Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus have been honored at the annual Hope Awards dinner of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on Tuesday.
Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus were kidnapped as teens and tormented for years until their escape from Ariel Castro’s house of horrors in Cleveland on May 6, 2013.
They spoke only briefly, with Amanda Berry’s voice muffled by her infectious tears. But her message was clear: “Never give up hope.”
It was one year to the day when Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, were freed from what authorities described as a real-life horror chamber. Ariel Castro, a school bus driver, often kept the women in ropes and chains, torturing them physically and emotionally for more than a decade in his white-frame house with boarded-up windows on Seymour Avenue.
Michelle Knight was 21 when abducted and now is 33. Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus are also adults now but were honored Tuesday with Hope Awards by the missing children’s center because they were teenagers when kidnapped. Amanda Berry was taken in April of 2003, a day before she turned 17. Gina DeJesus disappeared in January 2004, when she was 14.
Hours before being presented their awards, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus had lunch at the White House and met Vice President Joe Biden. President Barack Obama stopped by to meet them while they were talking with Joe Biden, according to the missing children’s center and the White House.
Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus have guarded their privacy, and although their appearance at the Hope Awards drew attention from network and Cleveland broadcasters, there was little certainty that they would do more than nominally address the ballroom audience of 500 Center for Missing and Exploited Children supporters.
The women appeared flanked by family members, and Amanda Berry, standing center, appeared uncertain of what to say.
“It’s an honor to be here tonight,” Amanda Berry began after hesitation.
“It is really special to be here with Gina and our families. It means more than you’ll ever know.”
Gina DeJesus then spoke, appearing equally uncertain.
“I’m glad to be here with you guys to accept this award,” she said.
“And always believe in hope, even though sometimes it is hard. … Just pray to God” for hope, she said.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight escaped from Castro with the help of Seymour Avenue neighbors on the eve of the missing children’s center Hope Awards last year, when the center’s president and CEO, John Ryan, was fairly new.
Amanda Barry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight have been recognized in other ways this week. Officials announced that more than 10,000 donations had been made to help them, totaling $1.4 million and divided evenly in trusts for their current and future needs.
Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus have been working with Mary Jordan, a Washington Post reporter and Cleveland native, to tell their story in a book expected to be released in 2015.
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