Cleveland kidnap victim Gina DeJesus has made her first public appearance since her dramatic escape at the annual Puerto Rican Parade and Latino Fest on Sunday.
Gina DeJesus, 23, looked relaxed as she waved a flag and threw treats to the crowd during the parade.
Although Gina DeJesus thanked her supporters in a video released by the three survivors a month ago, it is the first time she has been seen in public since just her escape from the house on May 6.
Her smiling, relaxed appearance came in stark contrast with the gaunt, shaky figure that appeared in police interview footage shortly after her escape three months ago.
The other survivors, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight, have also stepped out in public in remarkable shows of courage.
Amanda Berry, 27, was pictured dancing at a Nelly concert last month, while 32-year-old Michelle Knight faced her captor, Ariel Castro, at his sentencing in court last week before returning to the home on Seymour Avenue on Friday to thank neighbors for their support.
Members of the community who attended the parade on Sunday said they became emotional when they saw Gina DeJesus, whose family is Puerto Rican. She was riding with relatives as part of the Janet Garcia for City Council group.
“It was very beautiful. I got chills when I saw her on top of the car,” Vivian Prez, who watched the parade, told Fox8.
Aida Cruz added: “I got emotional when I saw her. I got a granddaughter back there, looked like she was about to cry. It was just very emotional.”
The theme of the parade was “a celebration of renewed hope and community healing”, and many taking part in the festival held posters bearing the faces of people missing from the area.
Gina DeJesus’ father Felix also spoke at the Latino Fest with his wife by his side as he pleaded with the crowd to keep their ears and eyes open to help find other missing children in the state.
“I want to tell you Gina, Amanda and Michelle are doing beautiful,” he said.
“I got to tell you something. Our work is not done. We have more beautiful children out there that need our help.”
Community activist Angel Arroyo added: “On Friday, there were still 95 people in this city missing. Fifty people from the list are children, 45 people are adults and so we still have a lot right here.”
The three survivors released a video last month thanking people for their support and donations.
After their escape from Ariel Castro’s house, The Cleveland Courage Fund was set up to help them rebuild their lives and has so far raised more than $1.2 million.
“I would like to say thank you for the support,” Gina DeJesus said in the video, while the other two women spoke out at greater length.
Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and her six-year-old daughter fathered by Ariel Castro were saved from the house in Cleveland in May after Amanda Berry managed to escape, alert neighbors and call 911.first public appearance, gina dejesus, puerto rican parade