Inside The Cleveland Kidnapping Survivors' Lives Today

The story of the Cleveland Kidnapping Survivors is a heart-wrenching one.

On May 6, 2013, Cleveland resident Charles Ramsey heard screams coming from the house of his neighbor, Ariel Castro, and assumed it was some kind of domestic dispute. If he'd ignored the ruckus, then Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight might still be missing today, but, luckily for the girls and their families, he decided to check it out. "I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside," he told News 5. "I go on the porch and she said, 'Help me get out. I've been here a long time.' She comes out with a little girl and says, 'Call 911, my name is Amanda Berry.'"

Ramsey broke through the screen door, freeing Berry and her daughter (who was fathered by her captor) before alerting police. After arriving on the scene, officers discovered DeJesus and Knight inside the run-down house on Seymour Avenue, later dubbed the "Cleveland House of Horrors" in the media. The three women had been abducted between 2002 and 2004 after accepting rides from Castro, who was later indicted on 997 counts, including kidnapping, rape and aggravated murder for the brutal termination of unwanted pregnancies.

The 53-year-old Puerto Rican man was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years, though he only wound up serving a month behind bars, committing suicide in his cell. 

The lives of the women he imprisoned and tortured for a decade are just now beginning.

They don't speak anymore

Following their dramatic rescue, all three of the Cleveland Kidnapping Survivors released statements thanking everybody involved in the search for them, but curiously, they didn't make any mention of each other. Many assumed that the three women had formed a bond while in captivity, but it later transpired that they didn't always get along. While Berry and DeJesus have remained friends (in 2015 they released their joint book Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland), neither speak to Knight anymore. "We all went through something really, really bad that probably only the three of us will ever understand," Berry told People. "I wish her the best in the future."

DeJesus (who was regularly chained to Knight in the House of Horrors) revealed that Castro's mind games took a toll on their relationships, especially that of Berry and Knight. "Toward the end, me and Amanda started to open up and talk, and we became friends," she said. "Michelle and Amanda were struggling because I think [Castro] was playing them against each other so, I think, they never got along." As far as Knight is concerned, all three are now free to follow their own paths in life, but she hasn't ruled out the possibility of a reunion one day. "I'm letting them go their own way and they're letting me go my way," she said. "In the end, I hope that we get back together again."

Knight changed her name

As part of her moving on process, Knight decided to change her name. She now goes by Lily Rose Lee, though she still uses her birth name in a professional capacity. In 2018, she released her second written account of her time imprisoned by Castro, entitled Life After Darkness: Finding Healing and Happiness After the Cleveland Kidnapping. Speaking to the Associated Press (via Chicago Sun Times) ahead of its publication, the proud survivor revealed her reasons for adopting a new name and discussed what she hoped to achieve with her harrowing memoir.

"I just wanted a new beginning," she said. "I wanted a new start to my new journey. I just wanted to be able to say that, 'I own this, this is me, this is who I am now, and I'm proud of who I am.'" Her new purpose in life is to help those who have been through similar ordeals come through them as stronger people. "[I want them] to know that they have the power to strive, be happy, and get over things in a period of time. We'll never be fully healed, but at least we know we have the power to strive and survive in this world as a normal human being."

She's now happily married

Getting married to a man she loved seemed like nothing but a pipe dream for Knight back when she was chained up in one of Castro's bedrooms, but on May 6, 2015 — the two year anniversary of her rescue — that dream became a reality. "I got some really good news for you," she told Dr. Phil when she returned to his show in 2018. "I'm married!" The beaming survivor revealed that she and her "gentle giant" husband, Miguel, met through mutual friends on Facebook and spent a year getting to know each other before tying the knot in a beautiful ceremony.

"We had a spiritual connection, versus the physical," she reportedly said. "Ever since then, everything has since been amazing." Knight told the talk show host that she'd asked Miguel to read her first memoir (2014's Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed) before they met in person, and his response let her know he was the one. "He simply told me, 'I want to know you for who you are, not what you went through.' And that just blew my mind. It made me feel so happy that there was one person in the world that didn't want to know me for what happened to me."

