Kidnapped women in Cleveland case say thank you
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight break public silence in a YouTube video
Three women who police say were held captive in a Cleveland home for about a decade have issued a video in which they thanked the public for the encouragement and financial support that has allowed them to restart their lives.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight broke their public silence in the three-minute video posted on YouTube.
They said the support and prayers of family, friends and the public are allowing them to rebuild their lives after what Berry called "this entire ordeal".
The women went missing separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 17, and 20 years old.
In the video, none of the women has any visible scars of the abuse they said they suffered at the hands of Ariel Castro, who has pleaded not guilty to a 329-count indictment alleging he kidnapped them off the streets and held them captive in his two-storey home in the city in American Midwest. They were smiling and appeared upbeat.
Castro, a 52-year-old former bus driver, fathered a six-year-old daughter with Berry and is accused of starving and punching Knight, causing her to miscarry. He was arrested on May 6, shortly after Berry broke through a door at the home and yelled to neighbours for help.
Last week, an Ohio judge ruled Castro was competent to stand trial. Jury selection could begin as early as next month.
Berry, the only one whose photos have appeared publicly since her release, had shorter hair with a blonde streak.
Knight, who authorities said had been taken captive first, wore glasses, had closely cropped hair and spoke haltingly.
Berry, 27, said: "I am getting stronger each day and having my privacy has helped immensely. I ask that everyone continues to respect our privacy and give us time to have a normal life."
Berry was kidnapped in April 2003, while coming home from her job at a Burger King.
Knight smiled repeatedly as she spoke and said she did not want to be consumed by hatred.
"I may have been to 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 said.
"We have been hurt by people, but we need to rely on God as being the judge."
Knight, 32, said she was building a "brand new life". "I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation," she said, reading from a statement.
DeJesus, now 23, seemed the shyest of the three, simply thanking people for their support. She was accompanied by her parents, who did the same.
Her parents, Felix DeJesus and Nancy Ruiz, also thanked the public for donations to a fund set up to help the women. In addition, Ruiz encouraged parents with missing loved ones to reach out for assistance.
"Count on your neighbours," she said. "Don't be afraid to ask for the help because help is available."
Kathy Joseph, Knight's lawyer, said 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 were being recognised in public, "so they decided to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages".
James Wooley, a lawyer for Berry and DeJesus, also issued a statement, saying Knight and his clients wanted to thank people for the privacy they had been given and did not want to discuss their case with the news media or anyone.
The video, filmed on July 2, was released by a public relations agency with the co-operation of the women's lawyers.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse. The New York Times