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May 17th, 2022

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Gender: Male

Age: 32
Signup Date:
December 29, 2021


01/23/2022 12:22 PM 

where are they now?

It was a very bleak day in Brightwood when news broke out about the Hartley family eighteen years ago; residents were left confused, heartbroken and shocked when an investigation of the family’s farm just outside town revealed the extremely abusive conditions Joseph and Christine Hartley’s children ( 17, 14 and 11 respectively ) had been living in.

The family was once held in high regard by neighbors and other residents. Many would not have known or believed Joseph and Christine Hartley were capable of such horrific punishments, but their story became a news sensation when their fourteen year-old son, Austin, broke free after being locked in Joseph Hartley’s barn for two weeks.

Joseph and Christine Hartley are currently both serving hefty prison sentences, but many still wonder what happened to their three sons. We had the chance to sit down with Austin Hartley, now 32, and ask a few questions about the events that took place in that household, as well as discuss recovery and healing after what many regard as one of Brightwood’s most shocking tragedies.

We appreciate you sitting down with us. I know, historically, you and your brothers have been really private about this and refused interviews. Is there a reason why that changed? What made you wanna be more open about it?

“Thanks for havin’ me. I think, for me — I can’t really speak for them — but this is kinda the next step. For years, we rejected interviews n’ talk shows n’ whatever else because we really didn’t wanna be known for this. I didn’t want my whole identity to be that story. So I thought I just wouldn’t talk about it, let it fade away. But really, I just haven’t been ready to talk about it like this. I haven’t been ready to put it into words n’ let people listen to it. I still don’t know if I am, but this kinda feels like just the next step in recoverin’ from it all.”

All three of you still live in Brightwood, is that right?

“Yup, we all three do. It’s funny, you’d think we’d wanna be anywhere else but where this took place, and I’ll say it is hard sometimes, but this really is home. I’ve lived a bunch’a different places — New York, Arizona, Vegas for awhile, California, and I always find myself back here again.”

What do you do for work now? Would you say your life is pretty normal?

“I dunno if I’d say normal, but as normal as it can be. We have family and friends just like everyone else. We date like everyone else. We have issues like everyone else, but there’s always gonna be that heaviness in us, I think. It’s not easy to just forget about even though it’s been this long. We all work at a bar owned by my uncle, s’ right up the street from the house. We’ve been doin’ that for… kinda since we were all old enough, but what we really like to do is play music.”


“Yeah! You know, we’ve been singin’ together since we were kids, and it’s kinda always been our little thing. It’s always been our way of getting through everything that was goin’ on in our house, and we kinda dipped our toes in once we got older — we play at the bar we work at, but we’ve been tryin’a take it a little more seriously the last little bit.”

Any album plans?

“Heh. Maybe one day, we hope so.”

Do people still recognize you from your news story?

“Well, when you never leave, I don’t think it’s that people don’t recognize you — they just already know you. I think what happened with us is that nothin’ ever happens here. Brightwood’s a quiet town, everyone knows each other, so when something like this — what happened to us — happens, it’s shocking ‘cause you think ‘that could never be here, in our town?’ What we dealt with more’n bein’ recognized was people whispering about us. Everyone talked about it. Everyone would check on us, see how we were doin’n whatnot, and that hurts but you can see where it’s comin’ from. What was really hard was the people who talked behind your back or pointed you out if you went anywhere. That was a lot harder, even than being randomly recognized because these people knew us.”

Do you remember a lot about that night?

“It’s kinda always playin’ in the back of my head, you know? I don’t think I’ll ever really forget it.”

Can you tell us a bit more about it from your perspective?

“It’s hard to put the whole picture out there… I think I’ve only really put it into words a few times, because it’s all weird to say…? That kinda punishment, it wasn’t unusual in our house. Our dad locked us up in closets, in the basement, n’ in the barn too, but usually it was just for a few hours or the night or somethin’. I thought that’s all it was gonna be, but then another day would pass and I’m still in there. The night I broke out, I really thought they were gonna leave me out there’n starve me to death or something.”

