3 freed Cleveland captives break silence over ordeal

In video, upbeat women say thanks for help

7/10/2013
BLADE NEWS SERVICES
Images from the video provided by Hennes Paynter Communications shows from left: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. The three women held captive in a Cleveland home for a decade broke their public silence in a 3-minute, 30-second video posted on YouTube at midnight Monday July 8, 2013.
Images from the video provided by Hennes Paynter Communications shows from left: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. The three women held captive in a Cleveland home for a decade broke their public silence in a 3-minute, 30-second video posted on YouTube at midnight Monday July 8, 2013.

CLEVELAND — For the first time, we see the faces and hear the words of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight in a four-minute video in which they thank the community for its support after their escape from a decade of captivity.

The women appear upbeat, and two of them talk about having the strength to move on. The video, shot July 2 in Cleveland and released early Tuesday, is the first time the women have addressed the public after their ordeal.

“I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and with my head held high and with my feet firmly on the ground,” Ms. Knight says. “Walking hand and hand with my best friend, I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation.”

They say they appreciate the community’s financial help and prayers. Ms. DeJesus’ mother, Nancy Ruiz, is quick to thank the Cleveland Courage Fund, a bank account set up to receive donations to help the three women make the transition from 10 years of captivity to independence. It has received $1.05 million from 9,200 donors, and some of the money already has flowed to the women and their families.

In the video, an off-camera voice asks Ms. DeJesus what she would say to people who have contributed to the fund and have helped her and her family. “I would say thank you for the support.”

“Everyone who has been there to support us has been a blessing,” Ms. Berry says. She adds that she is getting stronger each day but continues to seek privacy.

The three women, who each speak separately, do not discuss their current situations. The women appear healthy and flash toothy smiles.

Ariel Castro is accused of kidnapping them and holding them hostage in his Seymour Avenue home.

A 329-count indictment filed in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court that covers only five years of the women’s captivity accuses Castro, 52, of repeated beatings and rapes.

Ms. Knight, 32, was 21 when she was reported missing in August, 2002. Ms. Berry, 27, was 16 when she vanished in April, 2003. And Ms. DeJesus, 23, was 14 when she failed to come home in April, 2004.

“I don’t want to be consumed by hatred,” Ms. Knight says in the video. “With that being said, we need to take a leap of faith and know God is in control. God has a plan for all of us. The plan that he gave me is to help others who have been in the same situation I have been in.”

The indictment said one of the women tried to escape in 2003 and was later chained to a pole in the basement with a motorcycle helmet on her head. Her legs and mouth were taped, and she was chained to a heater in a bathroom and assaulted with a vacuum cleaner cord around her neck, the indictment said.

Another woman was assaulted with a pillow and restrained with chains and tape, the charges said. The last woman was restrained in a bedroom and chained to a pole in the basement, according to the charges. At times, the charges said, women were taken to Castro’s garage and chained inside a van.

Castro is charged with aggravated murder involving the termination of one of the women’s pregnancies between Nov. 1, 2006, and Feb. 28, 2007. It was the woman’s fourth lost child during her captivity, according to the indictment.

Castro’s trial is set for next month but could be delayed if the defense asks for more preparation time.

Castro’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on the video. Last week a judge rejected Castro’s request to see Ms. Berry’s child fathered by him.

Additional charges are expected, and county prosecutors are expected to decide soon whether to seek the death penalty for the aggravated murder charges.

One of the advisers to the Cleveland Courage Fund, Christopher Kelly of the law firm Jones Day in Cleveland, said Ms. Knight, Ms. DeJesus, and Ms. Berry — as well as Ms. Berry’s daughter who was born while in captivity — will have individual trusts set up.

The fund was started by Cleveland City Council members Brian Cummins, Matt Zone, and Dona Brady. Money came from concerts, corporations, and community groups.

“Amanda, Gina, and Michelle wanted to say thank you to people from Cleveland and across the world, now that two months have passed,” said Kathy Joseph, the attorney for Ms. Knight. “People are recognizing them now as they go about in public, so they decided to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages.”

James Wooley, an attorney for Ms. Berry and Ms. DeJesus, said the women “still have a strong desire for privacy.” He said the women do not wish to talk about their ordeal with the media or anyone else.

In the closing moments of the video, Ms. Knight expresses thanks and excitement.

“Thank you for all of your prayers,” she says. “I’m looking forward to my brand-new life.”

Since the video was released early Tuesday, more than 100 comments have been made to the posting at cleveland.com.