Nick Chapman, with whom she made eye contact as she went into Denny's that day almost 13 years ago.
"I remember thinking, 'Please help me,'" she said. "He told a waitress to call the cops. He's a huge part of me being here."
Shasta said that when police arrived she was fearful and provided a fake name.
"I remember Duncan telling me that it was OK to tell them what my real name was. Then I started crying and they grabbed Duncan and arrested him," she said.
Shasta said the two childhood friends and her fiancé are among those who continue to provide support.
"I would not be where I am without people helping me," she said. "My (fiancé) is not the father of my two other sons, but he definitely goes above and beyond for them. I have never met someone before who will jump through the hoops for me and the kids like he has."
She said she still has family and friends in Coeur d'Alene and she visits sparingly on short stints, including one time to the Wolf Lodge property as part of her trauma therapy.
"Part of my therapy was to go back to where everything was taken from me," she said. "I had pictures taken next to the crabapple tree that my brother (Dylan) and I were tied up to. I relived the moments in a different light."
However, she refrains from long returns to North Idaho.
"Coeur d'Alene, for me, is very toxic," she said. “I can be there a short period of time, but living there would be like being in a cesspool and drowning in bad stuff."
She said she wants to be a cosmetologist and own her own salon.
"I want others to feel good about themselves," she said.
Her first priority, however, is her children.
"I want to give my kids the life I never had," she said.
Lorenzo reminds her a lot of Dylan, she said.
"Dylan was a gentle soul; he was my best friend," Shasta said. "Lorenzo has the same habits my brother had, like playing with my hair."
She said she'll always remember her mom and McKenzie as loving and Slade as the class clown.
Shasta said the books and documentary are in the works to leave a legacy for her family. An online Kickstarter fundraising campaign with a goal of at least $15,000 will fund the first run of printing, editing and a stipend for Shasta for her creative work. The campaign is at: https://kck.st/2lbKx11.
"Life has been quite a struggle for me over the years," the campaign states. "Most of the scars on my body have appeared to heal, the damage done to my mind and soul is a work in progress. My hope is to help myself heal through writing this book, and maybe encourage readers to hug their loved ones a little tighter a little longer."
Depending on the success of the campaign — which ends July 2, the 13th anniversary of Shasta’s freedom from Duncan — the documentary will be filmed later this year. As of Friday, the campaign had reached $3,811.
The documentary would include stops on the way back to the Indiana prison, including the Wolf Lodge property, Montana campsite and where Duncan and Shasta were caught on surveillance at a gas station.
"We'd go back to Indiana, whether she'd get into the prison or not," Sedlmayer said. "We want to take her on her journey so she can close the door. This is the way to take control over the murders and abduction.
"She was built to be a victim but is now the victor. She writes the history. Duncan just played a role."