The three women who were held captive in a home in Cleveland, Ohio, for more than a decade have released an online video thanking the public for the encouragement and financial support they have received since their rescue in May.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight have not been seen in the two months since they escaped from the house on Seymour Avenue owned by 52-year-old former bus driver Ariel Castro, but in the three-minute and 33-second clip, the trio suggested they would not have been able to build “brand new lives” without the help and support of strangers. “Everyone who has been there to support us has been a blessing,” said Ms Berry, 27, reading from a prepared statement.
Each of the women appeared to be happy and healthy in the clip. Ms Knight, who is 32, said: “I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and my head held high… I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation. I don’t want to be consumed by hatred.” Wearing a crucifix, she went on: “God has a plan for all of us. The plan that he gave me was to help others who have been in the same situation as I’ve been in.”
Gina DeJesus, 23, appeared in the video alongside her parents, Felix DeJesus and Nancy Ruiz, who specifically thanked the Cleveland Courage Fund, a trust set up to help the women as they return to normal life, which has already raised more than $1m (£670,000) for their cause. Ms Ruiz paid tribute to her own neighbours, and encouraged other parents with missing loved ones to lean on their fellow citizens for support, as she had. “Count on your neighbours,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for the help because help is available.”
The video was released by Hennes Paynter Communications, the PR firm representing the victims and their families. Following their rescue, the women were advised by the FBI to retain the services of a law firm. Their lawyers, Jones Day, subsequently enlisted Hennes Paynter, a Cleveland-based PR outfit. Both Jones Day and Hennes Paynter are working pro bono on behalf of the women.
Hennes Paynter partner Bruce Hennes told the Jewish news service JNS.org in May that he had fielded requests for interviews with the women from all over the world, but, added: “It’s very important that nothing be said that will jeopardise the ongoing investigation and the prosecution of Mr. Castro… The strategy right now is to give the women time and to preserve the integrity of the court case.”
The victims and their families continue to refuse all media requests. The idea of releasing a video originated with the women, who wanted to express their thanks for the support they had received, and for the fact that their privacy had been respected. All three are still living in the Cleveland area, and shot the video together on 2 July. Following their release, it was reported that Knight was being cared for by DeJesus’s family after refusing to meet with her own mother and grandmother, though their representatives offered no further information on the survivors’ progress.
Knight was the first of the three women to go missing, aged 21, in August 2002. Berry was 16 when she was abducted in April 2003, on her way home from work. DeJesus was kidnapped a year later as she walked back from school. She was 14.
Castro has pleaded not guilty to a 329-count indictment alleging he snatched the women and held them captive in his home. He is believed to have fathered a daughter, now six, with Berry, and is also accused of starving and beating Ms Knight repeatedly, causing her to miscarry several times.