Cleveland kidnapping survivors on journey from captivity to helping others – National News


Heidi Gutman/ABC(NEW YORK) — On May 6, 2013, the city of Cleveland witnessed a miracle when Amanda Berry called 911 from a neighbor’s phone.

“I’ve been kidnapped and been missing for 10 years. I’m here. I’m free now,” Berry, now 33, told the 911 operator.

Berry, along with Gina DeJesus, now 29, and Michelle Knight, now 38, had been held captive for more than nine years by Ariel Castro. Castro kidnapped each of the women between 2002 and 2004.

For years, the women endured unimaginable abuse, as they were chained, starved and tortured by Castro.

The three women never gave up hope, and since their escape they have worked to help and heal others.

Berry and DeJesus shared new details of their years of horror and how they’ve triumphed over their trauma in new interviews with ABC’s 20/20.

Watch the full story on “20/20” Friday, Jan. 3, at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

April 21, 2003: Amanda Berry is abducted

Just a day before her 17th birthday, Amanda Berry got up and got ready for work.

“I almost called off of work that day because the next day was my birthday. You know, what if? What if I would’ve called off that day?” Berry said.

While walking home from work, a vehicle started to follow Berry down the street, and the man inside asked her if she needed a ride home.

The man, Ariel Castro, was an elementary school bus driver and the father of Berry’s friend and classmate from middle school.

“He’s like, ‘Well she’s at my house. Would you like to go see her?’” Castro said of his daughter, who lived in another neighborhood with her mother, Castro’s ex-wife.

“I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” Berry said.

After they entered the white, two-story house on Seymour Avenue, Castro told Berry that his daughter might be taking a bath, she said.

“So he said, ‘We’ll just wait,’” Berry said. “So he started showing me around the house. And I never got back out.”

Castro took Berry upstairs and showed her something strange: a mystery woman sleeping in a bedroom in front of a television set. She later learned that the woman was Michelle Knight, who was abducted by Castro at 21 and had been held by him for almost a year. Berry’s memories of what happened next are still raw.

“He took me to the next bedroom, and it was just really dark in there, and he didn’t turn on the lights, and there was a little, like, a little room off of the bigger bedroom, kind of a big closet,” Berry said. “And he took me in there, and he told me to pull down my pants. And from there I knew, like, this was not going to be good.”

She became Castro’s second prisoner.

“He took me to the basement and he taped my wrists and he taped my ankles and he put on a belt around my ankles over the tape,” Berry said. “He put a helmet over my head, and he said, ‘Just be quiet and don’t make any noise. And I’ll take you home.’”

Berry said Castro chained her to a pole, shut off the lights and left her in the dark with a television on.

“I just started screaming and crying… ‘Somebody please help me,’ you know. And nobody, nobody came,” she said. “I was so scared that I was going to die. I didn’t think that I was going to ever make it home.”

April 24, 2003: Day 4 of Amanda Berry’s captivity

As news of her abduction made headlines, Berry watched her mother and sister on the TV in the basement.

“That kept me going. And I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to make it home to you. As long as you fight, I’m going to fight,’” Berry said.

On the fourth day of her abduction, April 24, 2003, Berry said Castro moved her to an upstairs bedroom and chained her to a radiator.

“It was really hard, you know, because in the beginning, the chain was around my stomach,” Berry said. “Going to sleep at night, you know, if you wanted to toss on to your back, you couldn’t do that, you would have to take the whole chain and move it to the front of your stomach so that you’re not laying on the big lock on your back.”

One week after Amanda Berry’s abduction, Castro calls her family

Berry was missing for a week when her family received a late-night call from Castro, who taunted them using Berry’s cellphone.

“He called and said, ‘I have Mandy,’ which, nobody called her Mandy but [people] who knew her,” said Beth Serrano, Berry’s sister. “’She wants to be with me.’”

In 2003, the FBI was just starting to develop technology that could track a cellphone’s location if it was turned on. With that information, they were able to narrow down that her phone had been used within a 30 to 40 block area.

“We spent about a week, around the clock, in that area, hoping that this phone would be used again,” FBI agent Tim Kolonik said. But Castro never used Berry’s phone again.

“That was the last we heard of anything,” Serrano said.

Meanwhile, Berry’s dark and filthy room at Castro’s house was about the size of a closet.

“The mattress was old and nasty, and it was just disgusting. And we had the bucket to use the bathroom, and that smelled horrible,” Berry said.

