Two months after they escaped from 10-plus harrowing years of captivity in a Cleveland house, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight have made a video to thank their community, nation, and the world. (Watch above)
Specifically, the three women express their gratitude to everyone who has donated to the Cleveland Courage Fund, set up to aid their transition to non-captive life, and for the moral support — and privacy — they've received since their rescue. So far, the Courage Fund has received $1.05 million from 9,200 donors.
The women all smile, showing strength and fragility, sometimes at the same time. "First and foremost, I want everyone to know how happy I am to be home with my family, my friends," says Berry, 27. "I am getting stronger each day and having my privacy has helped immensely."
DeJesus, 23, appears with her parents, Felix DeJesus and Nancy Ruiz. She speaks the least of the three, thanking Courage Fund donors for their support. Her father echoes that theme, but Ruiz literally thanks everyone, with special mention for her neighbors. "Parents in general that do have a loved one missing, please do me one big favor," she says. "Count on your neighbors."
The longest statement is from Knight, 32, who talks about how her faith helped her survive and move forward. "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 held high and my feet firmly on the ground," she says, concluding: "Thank you for all of your prayers. I'm looking forward to my brand-new life."
Ariel Castro, the 52-year-old man accused of kidnapping, beating, and raping the women, faces a 329-count criminal indictment. The video, filmed July 2 at the law firm Jones Day and released early Tuesday, is the first public appearance by the women. James Wooley, a lawyer representing Berry and DeJesus, says it will probably be the last for awhile, too.
"It is important for everyone, especially the media, to understand that the three women still have a strong desire for privacy," Wooley says. "They do not want to talk about their ordeal with the media or anyone else. This cannot be stated strongly enough."