But she still has certain triggers

With a house of her own and a loving husband at her side, Knight can finally feel safe again, but the memory of her ordeal will never fully fade. When she sat down to discuss her new life with NBC News on the fifth anniversary of her rescue, Knight revealed that she sometimes suffers painful flashbacks. "I do have triggers," she said. "One of the meals he made for us was hot dogs, rice and eggs, all cooked in bacon grease and all served together in a bowl ... I get a nauseous feeling when I smell that."

Simple things like watching television can often be a minefield for her, especially if a horror movie comes on. "Certain TV shows I will not watch because of certain things that are in it," she told People. "I can watch some horror flicks, but I can't watch them all, because they'll have chains, guns." Of course, this can be avoided by simply not watching TV, but her phobias are often set off by everyday items as well. "I was horribly afraid of cloth napkins," she revealed in her second memoir. "Whenever I would go to a nice restaurant, I would have to ask for a paper napkin instead of a cloth one. Cloth was what Castro would shove into my mouth so I couldn't scream whenever he had people over to the house."

DeJesus is looking out for other kidnapping victims

Georgina "Gina" DeJesus was just 14 years old when she went missing on her way home from school on April 2, 2004. Her parents believed that she had been snatched and "sold to the highest bidder" by human traffickers operating in the Ohio area, but the truth was even more shocking — she'd been kidnapped by her best friend's dad. DeJesus and Castro's daughter Arlene were very close, so she didn't think twice about accepting a lift from him. But it would be almost a decade before she finally got home. 

"I'm absolutely so, so sorry," a tearful Arlene told Good Morning America when the truth finally came out (via the Daily Mail). "I'm really disappointed, embarrassed, devastated about this whole situation."

In 2018, DeJesus told Inside Edition that she still finds it hard to sleep at night, but she's now channeling her feelings into something productive. DeJesus has joined the Northeast Ohio Amber Alert Committee, which was set up to encourage communities to look for children believed to have been abducted and to bring abductors like Castro to justice. "She brings hope," her supervisor Chris Minek said. "Gina has a perspective that we don't have. She's able to touch more people than we would ever be able to."

She still struggles with the fame

In May 2018, a 28-year-old DeJesus sat down with WKYC to discuss how she had progressed in the five years since she found freedom. The survivor explained that, while she's "not shy anymore," the attention she got (and is still getting today) hasn't really helped her move on. "The first day when I came home, I put my thumbs up," she recalled. That image of hope was beamed around the world, but at the time she didn't realize just how many cameras were on her.

"That's when I put my hood on, and everyone was like, 'We wanna know what she looks like.' They just stayed outside my house, and I couldn't do nothing, I couldn't go outside." She became famous against her will, and that fame has stopped her from living the normal life that she craved for nine long years. "Sometimes, you've got some people who just stare at you, or they'll come up to me and they'll want hugs and pictures," she said. Writing her joint memoir with Amanda Berry became a form of therapy for DeJesus, but reliving the ordeal wasn't easy. "Towards the end they would read it back," she said, "and I was like, 'That was my life for nine years.' It was horrible."

Berry now works in TV

Like DeJesus, Amanda Berry now dedicates her time to helping other kidnap victims, but unlike DeJesus, she isn't camera shy. On April 21, 2003 (a day before her 17th birthday), she accepted a lift from Castro on her way home from her job at a local Burger King. Sadly, she wouldn't get there, and she would never see her mother again — Louwana Miller passed away in 2006. "She literally died of a broken heart," Cleveland councillor Dona Brady said (via BBC). It would be another seven years before Berry broke free with the help of Castro's neighbor Charles Ramsey. As Ramsey called the police, Berry made a harrowing 911 call of her own. "Help me, I'm Amanda Berry!" she said. "I've been kidnapped, I've been missing for ten years and I'm here, I'm free now!"

