Melissa Brunner, anchor and reporter for WIBW in Topeka, visited Washburn University to talk to the community about the story of how she escaped a kidnapping 25 years ago. At 7 p.m. Sept. 26, 2019 in the Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center, Brunner described the horrific encounter she had as a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
The young journalist was leaving the newsroom in the basement of the Union when she encountered her kidnappers in the parking lot. Brunner was stopped by two men who jumped out of the backseat of a van and held her at gunpoint. They took her bag and got her car keys and card.
“I did what they told me to do; I didn’t take an abduction 101 course in college,” said Brunner.
When they got to the ATM, the machine would not accept her bank card. They threw her into the trunk of her car and sped away. Brunner had watched enough television to know that if someone gets trapped in the trunk of a car, they should try to kick the taillight out. After a high-speed chase with the police, the van escaped down an alley and into a park. They asked her what she thought she was doing, and then pistol whipped her before slamming the trunk shut. Brunner didn't know what else to do besides wait it out and fall asleep. After she woke up and got out of the car, she was so tired that she fell asleep again in the alley. When she finally got up, she heard voices, but no one heard her when she screamed.
“I didn’t know when or if they would come back, so I knew it was now or never,” said Brunner.
Brunner chased down a school bus to get help. The bus driver let her call local police and waited with her until they came to meet her in the alley. After months of investigation, the cops arrested a 17-year-old female and 5 males ages 12-21.
The telling by Brunner was very moving for students in attendance, such as Lauryn Massey, a freshman mass media major.
"It was really interesting and cool to hear about how her experience getting kidnapped has shaped her career," said Massey. "It was crazy to think that she is lucky to be alive and could've died."
Brunner explained how to speak to a survivor who has had a similar experience. Brunner emphasized that empathy and respect are important when talking to someone who has been through something like this. Victims are more willing to talk if interviewers are respectful and not confrontational. Brunner has used her experience to help her assist reporters when investigating after a serious crimes, such as a kidnapping, have occurred. She has never lost sight of the real people in stories and hopes that other reporters will remember that.
Brunner also uses her story to remind teenagers and young adults that it can happen anywhere. She wants people to be aware of their surroundings at all times.
“Be very cautious of everything going on around you, and trust your gut; it’s always right.” said Brunner.
Edited by Jason Morrison, Jackson Woods, Adam White, Shelby Hanson