Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, the three Ohio women held captive for a decade by Ariel Castro, released a video thanking the public for its support, marking their first interview since their escape in early May.
The video, recorded on July 2 and released at midnight July 8, marks the first public appearance of the women after being held captive for a decade in Ariel Castro’s Cleveland home.
Two of the women discuss having the strength to move on. "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," Knight says. "Walking hand in hand with my best friend, I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation."
Berry thanks the community for giving the women their privacy and asks that it continue to do so.
Their responses seem scripted but all three appear healthy and calm.
Ariel Castro, the 52-year-old man accused of kidnapping the three women and holding them hostage in his Seymour Avenue home, is being held on a 329-count indictment covering only five years of the women's captivity.
The accusations include repeated beatings and rapes as well as aggravated murder involving the termination of one woman's pregnancy during captivity. It was the woman's fourth lost pregnancy while captive. The death penalty could be sought as punishment for the aggravated murder charge. The decision will be made July 11.
The trial is scheduled to begin August 5, but Assistant County Prosecutor Saleh Awadallah said prosecutors expect to see a superseding indictment against Castro including additional charges and maybe a call for the death penalty, which would delay the trial.
A court-ordered evaluation of Castro on July 3 found him competent to stand trial on all charges of kidnapping and murder, and his own attorneys specified that he would assist in his own defense.
What role the women will play in the trial is not known.
The Cleveland Courage Fund, a bank account set up to receive donations to help the women transition to independence, has received $1.05 million. Some money has already gone to the women and their families.
DeJesus's mother thanks the Courage fund in the video. Berry cannot believe the support from the community; "Everyone who has been there to support us has been a blessing," she says.
"Amanda, Gina, and Michelle wanted to say thank you to people from Cleveland and across the world, now that two months have passed," said Knight's attorney, Kathy Joseph. "People are recognizing them now as they go about in public, so they decided to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages."