Cleveland kidnap victims Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight appear healthy and happy as they recover from a decade in sickening captivity in a heartwarming video that has been released on YouTube.
This is the first on-camera appearance of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight since they were freed from the clutches of Ariel Castro – who allegedly beat and raped them and held them locked inside his house under unimaginable conditions.
The footage also marks the first public appearance of Michelle Knight since 2002. It was not even know that she had been kidnapped until she was found in Ariel Castro’s home on Seymour Avenue on May 6.
The video, which is three and a half minutes long, was posted on YouTube late Monday by Hennes Paynter Communications, the public relations firm that the three young women and their families hired after they were freed from captivity.
In it, all three women thank the supporters who rallied to their cause after they were sensationally freed on May 6. The story captivated the nation and united the hard-scrabble city of Cleveland.
“First and foremost, I want everyone to understand how happy I am to be home with my family and my friends. It’s been unbelievable,” Amanda Berry says.
She adds: “I’m getting stronger each day and having my privacy has helped immensely. I ask that everyone continues to respect our privacy and give us to time have a normal life.”
The video offers a hopeful portrait of the girls, who have gone into hiding among the furor of media coverage that descended on Cleveland after they were sensationally found alive after nearly everyone had given up searching for them.
Kathy Joseph, an attorney for Michelle Knight, said in a statement that the three women wanted to “say thank you to people from Cleveland and across the world, now that two months have passed”.
She said they’re being recognized in public, “so they decided to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages”.
James Wooley, attorney for Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, also issued a statement saying Michelle Knight and his clients thank people for the privacy they’ve been given and do not want to discuss their case with the news media or anyone else.
Michelle Knight, who was Ariel Castro’s first alleged victim – said to be taken off a west-side street in 2002, put a brave face on her new world.
“Thank you everyone for your love support and donations, which helped me build a brand new life. I want everyone to know I’m doing just fine,” she said.
Michelle knight’s family said that she has developmental disabilities and bore the brunt of the brutal beatings and torture that Ariel Castro allegedly doled out.
Her aunt told reports that she was beaten so badly she required reconstruction surgery to repair the damage to her face.
Michelle Knight appears undaunted in the video.
“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,” she says.
She speaks about her faith in God and how she is leaning on her faith to get her through the difficult recovery.
“God has a plan for all of us. The plan that he gave me is for me to help others that have been in the same situations I have been in – to know that there is someone out there to lean on and to talk to,” Michelle Knight says.
“I am in control of my own destiny with the guidance of God.”
Gina DeJesus appears briefly to thank all of the donors who contributed to the Cleveland Courage fund to help the three girls.
More than 9,200 donors have amassed a little more than $1million for the girls’ recovery.
All three women smile broadly as the speak. They are well-dressed and wearing tastefully-applied makeup in the heavily-produced video shot in downtown Cleveland.
However, the video also contains reminders of the horror that the young women experienced.
Michelle Knight appears to display the effects of the severe beatings she endured for 11 years.
Gina DeJesus speaks only one line in the video. When asked by a man behind the camera what she would like to say to the people who contributed to the Cleveland Courage fund, she responds: “I would say thank you for the support.”
Instead, Gina’s family speaks for her.
Her parents Felix DeJesus and Nancy Ruiz never gave up hope and never stopped searching for their daughter.
“I would like to thank everyone who has donated to the courage fund for these girls. I’d also like to thank the family for having so much passion and the strength to go along with us,” Felix DeJesus says.
Nancy Ruiz offered a word of encouragement to parents who are going through the trauma of missing a child.
She said: “To parents that does have a loved one missing. Please do me one big favor, count on your neighbors. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help because help is available.”
Ariel Castro, 52, faces 329 charges of kidnapping, rape, aggravated murder and other charges as a result of the statements the three women gave to police. The aggravated murder charge stems from a pregnancy that Ariel Castro alleged terminated by beating one of the women so severely she had a miscarriage.
Last week, a Cleveland judge ruled Ariel Castro mentally fit to stand trial.
The judge also denied his request to visit Jocelyn, the 6-year-old daughter he fathered with Amanda Berry while she was in captivity in his Cleveland house.
Psychologists say that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight have many long years of intensive therapy and rehabilitation ahead of them to begin to undo the damage left by the horrific abuse that they suffered.