On a new path, far from home, Shasta Groene clears her mind. The 18-year-old walks the paved streets of southern Idaho, searching for inner peace. This is her new home and her new life, far from the troubled young girl who experienced tragedy a decade ago.
On May 16, 2005, authorities discovered the bodies of three members of the Groene family. Shasta’s mother Brenda, stepfather Mark, and brother Slade were found brutally murdered inside their Coeur d’Alene-area home. Deputies quickly discovered that two children were missing; Shasta and her brother Dylan.
The community prayed for Shasta and Dylan’s safe return, holding vigils, and openly weeping with despair at the idea of two sweet, local kids stolen from their quiet community. More than a month passed, and many believed hope was lost. They were wrong.
On July 2, 2005, Joseph Duncan inexplicably drove Shasta and himself to Coeur d’Alene, where they ate a meal at the local Denny’s. An employee and a customer recognized the young girl from media coverage and called police. Within minutes Duncan was in handcuffs, and 8-year-old Shasta was safe.
Many hoped this was the end of the ordeal. But in many ways, Shasta’s story was just beginning.
“I couldn’t really live my life or go out without someone recognizing me,” Shasta told KHQ in an exclusive sit-down interview. “Everywhere I went it was ‘Oh, there’s Shasta Groene,’ as if I were famous, and I didn’t like that. I was like ‘I’m a normal girl, treat me like a normal girl.’”
Shasta says she became a celebrity victim, defined by tragedy and plagued by guilt.
“There were years and years where I felt that what happened was my fault,” she said. “Like I could have done something to change what happened… I had my innocence taken from me. I felt really ashamed of that.”
Her childhood could never be normal.
“I didn’t feel like I was a normal 8-year-old and I hated that so much,” she said. “I wanted to be everyone else but myself.”
Shasta says the celebrity status sent her down a dark path. She was consumed by concerns about her body image. Soon she started drinking, and eventually doing drugs with older teens she’d met.
“It was like, ‘Oh Shasta, she’ll get high with us,’ or ‘She’ll party with us,’” she said.
She felt more at home in this scene. She finally broke the image that had been handed to her the day Joseph Duncan brought her back to Coeur d’Alene. But addiction had its consequences.
In February 2104, drug related crime landed Shasta in juvenile detention. She says that 12-month sentence saved her life.
“I don’t know where I’d be,” she said. “I don’t know if I’d be alive.”
During her time at the program in southern Idaho, her life changed. She met life-long friends, and eventually, the man who remains her fiancé today. When she got out, she decided to start a new life in the area, far from the home where she grew up.
For the first time in a decade, Shasta Groene has a clean slate.
She and her family never let go of what they lost. Her mother’s name is forever inked on her arm - a tattoo she looks at every day. A reminder of the love she still feels today.
“We treat everyday like they would still be here with us,” she said.
They still celebrate the birthdays they lost, no doubt a difficult time for the 18-year-old who continues to grow. Shasta says it tends to rain on those days, a small signal from her mom Brenda that she’s watching over from above.
“Those days are hard,” she said. “I have to embrace those days, and feel what I feel so I can work through it.”
She’s been working through that pain for 10 years, but today something’s different; a new life, with a future she never expected.
Shasta is due to have a baby boy in March.
“I almost feel like this is a miracle baby,” she said. “It’s something that’s going to change my life for the better.”
She had feared her captor, Joseph Duncan, had done too much damage for her to get pregnant.
“I think it just symbolizes me being able to take what’s happened to me and making something good out of it,” she said.
Shasta’s rebirth came quickly, after ten tough years. But a long journey of love lies ahead. Shasta describes herself as a survivor, who will no longer be defined by the worst tragedy you could imagine. She also hopes to help other survivors reach a point where they, too, can find peace and move forward.
She also shared a message for Joseph Duncan.
“I’d want him to know that he doesn’t control me, and he doesn’t control how I feel,” she said. “He’s the person who took away my family and my innocence, but I don’t ever really think about him. It’s just my family. And I want him to know he doesn’t have any power right now, because he’s the one sitting in prison while I’m out living my life.”
A long life filled with strength and struggles that together brought her to this new path. Shasta is somehow grateful for the tough times she’s experienced, because they made her who she is today – a strong young woman, and soon to be mom.
In many ways, Shasta Groene is still searching for the path that will take her where she wants to go. It’s hard to say when she’ll get there. But each step brings her just a bit closer.
“I’m getting there,” she said.
“And I feel a peace in my life that I’ve never felt before.”