Did they come check on your or anything at all?

“Oh yeah, but not to see if I was okay. By the time I broke outta there, it was bad… it was a situation like, well, if I don’t at least try, I’m gonna die here n’ if I don’t starve to death, I’m gonna die of blood loss or something, that’s how bad it was.”

How were you able to get out of there?

“Through the window. It’s high up, but I could put a few things together to stand on n’ climb out; I crawled through n’ hoped for the best when I jumped out. Busted my arm and a couple ribs in the landing, but kinda at that point, the adrenaline was goin’, so I just ran. Took off to our neighbor’s house n’ knocked on her door for help n’ she called the cops.”

Did you tell her what happened?

“No, not exactly, I just said I needed help. I didn’t really tell anyone except the cops when they showed up, but I really don’t remember that part so well. By then I was pretty delirious and they actually had to take me to the hospital before anything was finished, so I didn’t really have any concept of what was even going on ‘til after.”

How did you react to what was going on? That was a lot of change at one time.

“Not too well. You go through — well I went through — this numbness at first where I was just goin’ along with whatever anyone told me to do and not really thinkin’ too much about it, just focusing on healin’ up physically, but it’ll catch up with you, you know? I had a really, really hard time with the trial. I couldn’t talk to them at first, they had to really work with me to get me to that point where I could at least say what happened and move the trial along. That all said, I still don’t think I always handle it the best.” [ laughs ] “There’s still times where it all really weighs on me. I’ve had a couple really bad situations in the past that I don’t really care to talk about here. I can just say it's been a weird road, there's a lot of ups and downs.”

How did your brothers handle everything? Do you think it’s made you three stronger?

“Better’n me, I think, but I feel like we all kinda say that about each other. I wouldn’t have made it through any’a this without those two. We’re a unit and we were always strong, but I think we’re definitely stronger now.”

You mentioned the barn punishment wasn’t unusual. Were there times you thought of getting help before? How did that go with school?

“Well, we were homeschooled, so obviously there wasn’t any teachers or anything to run to. We all talked about reaching out to our aunt n’ uncle before it all went down, but there’s fear in that too. If it doesn’t work, you’re stuck with these people who already proved they can hurt you this bad. If you don’t end up outta there, they can hurt you even worse.”

If you were given the chance, do you think you’d see your parents again?

“Can’t really say unless I was in that position honestly. My mom’s due for release not too long from now, but I dunno if I can see her. I don’t think either of ‘em will ever understand what me n’ Shan n’ Rich have to carry around every day, you know? It’s harder than you could ever think. I’ve lost a part of myself forever. I’ll spend the rest of my life like this and there’s only so much you can do about it. I can’t forgive either of them for that even if I did see ‘em. I think mostly I'd just really like to ask them why. Why did they do that to us, you know? What was goin' on that I didn't know about that made them like that? I don't think I'll ever really understand even if they explained it to me, but I always think about... that maybe it would help if I at least had some sense of what was goin' through their heads back then. I kinda wonder sometimes if they regret it or feel bad.”

What are some things that help you when it’s getting difficult to deal with?

“Music. That’s the first one. Music can kinda take me out of anything, it’s kinda like… a pause when everything’s goin’ too fast all at once. My family gets me through a lot. They’ve stuck by me through way more’n they should, I think.” [ laughs ] “My friends n’ my therapist. I have a lot of good support and that’s helped me when things get really hard.”

Do you have any advice for other people healing from similar situations?

“Take everything one day at a time. It’s not gonna be a perfect ‘well, I went to therapy for a few sessions, I’m good now’ n’ if you think like that, it’s gonna be really hard for you. Surround yourself by good people who wanna see you get through everything you’re goin’ through.”

What’s one hope you have for your future self?

“Finish school. I’ve taken a little bit too many breaks on that one.” [ laughs ] “Get further with music. Maybe start a family some day, who knows.”

We wish the best for you, Austin! Thank you so much for taking some time out to talk with us. What do you think is next for you?

“Thank you so much! As for what's next? Well... we'll see.”


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