true crime

In 2013 Amanda, Michelle and Gina were rescued after a decade in captivity. These are their lives now.

This post deals with rape, torture, and violence and might be triggering for some readers.

The stories of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina “Gina” DeJesus made international headlines on May 6, 2013.

It was the day their nightmare finally came to an end.

The day we learnt that they’d been kidnapped and held captive for more than a decade in the home of a man who would later go on to plead guilty to 937 criminal charges.

Their stories have, ever since, captivated a global audience. But now in 2020, the women have overcome incredible trauma and are leading successful lives.

All three spoke to ABC’s 20/20 documentary Trapped this year. Post continues after video.

Video via ABC

The kidnappings.

The girls were snatched as teenagers and young women, almost exactly a year apart in the Cleveland area.

21-year-old Michelle Knight went missing in 2002, Amanda Berry was taken the following year in 2003 – a day before her 17th birthday, and Gina DeJesus the year after that in 2004, when she was only 14.

Their captor was a man named Ariel Castro, a local bus driver, who lured the girls before holding them captive in his home for 11 years – subjecting them to horrific abuse, which included starvation, torture and rape.

They were left in dark rooms for days at a time with no food, given buckets to relieve themselves, and were only allowed to bathe once a week.

Ariel Castro
The basement of Ariel Castro's home where he held his victims. Image: ABC 20/20.
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In the new ABC 20/20 interviews shown in Trapped this year, Michelle recalled the day she was taken.

She was trying to fight for custody of Joey, her toddler son, and was approached by Castro in a local "Family Dollar" store while she was asking for an address to get to the custody appointment in time.

She recognised Castro; he was her best friend's father.

"I can take you, it'll only take me five minutes," he told her, before taking her to his home, shoving her in a room and telling her "you're not going home for a long time," while undressing himself.

Amanda was taken the following year.

She only went with Castro because he was the father of one her schoolmates as well, and he'd suggested she come over to see her.

CLEVELAND VICTIMS
These were the three "missing person" photos that were used for a decade, while the women were missing. Image: News 5
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"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,” Amanda told 20/20. “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."

After taping her wrists and ankles, and putting a belt over the tape on her feet, Castro put a helmet over her head.

"Just be quiet and don’t make any noise. And I’ll take you home," he said before chaining her to a pole, shutting off the lights, and leaving her in the dark with a TV 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.”

On the fourth day of her abduction, Castro moved her to an upstairs bedroom and chained her to a radiator.

Cleveland Kidnapper Ariel Castro Sentenced In Cleveland
A photograph shows the chains Ariel Castro used to hold Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus captive, during his sentencing on August 1, 2013. Image: Angelo Merendino/Getty.

Gina was Castro's third and last victim. She also knew him through school and offered to help him look for his daughter who he said he was having trouble tracking down.

When she was led to his basement, he grabbed her and tried to chain her, but as she told 20/20, "he didn’t make it tight enough, so I threw it over, and then I tried to run, but he sat on my back."

She was overpowered.

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Gina became the "new girl" in the house of horrors that would become the home of Amanda, Michelle and Gina for a decade.

Life in captivity.

The entire house was boarded up and dark. Wardrobe doors were nailed to the front windows, and all three women were separated into different rooms.

They had little to no contact with each other and lived in squalor.

Huge search operations were underway for both Amanda and Gina after their kidnapping - but Michelle didn't have much of a home life and there was no-one really looking for her.

"He would taunt me every single day, no one cares about you," Michelle told 20/20.

Missing Teens Found Alive In Cleveland Home
The exterior of the house where the three women were held. Image: Bill Pugliano/Getty.

Michelle was the most defiant of the girls, and Castro would unleash an extra level of pain and torture on her - punishment for playing up.

She was the longest-held victim and had five abortions during her years in captivity. She was raped four or five times a day. The other girls were also raped - Amanda kept count of the number of times she was, in a journal Castro allowed her to have.

"I had to go blank. Anytime he was doing anything to me, I had to put myself in a different place," Michelle told 20/20 about getting through the attacks.

Castro would jump on her stomach and beat her with barbells to end the pregnancies causing such trauma, she was later told she could no longer carry a child.

"But he couldn't break me. Why let the devil control me?" Michelle told the documentary.

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Dr Phil
Michelle Knight telling Dr Phil about the trauma she faced at the hands of Castro, in 2013, not long after being freed. Image: Dr Phil.

Amanda did carry a pregnancy to term while kidnapped - giving birth to a daughter Jocelyn in 2006 when she was 20.

As the little girl grew, Amanda was forced by Castro to tell her that the chains were bracelets.

Amanda's mother died while she was in captivity, and as she writes in her memoir Hope, she made video recordings of the news reports of her vigil which she would play over and over. Her baby girl was born not long after her mum's death on Christmas Day, with the help of Michelle.

Apart from the horrific sexual abuse, Castro would play mind games on his victims, using basic human rights as a reward.

"We had to take showers with him," said Amanda on 20/20, explaining that he'd expect 'something in return' for giving her that privilege.

