The three young women held captive in a Cleveland home for almost a decade appear in a new video thanking the public for their support, marking the first time they have been seen since their rescue in May.
Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus speak separately in the three-minute, 30-second video released on YouTube.
“I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and my head held high,” Knight says, reading from a statement. “I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation. I don’t want to be consumed by hatred.”
Knight says she is building a “brand new life.”
The video was filmed July 2 and released by a public relations agency on the women’s behalf with the cooperation of their lawyers.
The three were still in their teens when they disappeared at different times between 2002 and 2004.
Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver, has been charged with kidnapping the girls off the streets of the city and holding them captive in his two-story home.
Castro, who has pleaded not guilty, was deemed mentally fit last week to stand trial. It is scheduled to begin Aug. 5.
The young women have not appeared in public since Berry broke through a door at the home while Castro was briefly away and shouted to neighbors for help. Police quickly freed the women, along with Berry’s 6-year-old daughter, who was fathered by Castro.
“I want everyone to know how happy I am to be home with my family and friends,” says Berry, who sports glasses and short hair with a blond streak. “It has been unbelievable.”
“I am getting stronger each day and I having my privacy has helped immensely,” she says.
Berry, whose face as a missing teen was plastered on Cleveland streets after her disappearance, calls on the public to “give us time to have a normal life.”
DeJesus briefly offered thanks to the public. Her mother, Nancy Ruiz, also appears on the video and urges anyone with a missing child to “please count on your neighbors. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help, because help is available.”
Kathy Joseph, Knight’s attorney, says in a statement that the three women wanted to “say thank you to people from Cleveland and across the world, now that two months have passed.”
Joseph says the women are being recognized in public and “decided to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages.”