Three women who escaped from a decade of captivity as sex slaves of a Cleveland man released a video Tuesday thanking people for their support and respect for their privacy.
One woman said she had been to hell and back but could now smile about the future.
“Thank you for all your prayers. I am looking forward to my brand new life,” said Michelle Knight, who is now 32.
The three each spoke briefly in the three-minute video posted on YouTube by a public relations firm. The women thanked people for donating to a fund to help them rebuild their lives after their ordeal.
The women, kidnapped in separate incidents in 2002, 2003 and 2004, escaped in May from the ramshackle house where they had been held in a working class area of Cleveland in Ohio. At the time of the kidnappings they were 14, 16 and 20.
The alleged abductor, former school bus driver Ariel Castro, 52, has pleaded not guilty to charges of kidnapping, rape and aggravated murder for beating one victim until she miscarried.
The stunning case came to light after Amanda Berry, 27, managed to escape with her young daughter by calling out to a neighbor for help through a locked front door.
Berry said in the video: “I am getting stronger each day, and having my privacy has helped immensely. I ask that everyone continues to respect our privacy and give us time to have a normal life.”
Knight smiled repeatedly as she spoke, and said she did not want to be consumed by hatred.
“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 held firmly on the ground,” she said.
“We have been hurt by people but we need to rely on God as being the judge.”
The third woman, Gina DeJesus, now 23, seemed the shyest of the three, simply thanking people for their support. She was accompanied by her parents, who did the same and urged parents who also have relatives missing to rely on their neighbors for help.
A 329-count indictment handed down in June offered a glimpse of the women’s suffering even though it only covers the first five years of their captivity.
Knight — who was the first to be snatched — was chained to a post in the basement, repeatedly raped and beaten, and impregnated at least four times.
Berry tried to escape the night she was kidnapped but was overpowered and then raped, according to the indictment.
Her legs and mouth were bound with tape, she was chained to a pole in the basement and Castro put a motorcycle helmet on her head, the indictment said. At one point that night, he wrapped a vacuum cord around her neck.
Earlier this month the judge in the case tentatively scheduled a jury summons to go out on August 5 but no date for trial has yet been set.
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