Sheridan, CO

Against All Odds: Meet Lori Poland, the 3-Year-Old Who Defied Her Kidnapper

Fatim Hemraj
Lori Poland embraces stuffed animals gifted to her after her dramatic rescuePhoto byFacebook

It was a hot summer's day on August 22, 1983. Richard and Diane Poland were at their Sheridan, Colorado, home with their two young children, a 5-year-old boy and his little sister, Lori, who had just turned three.

Richard was watching the children play when they asked him for popsicles to soothe them from the heat. He went inside the house for a few seconds and when he returned, Lori was gone and her pants were lying on the curb.

Frantic, Richard, and Diane immediately called the police to report that their daughter had been abducted in broad daylight.

Fortunately, a neighbor named Paul Weaver witnessed the entire abduction. He was watching his children play from his kitchen window when he saw an orange Datsun Sedan pull over. A little girl wearing nothing but a red t-shirt got inside and the man sped off. Paul remembered the first half of the man’s license plate number: ADV.

The tight-knit community rallied together in search of Lori. Flyers were plastered all over the city, a helicopter was deployed and the Polands appeared on the news, tearfully pleading with the abductor to release their beloved daughter.

Another neighbor, Michael Fisher, heard about Lori’s abduction on the news and recalled an incident that occurred earlier that same week. His children said that a strange man followed them home from school and offered them candy if they removed their pants and got into his car.

Michael rushed outside and tried to confront the man, who was 5’8" with shaggy brown hair, but he got into an orange Datsun Sedan and took off.

On the second day of Lori’s disappearance, a woman named Wuanita Zappa called the police. A few weeks earlier, Wuanita saw a man in an orange Datsun harass her granddaughter. Luckily, Wuanita’s son-in-law had written down the man’s license plate number: ADV 627.

It was registered to 22-year-old Robert Paul Thiret who lived in Denver, Colorado with his mother. The authorities made their way to his home and found the orange Datsun sitting in the driveway. Robert denied any involvement in Lori’s abduction but they knew they had the right man. They searched his home but sadly, Lori was nowhere to be found.

As luck would have it, a Pennsylvania couple, Steven and Cynthia Gaulin, decided to go bird-watching at a remote park in Colorado the next day. When they arrived, Cynthia had to use the restroom. As she made her way into an outhouse, she heard a faint cry. Cynthia followed the sound to the toilet and looked down to see a little girl, 15 feet into the latrine pit, calling out for her mother.

When Cynthia asked Lori what she was doing there, the little girl responded, “I live here.” Lori later recalled that after 3 and a half days in the pit, she was convinced that it had become her new home.

An off-duty firefighter named Stephen Bakker responded to the scene and pulled Lori out of the hole. Her legs were entirely black and infected, as the water in the cold, dark, filthy pit contained untreated methane gas and hydrogen sulfide.
Richard and Diane reunite with LoriPhoto byYouTube

Lori was reunited with her overjoyed parents and although hospital staff initially believed that they would need to amputate her legs, she made a miraculous recovery and was released within just a few days.

When shown a photograph of Robert Paul Thiret, Lori exclaimed, “That’s him! That’s him!” and began to shake in terror. He was arrested and charged with various offenses including attempted murder, sexual assault, and kidnapping.

Just before the trial, Robert married his girlfriend, who provided an alibi for him on the day of the abduction. Prosecutors feared there wasn’t enough evidence for a jury to convict Robert, so they offered him a plea deal for sexual assault and dropped the other charges.
Robert Paul ThiretPhoto byYouTube

Robert Thiret was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released just six years later in 1990 for good behavior. During the proceedings, it was revealed that he had a chaotic childhood and was molested at age 3. Today, he’s 61 and a high-risk sex offender in San Pedro, California.

In the end, it was the community that worked together to help the police catch Lori’s abductor, and they came together a second time after Lori was found; while in the hospital, she received over a dozen stuffed animals and an all-expenses paid trip to Disneyland with her entire family.

After the attack, Lori developed depression, anxiety, and PTSD, however, she was an incredibly resilient child who grew up to be an even more incredible woman. Today, Lori is a mom of three and the CEO of ENDCAN (End Child Abuse & Neglect), a non-profit organization she founded with her childhood pediatrician, Dr. Richard Krugman, who treated Lori after her rescue.
Lori PolandPhoto byFacebook
“I’ve sat in a room with 250 sex offenders, who’ve shared for the first time in their lives, their own lived experience of being harmed, and how that created this anger inside of them to then amplify them causing harm. Again, not to excuse it, not to justify it, but to understand it.”— Lori Poland

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