Once a day, Berry said, Castro gave her a bag of chips or crackers or other food to eat. But everything, including her weekly shower, came at a price.

“I mean, he tried to act nice, but he’s like, ‘Well, maybe you need to go take a shower,’ and I had to take a shower with him,” Berry said.

Berry said she had to “numb” herself to cope with the sexual abuse.

“You, like, put your mind somewhere else so that you’re not there. You know, you’re not in that room with him,” Berry said.

In her diary, Berry used a code to record how many times he raped her each day.

“I would always write these numbers at the top of the pages, because I felt like, you know, one day maybe authorities will get to read it. And he’ll be punished for what he did,” Berry said.

“There was plenty of times when I just never knew,” Berry said, adding that she thought, “Why is he keeping me here?”

“I didn’t know if one day we were gonna be murdered or he wanted more girls in the house,” Berry said. “Like, what was he going to do to us.”

Almost a year after Berry became his prisoner, Castro went on the prowl again just five blocks away from the street where he kidnapped Berry.

April 2, 2004: Gina DeJesus is abducted

Gina DeJesus, then 14 years old, was close friends with Castro’s daughter, Arlene. Castro was also friends with DeJesus’ dad. On the day she was kidnapped, DeJesus and Arlene were heading home from school when they went their separate ways.

As DeJesus continued her journey home, a maroon vehicle pulled up on the curb with Arlene’s father at the wheel.

“He asks me… ‘You seen my daughter?’ I said, ‘Yeah, she’s right around the corner,’ and he was like, ‘Can you help me find her?’ And I said, ‘Sure,’” DeJesus said.

But instead, Castro drove Gina to his house, where he asked her for help moving a stereo. Once inside, DeJesus was unnerved by his bizarre behavior, she said.

“He was, like, fixing his eyebrows and, like, trimming his mustache and, like, cutting his nose hairs,” DeJesus said.

“He’s like, starts like, to, like, touch me and stuff, and then I’m like, ‘What are you doing? You could go to jail.’ He just switches up like, ‘Well, OK, we’re going to, you’re going to go home now.’ He said, ‘But you can’t go through the same door you came in,’” she recalled.

Castro led DeJesus to his basement, where she said he grabbed her and chained her up.

“He didn’t make it tight enough, so I threw it over, and then I tried to run, but he sat on my back,” DeJesus said. “And then I just start kicking him. I kicked him and I bruised him really bad.”

As Castro overpowered her, DeJesus screamed for help, but the radio in his basement and the radio in the living room were too loud, DeJesus said.

“He, would take my hair and like, put it in his mouth. … I don’t know why he did it but it was gross,” she said.

DeJesus said the first time Castro raped her was on May 7, 2004. Though she remembers the exact date, DeJesus said she was not comfortable discussing the details of what happened.

Life in captivity

At first, DeJesus was Castro’s new favorite.

“He seems to treat me better than the other girls. I have the nicer room,” DeJesus said.

Berry said the slight gestures of favoritism made the girls feel jealous: “It was just simple things, but when you don’t have anything, you’re like, ‘Well, why don’t I have that? I want that.’”

She said that at first, Castro took special care to keep the girls divided and did not permit them to talk.

“He was always there watching every move, it was like he knew everything, every move that we did,” DeJesus said.

The girls were occasionally allowed out of their rooms to do chores, but had to obey stringent rules.

“We had to use, like, a tiny drop of, dish soap to wash like a full sink of dishes,” Berry said.

“We had to put the pan in the center on the stove,” DeJesus added.

“It couldn’t be a little to the left, a little to the right,” Berry said.

To fill the empty hours, Berry kept a diary in notebooks, on napkins and even on fast food bags. The black-and-white television was their only window to the outside world.

March 2006: Amanda Berry’s mom dies while she’s in captivity

Berry said she would watch the Montel Williams Show featuring psychic Sylvia Browne, desperately wishing her mother would appear on the program so “[Browne] could tell my mom that I was alive and that I’m OK,” she said.

In 2004, Berry’s mother Louwana Miller, went on the show. Browne told her, “I’m sorry … she’s not alive.”

“I just broke down crying because I couldn’t believe she said that,” Berry said. “And then my mom broke down crying, so that hurt even worse.”

Miller never got to see her daughter freed. She died of heart failure three years after Berry disappeared.

“I think that was the hardest part of being in there. Like, she was always fighting. And she was never gonna give up on me,” Berry said. “For her to get sick and I couldn’t be there with her … I couldn’t help her when she was sick.”

