DAVID GREENE, HOST:
It's Friday, time for StoryCorps, and today, the story of a kidnapping that happened in 1995 just days before Halloween. Janette Fennell and her husband were coming home from a night out with friends when they pulled into the garage of their San Francisco home. Two armed men appeared and forced the couple into the trunk of their car and drove away night. The last night Janette knew, her 9-month-old son, Alex, was still in his car seat. Twenty years later, Alex, now a college student, sat down for StoryCorps with his mom to talk about how they survived.
JANETTE FENNELL: As we're going through the streets of San Francisco with us in the trunk of the car, we had no idea what they had done with you. Your dad was closest to the back seat. And I kept saying, can you hear him? But we couldn't hear anything.
ALEX FENNELL: Did you feel like this could potentially be life-ending?
J. FENNELL: You do think, this may be my last day on Earth. And there is this need to survive. So with all the power and adrenaline I could muster up, I just started pulling a bunch of wires. I didn't know necessarily what they were for. But I thought it probably had something to do with the brake lights. And maybe a car behind us would notice something was wrong. But nobody saw it. And dad said to me, I don't know what's going to happen, but know that I love you. We were basically saying our last goodbyes. At that point, they stopped the car. They took all of our money and ATM cards. And they said to us, through the trunk, if this isn't the right PIN number, we're going to come back and kill you. And that was kind of calming to me 'cause we gave them the right PIN number, and that meant they were leaving. So here we are, all alone inside of a blackened trunk. And where I had pulled all those wires, I saw little piece of silver metal. And I said to my husband, I think I found the trunk release. He pulled the cable, and the trunk opened right up. I go to the back seat, and there was no baby. And that's when I really lost it. But an officer that had gone to our home found you. You were just out in front of our house, all alone in your car seat. And the most important part is you weren't hurt. I don't even want to begin to think what could have been if we didn't get our baby back. And it's not a cliche to say that your life can change in the matter of one second. And you choose what you want to do with that life-changing second.
GREENE: Janette Fennell with her son, Alex, remembering the night she was kidnapped 20 years ago. The kidnappers have never been caught. But Janette went on to devote herself to improving car safety. Thanks to her effort, all new cars now have an emergency trunk release. She also worked to get child-safe windows and rearview cameras. It is easier than ever to be part of history thanks to StoryCorps. Record your story this Thanksgiving weekend. Go to npr.org and search, great listen, to find out how.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.