My bare feet slap the pavement as I run. The only thing I see in the early morning light is a car driving across the parking lot; everything else is a blur. I make it to the car and wave my arms frantically in the air, handcuffs dangling from one wrist. At the rolled-down driver’s window, I tell the two men inside, “My name is Kara Robinson. I was kidnapped and just escaped from that apartment.” I point to the ground-floor apartment where I’ve spent the last 18 hours held captive by a stranger.
The previous day was June 24, 2002. I was 15, out of school for the summer and looking forward to spending the break with my best friend Heather and my boyfriend Chris. I had spent the night with Heather in her parents’ house in Lexington, South Carolina, and we had decided to go to our friend’s house on the lake for the day.
We called our respective mothers to let them know the plan for the day and they told us to have a good time. Heather’s mother had a request before we left: could we please water the plants in the front yard before we left? Since Heather wanted to take a shower before we left, I volunteered to water the plants for her. That decision would alter my life forever.
Deception and kidnapping
Still in the clothes I had slept in, a pair of cheer shorts and a T-shirt from my mom’s work, I headed outside. I got the garden hose out, turned it on, and made my way to the plants. My bare toes curled in the grass while I watered, and I thought about our day ahead and seeing my boyfriend that evening.
When a dark green Pontiac Transam drove by, I thought to myself, “I like that car. I wouldn’t mind driving one when I get my license.” The same Transam drove by again and pulled into the driveway a few moments later and I wondered if this could be someone who knew Heather’s mom.
The man that got out of the car raised no red flags. He was a middle-aged, white man with tidy facial hair, wearing a baseball cap, a button-down, and jeans. He had a binder in his hands and an unremarkable look on his face.
The man walked over to me and said he was in the neighborhood, distributing magazines. He asked if my parents were home. “This is my friend’s house actually,” I responded with friendliness. “What about her parents, are they home?” He asked. I told him that her mom was not home. “Well, maybe you can just leave these for her mom when she gets home?” the man asked.
During this whole exchange, he had stayed several feet away, but when I told him I would take the magazines, he stepped forward to hand them to me. I suddenly felt the mood change in the man, and something cold and metal pressed to the side of my neck: a gun. “Why don’t you come with me?” the man insisted, while he had his arm around my shoulder and a gun pressed to the side of my neck. I never even considered running or screaming.
He told me to get in the back seat, where I looked back and saw a large plastic storage container. “Get in the container,” he said, and I did.
I instinctively knew that this man wanted to assault me: that’s often why men take young girls. But I formulated a plan to gather information about this man, gain his trust, and escape. As he drove and I felt the car merge onto the interstate, I memorized the songs playing on the radio and the serial number on the container I was in. I repeated what became a mantra for me: “Stay calm, gather information, escape.” It kept me calm and focused.
I felt the car leave the interstate and pull to the side of the road. When the lid came off of the container, I saw my captor’s face. He put handcuffs on me and a gag in my mouth, and instructed me to scream as loud as I could. He nodded afterwards, and replaced the lid, driving a few more minutes. The man parked the car and lifted the container, carrying me into his apartment.
My time in captivity
During the 18 hours that followed, the man assaulted me multiple times and told me that he would “take me somewhere that I didn’t know and let me go when he was done with me,” and that it was my choice if I “went to the police and was always known as the girl who was raped.”
I decided sometime during those 18 hours: that I would never just be the girl who was raped, and that I also wasn’t willing to let this man decide my fate. I continued to remain calm and gather information about my captor. During a conversation with him, I learned that he had been in the Navy. When I was in his kitchen, I read his mail and memorized the name of his doctor and dentist from magnets on the fridge. When I was in the bathroom, I noticed feminine hygiene products and a hairbrush with long red hair that led me to believe a woman lived there. I gathered and retained clues about who my captor was, hoping they would eventually assist in identifying him.
Late into the night, my captor restrained me for bed. I had a set of fur-lined handcuffs reinforced with metal wire around my wrists. The handcuffs were attached to the frame of the bed with a rope and a carabiner-style clip with a screw closure. My right leg had a restraint on it which was connected via a carabiner and a rope to the foot of the bed. Thanks to the drugs my captor had given me, I eventually fell asleep next to him.
Making my escape
I woke early the next morning to light filtering through the window and the sound of my captor breathing in his sleep beside me. I knew that this was my moment to escape. I tested out the handcuffs on my wrists; they were too tight for me to squeeze my hands out of them. I would have to unscrew the clip connecting them to the rope.
I used my teeth to loosen the screw clasp on the clip and slid the handcuffs out of the clasp. Next, I slid my hands down my body to my leg and disconnected the carabiner from the leg restraint.
With my heart racing in my throat, I slid out of the bed. I was wearing my captor’s shirt and stepped into my shorts that I found in the living room. When I walked to the front door, I saw that it was locked and the container I was transported in was sitting in front of the door. I moved the container and unlocked the door.
I knew I had one shot at this. I had to open the door and run as quickly as I could, knowing that if my captor woke up and looked out of his window or, worse, caught me, I would be seriously injured or killed. I threw the door open and ran.
When I saw a car in the apartment parking lot, I flagged it down and told the men inside that I had been kidnapped and asked them to take me to the police.
Finding the culprit
I went to the local sheriff’s department and recounted my story to a very shocked corporal who immediately contacted an investigator. I attempted, unsuccessfully, to identify my captor’s apartment with an investigator. I was, however, able to give law enforcement enough information that they were able to bring a photo lineup to the hospital while I waited for a sexual assault exam. I immediately identified my captor. His name was Richard Marc Evonitz, and he was on the run from law enforcement.
For the next few days, information slowly began to roll in about this man who had kidnapped me. He had lived in Virginia, he was married to a woman with long red hair, and he had previously been in the Navy, as I had learned.
Police found all of the things I had described in his apartment, as well as some other things in a locked foot locker that raised concern. There were handwritten notes about girls as well as newspaper clippings of unsolved murders in Virginia from the mid 1990’s. The authorities in Virginia were immediately notified and evidence was gathered and compared to these crimes.
Meanwhile, my captor was on the run until his sister told law enforcement that he was supposed to meet her in Sarasota, Florida. Law enforcement in Florida set up an operation to intercept Evonitz. When he pulled into the restaurant where he was to meet his sister, he saw law enforcement and fled. He led them on a car chase that ended when law enforcement deployed stop sticks, Evonitz wrecked his car and shot himself.
The next morning, I learned of my captor being located and of his death. My immediate reaction was anger. I wanted him to see me across a courtroom and know that I was his downfall. That the girl he took as a victim of opportunity was his biggest mistake. I wanted redemption.
In the weeks that followed, the evidence gathered was compared to the murders of three girls in Virginia and my captor was positively identified as the man responsible for their deaths.
Life after the ordeal
It has been over 20 years since that day in June. I am now thankful that my captor never had to go to court and that my family never had to hear the details of those 18 hours. I came to the realization somewhere along the way that even though my captor said he wouldn’t kill me, he absolutely would have if I had not saved my own life.
I was told for years how strong I was to have escaped and handled things “well.” It became a badge of honor, but also something that I hid behind. I was strong, so I felt I couldn’t be affected by my trauma. I didn’t have PTSD and I wasn’t triggered. Therapy didn’t seem to have any impact on me.
When I became a mother, all of that changed. My strength reached its limit and I could no longer compartmentalize and shut down my emotions. I had to begin learning how I was impacted and how I could heal. I started using exercise and other somatic processing tools to process my emotions and heal my trauma.
It’s been a journey and it’s still not over. I am now a keynote speaker, victim’s advocate, social media content creator, and a soon-to-be author. I share and process my trauma and my healing every day with others who have experienced trauma in their own lives. I teach others how to heal and how to take control of their lives after being a victim. I aim to show them that we are not defined by the things that happen in our past.
I also work with other survivors to advocate for proper victim representation and treatment in the media. With the popularity of true crime, it is essential to take a thoughtful look at what it means to consume this content and how to do so in a way that is ethical and trauma-informed.
I urge anyone consuming content about true crime to dig a little into not only why they are consuming it, but what the creators are doing to protect the rights and well-being of the victims and families. Ethical and trauma-informed content will always have the consent or participation of the people involved in the story and will find ways to give back to the people whose stories they are telling.
Many other public survivors and I have had our stories shared for the monetary gain of others, without thought or concern, under the guise of journalistic freedom and opportunity. Balancing the freedom and rights of the media with the trauma and well-being of victims is a difficult task at the best of times but I have faith that, with some thought and compassion, it is possible.
Kara Chamberlain is a victim’s advocate and social media creator on TikTok. She executive produced the documentary, Escaping Captivity: The Kara Robinson Story. Find out more on her website: kararobinsonchamberlain.com.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.