Gina and Amanda
Gina and Amanda during a 2015 interview with BBC Newsnight. Image: BBC.
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"Food was one of the things he'd prolong, I would go a week without, and when I did get food it wasn't much," Michelle added.

Sometimes, they were allowed to leave their bedrooms to do chores around the house. But Castro had managed to create such a feeling of distrust amongst the women.

Amanda says they'd get jealous of each other, "it could be them getting more food, different clothes, simple things. But when you don't have anything you think well I want that."

Their escape.

Amanda says they spent years wondering, "how can we get out that door, how can we get out that window," but Castro would play tricks on them, like leaving doors ajar and waiting down the street for them.

"He had mirrors everywhere," she said.

"I thought about putting rat poison in his beans," said Gina. "But he was always a step ahead."

When her daughter was six, Amanda was the one who managed to escape and raise the alarm. Jocelyn was allowed to move around as she pleased. She had been wandering around looking for her father when she told her mum, "Daddy's blue car isn't here."

“My heart immediately started pounding. I’m like, ‘Should I chance it? If I’m going to do it, I need to do it now," Amanda remembers thinking, as reported by the ABC 20/20 documentary.

WHEN-RESCUED
Amanda, Gina and Michelle in 2013, when they were rescued. Image: YouTube.
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As Amanda recalled in a 2015 interview with BBC, she used the opportunity - knowing Castro was out - to put her hand out the slither of a locked door and wave for help.

"I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house," a neighbour described in news reports in 2013. "I kicked the bottom and she came out with a little girl."

"Help me, I'm Amanda Berry, I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years but I'm here, I'm free now," Amanda can be heard down the line, in a now-infamous 911 recording.

Police arrived in force and broke into the house to rescue the to other women.

Amanda told the 20/20, the first time the women were actually all together and talking freely was when their rescuers were walking them all to the ambulance together after their ordeal was over.

What happened to Castro?

In 2013, Castro plead guilty to 937 charges, including aggravated murder, kidnap, rape and assault, and was given a prison sentence of life plus 1,000 years without the possibility of parole.

A month after he was sentenced, he took his own life in his cell.

During his decade of terror, Castro seemed to his friends and neighbours, like just your average guy.

Ariel castro
Ariel Castro at his trial. Image: Angelo Merendino/Getty Images.
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"He was friendly, he was outgoing, he was a musician, he played in bands," co-author of Hope, Kevin Sullivan told 20/20.

Bandmates told the documentary one minute he'd be joking around, and the next he'd be angry with the entire band.

He was divorced, and had a daughter. His relationship with his ex-wife Grimilda Figueroa was abusive and violent.

He was accused of bashing his wife multiple times while they were together, including once while she was recovering from brain surgery ABC reported in 2013.

According to the New York Post, Castro also kept her tied up in his basement and whipped her with dog chains.

Figueroa's brother, Jose, told RadarOnline that he believes Castro's treatment of his former wife caused her to die. She passed away from brain cancer in April 2012.

Their lives now.

Since her rescue, Michelle, now 38, has written two books about her time in captivity; Life After Darkness and Finding Me.

She now goes by the name Lily Rose Lee, and has been married for close to five years to her husband Miguel Rodriguez. In a 2018 episode of Dr Phil, Lily said they were introduced by mutual friends, then literally collided at a restaurant when they were both walking while looking at their phones.

They got married on the second anniversary of the day she was rescued, May 6, 2015.

 

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A post shared by Michelle Knight Now Lily Rose (@official_michelleknight) on

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She and her husband foster shelter animals, and Lily runs a foundation called Lily’s Ray of Hope, which aims to help other women and young girls who've experienced physical and emotional abuse.

As for Castro, last year Lily said "he's in the past," telling WKYC she'd forgiven her captor. Speaking to NBC she said she does, however, "have triggers,” citing "certain smells and light fixtures with chain pulls.”

As for her son - after her escape, Lily learned that her son had been adopted into a loving home. She hasn't had contact as of last year according to Today, but the family have sent her photos and kept her informed on his well-being.

Amanda Berry's daughter Jocelyn, whose father is Ariel Castro, is now 13.

Amanda and Jocelyn
Amanda Berry and her daughter Jocelyn. Image: Inside Edition.

Speaking to 2020 this year, Amanda said, "she resembled him a lot, and I would look at her and I just felt like...she's mine. She's mine."

Now 33, Amanda is an author, speaker and TV personality. In 2017, she joined the Fox 8 Cleveland team to host its missing persons segment, Missing.

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Amanda and Gina co-authored a book called, Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland, which was published in 2015 and hit No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Gina, the youngest of the women, is now 29 and the co-founder of the Cleveland Family Center for Missing Children and Adults.

 

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#survivor#nevergiveup#goingstrong#neverstopping#fearless#changinglives#HOPE

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Its website says the centre was "founded to deter abductions, exploitation, and trafficking, establish a place for families and survivors to come for support and resources, provide prevention training to the community and raise awareness to create a safe and secure community for all citizens."

According to WKYC who interviewed Gina last year, freedom and family are the two most important things in her life.

Image: ABC 20/20 Documentary Trapped, which you can watch (from Australia) via YouTube.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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