Edmonton

Alberta survivor of U.S. kidnapping ordeal shares the gift that helped her heal

As Jaydan Hutchinson speaks more frequently and publicly about her kidnapping, she's also making, selling and donating blankets to other sexual assault survivors.

Jaydan Hutchinson sexually assaulted, held captive in South Carolina trailer

Lloydminster resident Jaydan Hutchinson was kidnapped and sexually assaulted two years ago in the U.S. The 22-year-old is now selling blankets to raise awareness of sexual assault and support fellow survivors. (Peter Evans/CBC)

A fleece blanket with polka dots and a knotted fringe means the world to Jaydan Hutchinson.

It was handed to her two years ago in an American hospital, hours after she was rescued from the South Carolina trailer where she had been held captive and assaulted for five days.

Except for the underwear she was wearing when police arrived and arrested her captor, she had no belongings with her at the hospital. Her family and friends were thousands of kilometres away in Lloydminster, Alta. The blanket, a gift from a victims' advocate, became a comfort and companion. 

The 19-year-old wrapped it around herself, and took it with her to X-rays and other tests.

"You don't know how much something so little can mean to you until you have nothing and nobody," she told CBC News.

"It just changes your life."

Hutchinson thinks about that blanket — and what happened two years ago — every day.

Recently, blankets have taken on even more significance in her life. 

In September, Fred Russell Urey, 41, pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal sexual conduct and intent to distribute methamphetamine.

Judge Letitia Verdin of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Greensville, S.C., sentenced Urey to 18 years in prison. He must also register as a sex offender.

These days, as she speaks more frequently and publicly about the kidnapping, Hutchinson is also making, selling and donating blankets to other sexual assault survivors.

"It reminds me every day about what I went through and how we can't change it, but you can definitely keep going," she said.

Modelling offer from stranger

Hutchinson left Edmonton for Atlanta on May 17, 2017, after corresponding with a man on Instagram who had complimented her photos. He eventually offered a $15,000 modelling job she was told would not involve sexual acts or nudity.

Hutchinson said she researched the company the man purported to own before concluding his offer was legitimate. She was further convinced when he paid for her flight and gas for the drive to the airport.

"We were very strict with her and told her not to go," said her mother, Janelle Hutchinson. "And she looked at me with all honesty and said, 'I'm not going.' "

On the way to the airport, Hutchinson answered a call from her roommate, and he suggested they agree on a code phrase she could use if she was in trouble. They settled on, "How's my puppy Charlie?"

'The scariest moment of my life'

Urey picked Hutchinson up from the Atlanta airport and drove her to South Carolina, where she spent the night in a Days Inn.

She spent the next night at a different hotel.

On her third day in the U.S., she dropped her luggage off at a trailer Urey told her he used for storage. They set out by car for places Hutchinson was told she could have her hair and nails done. 

She said she was confused as they drove around without attending any appointments. Finally, she suggested booking a flight home and perhaps coming back another time.

Urey took her back to the trailer. When she went inside to retrieve her luggage, he covered her mouth with his hand, slammed her down on the couch and told her she wasn't going home.

"It was the scariest moment of my life," she said.

Urey locked the door and stacked a coffee table against it to trap her in the filthy mobile home.

She said he forced her to take methamphetamine, which caused canker sores in her mouth and extreme appetite loss. 

For the next five days, "I was physically, mentally, sexually and emotionally abused," she said. 

Rescue attempts

While she was inside the trailer, Hutchinson's roommate called and Urey let them talk on speaker-phone as he monitored the conversation.

She mentioned their code phrase, which prompted the roommate to contact police and report Hutchinson as a missing person. 

On May 22, a staff member at the Canadian consulate emailed Hutchinson's mother, asking urgently for more information.

Janelle Hutchinson immediately called her daughter, who told her — as Urey listened — that everything was fine.

"I could not say what I wanted to say, because my life was on the line," Hutchinson recalled. She said Urey had threatened her life and threatened to send someone to track down her sister in Canada.

Janelle Hutchinson FaceTimed with her daughter and examined recent photos she had sent. She noticed a bruise on her arm. Her lips seemed swollen. Her clothing was too big. But she believed her daughter was telling the truth, and called the consulate to say she had no reason to believe Jaydan was in trouble.

Two days later, Hutchinson told Urey she needed a break from the drugs. He agreed.

While he was on the phone, she took a picture of a piece of mail and later sent it — along with a cry for help — to her father over Instagram.

Hutchinson FaceTimed her father later that day, while she and Urey visited a Walmart. With police on their way to the store, she sensed that Urey had become suspicious.

"He made me hang up the phone and we ran out to the truck," she recalled.

As they left the parking lot, three police cars with flashing lights arrived.

"My heart just sunk," she said. "I thought that was the end."

Fred Russell Urey lured Lloydminster resident Jaydan Hutchinson to South Carolina in 2017 with promises of a modelling gig. He was recently sentenced to 18 years in prison. (Left photo: CBS News, right photo: HO-Pickens County Sheriff's Office/Canadian Press)

Urey took her back to the trailer.

"He was just about to start sexually abusing me when the cops started banging on the windows and the doors," she said.

Screaming, she ran through the trailer and jumped through a plate-glass window.

Pickens County police forced their way into the trailer, where Urey was holding a knife to his throat.

They arrested him and found 2.2 grams of methamphetamine during a search of the trailer.

The phone call home

An ambulance took Hutchinson to hospital, where she got her blanket and gave police a statement.

At that point, her family in Lloydminster knew she had been rescued, but had not yet spoken with her.

When Janelle Hutchinson's phone rang at home, everyone knew who was calling.

"All she said was, 'I'm sorry, Mom,' " Janelle Hutchinson recalled with tears in her eyes.

Hutchinson's grandparents flew to the U.S. to retrieve her. 

A new passion

After returning home, Hutchinson struggled with nightmares, PTSD, depression and anxiety. 

She began counselling sessions at the Lloydminster Sexual Assault and Information Centre and has relied on support from her family and boyfriend. 

She works in the city, co-managing a clothing store.

Before the kidnapping, she was a fitness buff who loved going to the gym every day to build muscle, but the drive to exercise disappeared after she returned home.

Making blankets has become her new hobby — one that includes family, friends and neighbours.

Janelle Hutchinson, Jaydan Hutchinson and sister Kaia Martens cuddle with blankets at the family home in Lloydminster. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

"I don't think I've felt this kind of passion in a very long time about something," she said.

The blankets cost between $50 and $70, depending on the fabric customers choose.

For every purchased blanket, Hutchinson donates another one to the Lloydminster Sexual Assault and Information Centre.

"We always need more," said Cassidy Shopland, the centre's community engagement advocate. About 600 people rely on the centre each year.

Jaydan Hutchinson, right, donates survivor blankets to Cassidy Shopland, a community engagement advocate at the Lloydminster Sexual Assault and Information Centre. (Madeleine Cummings/CBC)

Hutchinson's mother said she supports the project by making stacks of blankets with her daughter.

"All that matters is she's here," Janelle Hutchinson said.

"She's probably the strongest person I will ever have the pleasure of knowing."

About the Author

Madeleine Cummings is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton.