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Nov 27, 2013 8:20 PM by Nathan O'Neal

Imprisoned girls brings back haunting memories for Tucson woman

TUCSON – The recent revelations of three girls imprisoned in a midtown home brings back haunting memories for one woman who lived through abuse and was even held captive at times.

Levi River was only 16 years old when she found herself in an abusive relationship. It lasted seven years.

She was beaten, raped and imprisoned in a home in another state – at times she was even locked away in a large underground freezer with only a hose coming out for air.

While it has been 14 years since River escaped a living nightmare, the recent news involving the three young girls imprisoned in terrible conditions brings back her own memories.

“I want them to know that there is hope out there. I want them to know that this not their fault and that they have a lot of people out here that care for them and are willing to help them – they’re safe now,” River told News 4 Tucson.

To this day, River struggles with her past but it’s gotten easier since interacting with “Tiny” – the big therapy horse that has a leash on River’s heart.

“Look at me, after all these years I had to relearn how to walk and talk again and now I’m walking and I’m talking and I’m smiling,” River said.

Mary Vardi, of Therapeutic Riding of Tucson, said that River has benefited from the emotional connection of interacting with horses – a significant step that happened after years of coping with what had happened.

“Most of the time, [the horse] is following her direction and so that gives an empowerment that say ‘I can do this, I can be in charge, I can be the leader,’” Vardi said.

The biggest hurdle in the road to recovery River’s sister, Marie, said is finding trust again.

“It’s going to be a struggle. Let your family in if they’re willing to be there for you… let them in if they didn’t know what was going on, forgive that so you can move on,” Marie said.

It’s a sobering reality for a woman who’s been down that long road to recovery.

“It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be angry but it’s okay to smile and laugh,” River said.

» There are multiple updates to this story. Please click here to get the latest information.

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