In July of 2014, University of Amsterdam co-ed Ilse De Groot went missing while playing hide and seek at Ikea. This is her story.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands – It’s been something of a cultural phenomenon. Since last summer, college students have been playing hide and seek at Ikea warehouse stores all over The Netherlands. But like many stories of college-age tomfoolery, this one has a darker side.
Ilse De Groot, an art major at the University of Amsterdam, joined the second of these hide and seek events in July of 2014. The event, scheduled to play out until evening, started shortly after the co-ed arrived at noon, but when the day ended, Ilse could not be found. Despite a thorough search carried out by event organizers, friends of De Groot, and employees of the Ikea store, the student had simply vanished.
Tygo Dahl, a fellow student, stayed until late in the night trying to locate his friend. “It was as if she never went to the Ikea store that day,” he said. “Or maybe like she never existed at all.”
“We looked under every bed, in every cabinet, even the tiny ones!” he continued, “She’s petite, don’t you know.”
Theories abounded concerning the disappearance. Police considered the possibility that De Groot had been kidnapped, but with no leads other than their own suspicions they were forced to move the case into their cold case file. “We suspected foul play,” Sergeant Daniel Joosten reported. “But we had no evidence.”
By all accounts, Ilse De Groot had little reason to run away. An “A” student, member of a popular sorority, and avid volleyball player, the young woman lived a full life with few concerns.
“Then she was gone,” the sergeant said.
All that changed last Monday when De Groot made her appearance in the same Ikea where she disappeared eight months before. Looking a little worse for wear – unkempt hair, disheveled clothing – she nonetheless seemed fully aware of herself and her surroundings. Police investigators and Ikea representatives both took the opportunity to question her in an attempt to discover where she had been the whole time, but other than to say she never left the Ikea warehouse, she offered no specifics.
“A good hide and seek player doesn’t give away her hiding places,” Ilse said.
And what about food and drink? Miss De Groot crept out of her secret hideout each night after the store closed and raided the employee break room refrigerator. “I lived on half sandwiches and leftover sodas, mostly. Once, someone brought in some tapioca pudding in a cup. That was a treat! Sometimes I couldn’t tell what was in those Tupperware bowls, but I ate it anyway.”
She made a sour face. “I think one of them was full of Vegemite.”
Ilse claims to have used the restroom only at nights, keeping herself clean with paper towels and hand soap.
What made her come out of hiding after all this time? Last Monday, Ikea announced it would be banning the practice of hide and seek games in its stores. Ikea Group spokeswoman Martina Smedberg stated during the announcement, “We need to make sure people are safe in our stores and that’s hard to do if we don’t even know where they are.”
“I don’t want to break the rules,” De Groot said. “I’m not that kind of girl.”