Today, Berry hosts a segment on WJW-TV that highlights missing person cases in the Northeast Ohio area. "I'm thrilled to be joining the Fox 8 News team for this important segment," she told the station's website in 2017. "When I was missing, the people who were looking for me never gave up. My wish is that this segment will not only help find those who are missing, but offer hope for the loved ones who are looking for them." Missing with Amanda Berry is still going strong today, airing daily.

She's becoming comfortable in her own skin

She might be confident enough to host her own news segment, but it took a long time for Berry to even be comfortable in her own skin. For 12 months she was terrified of going outside because she feared that she would end up in a similar situation again, but she gradually gained enough confidence to not only go out into the world but to also share her story with others. "In the first year, it was so hard to just go out and live a normal life because I was still so scared of all the possibilities, everything that could go wrong — the scary things," Berry told her employers at Fox 8.

After a decade in captivity, being a prisoner became the norm for her, and this mentality was hard to shake. She described being freed after so long as a "surreal" experience, but she's now able to take it all in her stride. "I think now I'm getting a little more comfortable in my skin, making decisions for myself," she said. "That was really hard in the beginning, making decisions for myself because being told what you're doing for 10 years, what you're eating, when you're going to sleep — I mean, all those things get to you and you kinda get used to it and that's your normal."

Her daughter has become a top student

Of his three Cleveland Kidnapping captives, Castro always favored Berry. This was why he allowed her to keep the child she conceived during her captivity, daughter Jocelyn, while Knight (who he reportedly impregnated a total of five times) was beaten until she miscarried. "Castro considered Amanda as sort of his wife," a police source told the Express. "She was treated appallingly, raped and beaten, but in his perverse way he was kinder to her. The child he had with her called him 'Daddy.' That shows you that there was some interaction." Little Jocelyn reportedly asked for her Daddy when Berry broke free, unable to understand the situation she'd been in.

Against all odds, Jocelyn has grown into a bright and kind girl, as her mother explained. "I'm so proud of how much she's grown as a person. She's very caring," Berry said. "And a lot of kids her age are not like that and I find that she is." Berry set up a classroom inside the House of Horrors and educated her daughter herself, doing such a good job that when Jocelyn first went to a real school she was actually ahead of the other students. 

Knight doesn't see her son

Sadly, Castro wasn't the first man to sexually assault Knight. Speaking to New York Daily News, Knight's great-aunt revealed that her son, Joey, was the result of a gang rape that took place when she was still in junior high. Joey was just two years old when his mother was abducted by Castro in 2002, the first of his three victims. Knight had every right to claim him once freed, as Dr. Charles Sophy confirmed during Knight's 2015 appearance on Dr. Phil. However, she chose not to follow this path and allowed him to stay with his adoptive parents, putting her son's "emotional state" above her own desire to see him.

When she spoke to the Associated Press in 2018, she went into more detail about her painful decision. "I decided a while back to let him be able to go through school, and heal in a certain way, and then when later on in life he was ready to come and talk to me, I would be [there with] open arms," Knight explained (via Chicago Sun Times). She also revealed that she has chosen not to reconnect with her own birth family. "I feel that family doesn't have to be blood, it can be who you choose to come into your life that loves and supports you for who you are, not what they want from you."  

They all appreciate the little things

The road back to normality has been tough for all three of the Cleveland Kidnapping Survivors. None of them will ever forget what happened to them, though their experience has taught them to appreciate all the little things in life. "Walking out my front door, feeling the sunshine because, gosh, I waited for that for so long," Berry said when asked what she had missed. "It's just the small things. To get in my car, to take my daughter to the store. If I want something to drink I can go to the store and get it myself, and drink what I want or eat what I want. It's so simple that you don't think."

For Knight, being able to maintain a higher standard of personal hygiene was the main thing that she missed, but being deprived of her caffeine kick was also hard. "For so long I was deprived of art, breathing air, being able to take a simple shower, brush my teeth," she said. "So all these — including coffee! — was something that he took away from me and is something that I cherish every day." For DeJesus, the greatest gift of all was being reunited with her family, something many of us take for granted. "I didn't know them for nine years, so I missed out on a lot," she told WKYC.