Christmas 2006: Amanda Berry Gives Birth

Berry realized she might be pregnant on her 20th birthday.

“I was terrified. How? I mean, I barely eat,” Berry said, “and I’m chained to a wall, and I have a bucket for a bathroom.”

She gave birth to Jocelyn on Christmas in 2006.

“This is his kid, you know. How do I feel about that? And she resembled him a lot, and I would look at her, and I just felt, like, she’s mine. She’s mine,” Berry said.

DeJesus said that having the little girl there with them was a welcome distraction.

“It was fun because I can get away from the situation,” DeJesus said. “When I was playing with Jocelyn, Jocelyn made me forget everything.”

Jocelyn saw the chains on her mother, which Berry said Castro instructed her to call “bracelets.”

“She was about 2, almost 3 years old, and he finally took the chains off of me. And that was because of Jocelyn,” Berry said.

As Jocelyn grew older, Castro allowed her freedoms that Berry, DeJesus and Knight were not given.

Though she was locked in with the three of them whenever Castro left the house, Jocelyn occasionally was allowed to go outside in the backyard, to the park or to Sunday services with her father. Castro’s love for Jocelyn seemed to turn him into a different man with her.

“She loved him, and he loved her,” Berry said. “I was nervous, like, would he touch her? Would he ever think about touching her because, you know, he had his problems?”

May 6, 2013: Escape

The women finally made their escape after more than nine years in captivity.

“Jocelyn goes downstairs, and then she runs back up, and she says, ‘I don’t find Daddy. Daddy’s nowhere around,’” DeJesus said.

“My heart immediately started pounding,” Berry said. “I’m like, ‘Should I chance it? If I’m going to do it, I need to do it now.'”

For the first time in 10 years, Berry said she found her bedroom door unlocked without Castro around. Downstairs, the front door was open but wired with an alarm. Beyond it, the storm door was padlocked shut, but Berry was still able to squeeze out an arm.

DeJesus said she thought Berry had been caught by Castro and talked Knight out of running to Berry. Berry said someone passing by outside saw her, but did not intervene.

That’s when neighbor Charles Ramsey showed up.

“He kind of, like, started like trying to pull on the door, but he couldn’t get it open either,” Berry said. “And so he, like, kind of kicks it, and he’s like, ‘There you go. Finish kicking it out, and you can get out.’”

Once Berry was out, she called for Jocelyn to crawl through the door. The two of them found a neighbor with a phone to call 911. Police arrived and rescued DeJesus and Knight.

“I was terrified, and just because there’s people on the street doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t hurt me. I was so terrified,” Berry said. “I still don’t know why he left that day with the door unlocked. I will never know.”

DeJesus remembered it took her “a while to come out” of her room because she didn’t believe the police were really there.

“I thought maybe they were people in costumes ‘cause I was shocked,” she said. She wasn’t the only one.

“When I was telling [first responders] my name, they looked like they’d seen a ghost or something,” DeJesus said. “Like their face completely dropped.”

Where Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus are today

On Aug. 1, 2013, Castro was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping and rape. On Sept. 3, 2013, he was found dead in his prison cell. He had killed himself.

By then, Castro’s house had already been demolished. It is now a garden.

Two years later, DeJesus and Berry graduated from high school. DeJesus got to have the quinceañera she never had and wore a dazzling white dress.

Berry and DeJesus together wrote their memoir, Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland, with Washington Post journalists Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, which was released in April 2015.

Berry now works with a local news station covering missing children and adults in the Cleveland area.

“That’s the most important thing that I’m doing right now,” Berry said. “I just want to make the world a better place.”

Berry is also raising Jocelyn, who’s now 13 and thriving.

“Jocelyn is more special than I could even use words to describe. I always describe her as wise beyond her years,” said Jocelyn’s former teacher Erin Hennessey.

In 2018, DeJesus founded The Cleveland Family Center for Missing Children and Adults to “work with the families to help them navigate the media, to help to go to the police station,” DeJesus said.

“When she disappeared, we really struggled as a family to get help for anything and Gina really feels no family should have to ever endure that kind of pain while they’re looking for a family member,” said Sylvia Colon, DeJesus’ cousin and the center’s co-founder.

Most amazingly, DeJesus’ foundation is located on the same street where she was held captive for nine long years.

“I just want to change the neighborhood. I want to turn it to, like, positive and I want to give back,” she said.

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