Two months after escaping from a Cleveland house where they were allegedly held captive for about a decade, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight made their first public statement together in a YouTube video released by a public relations firm Monday night. The women say they are on the road to recovery and that they are especially grateful for the donations they’ve received through the Cleveland Courage Fund, which has raised more than $1 million.
In an inspiring, yet heartwrenching statement, Michelle Knight, who went missing in 2002 at age 21, 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 with my head held high and my feet firmly on the ground … I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation.”
Gina DeJesus, who was abducted in 2004 at 14 years old, said, “thank you for your support,” but her parents Nancy Ruiz and Felix DeJesus did most of the talking. “Count on your neighbors,” Ruiz said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for their help.” And Amanda Berry, who disappeared shortly before her 17th birthday in 2003 and was the first of the women to speak to the press after they escaped on May 6, requested continued privacy at the beginning of the video.
Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old bus driver, has pleaded not guilty to a 329-count indictment charging him of kidnapping the women and holding them captive in his Cleveland house – plus aggravated murder counts that allege Castro is responsible for the unlawful termination of a pregnancy. His pretrial hearing is scheduled for July 24.