If you’ve watched enough Criminal Minds episodes, you’ve probably once or twice considered what you would do if you were in the victim’s shoes. Would you know the secret trick that meant the difference between life and death? Would you be able to think fast enough to save yourself and your loved ones?I’ve asked myself that question, and my answer is always I don’t know and hope I don’t ever have to find out. But one woman did. She found a way to save herself and then made sure other women had a way to save themselves too. Thanks to her and her wild story, since 2002, all cars are required to have a glow-in-the-dark emergency release handle in the trunk. Janette Fennell’s story and her subsequent battle to ensure all cars are equipped with car trunk emergency release handles first appeared on Atlas Obscura, a website committed to telling extraordinary stories in 2015, and then recently resurfaced on Reddit, in a TIL (Today I Learned) post.But Janette’s story started two decades earlier. Shortly before midnight on the night of October 29, 1995, Janette, her husband, Greig, and their nine-month-old son returned home from a friend’s house. They parked in the garage and her mind was already whirring with the things she still had to do to prep to teach at her church’s Sunday school the next morning. It’s an easy scene to imagine for any new mother trying to get anything done over the weekend. There should have been nothing out of the ordinary about the night. There was. As the garage door slid closed, two men rolled underneath the garage on their sides. As if that visual alone isn’t frightening enough, they also wore masks, one which pictured a sinister werewolf on its face.The men held Janette and her husband at gunpoint and ordered them into the trunk. The kidnappers had no idea the Fennells’ baby was still strapped in his carseat in the car until the two new parents heard one of the kidnappers say, “there’s a baby.” After that, there was no mention of the baby, and they had no idea what had or would happen to the infant. The kidnappers began to drive and the Fennells kept an ear out for sounds from their son to determine whether he was safe. They could hear nothing. As the car navigated the streets of San Francisco and onto a highway, Janette began pulling on the carpet in the trunk. Somehow, she managed to expose wires, and thought there was a chance lights might flicker or act up enough to attract the attention of someone who might be able to help them. As the car drove on, bottoming out at times due to the weight of two adults in the trunk, no help came.“We were basically saying our last goodbyes,” Janette said in an interview with NPR.
Then, the Fennells felt the car exit the highway, then the paved roads. When the car stopped, the kidnappers opened the trunk and made their demands. Janette tried to escape, but one of the men hit her in the head with his gun. The kidnappers demanded money, bank cards, and pin numbers. After the Fennells turned that information over, the kidnappers locked them back in the trunk and said they’d return to kill them if the pin numbers failed. Janette and her husband were left alone in a locked trunk with no light, and still no idea if their baby was safe or not.
Using an emergency key, they drove back to the city, called 9-1-1 and finally, finally, learned that their baby was safe. The kidnappers had left him sitting in his car seat outside the house.