COLUMBUS, Ohio — Five years have passed since the stunning news broke: three abducted women escaped years of physical and sexual abuse endured during a decadelong captivity in a Cleveland house.
Two of the women, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, were subjects of extensive police investigations after they disappeared in 2003 and 2004, respectively. The third woman, Michelle Knight, who was abducted in 2002, was not known to have been missing.
The three were rescued from the run-down house of captor Ariel Castro on May 6, 2013, after Berry broke through a screen door. Police found DeJesus and Knight upstairs, where their bedrooms were outfitted with chains and locks.
Castro was sentenced to life in prison plus 1,000 years. He hanged himself in his prison cell a few months later. The house was razed and replaced by a park.
Knight told her story in her first book, “Finding Me,” in 2014. Berry and DeJesus separately published a book the following year: “Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland.”
Knight, 37, lives “in the countryside” in Ohio, is now married and changed her name to Lily Rose Lee, though she uses Knight professionally. Castro impregnated her several times and then beat her until she miscarried, with doctors telling her subsequently she may never be able to have children of her own.
She is holding out hope, but also wants someday to adopt. These days, she works with her foundation, Lily’s Ray of Hope, which supports women and girls who are victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and child abuse. She also partnered with specialty coffee maker 3-19 Co. to showcase her art work and raise money for her foundation.
Her new book, “Life After Darkness: Finding Healing and Happiness After the Cleveland Kidnappings” (Hachette Books) comes out May 2. She spoke to The Associated Press ahead of its publication.
WHY SHE WROTE THE BOOK:
So people who have suffered similar experiences “can be helped 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.”
THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED:
That … “I have the power to make my own decisions, that I have the power to fall down and get back up with a great support system. It’s like I can conquer the world.”
WHY SHE CHANGED HER NAME:
“I just wanted a new beginning. 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 DECISION NOT TO INTERFERE IN THE LIFE OF HER SON, WHO WAS LATER ADOPTED:
“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 open arms.”
HER RELATIONSHIP WITH BERRY AND DEJESUS:
“I decided the first year that we were all going in our own ways, and when we’re done with the process of healing, that someday soon, maybe we’ll get together in a nice environment and celebrate the new years of friendship.”
WHY SHE’S CHOSEN NOT TO RENEW RELATIONSHIPS WITH HER ESTRANGED 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.”
THINGS CASTRO DENIED HER THAT SHE APPRECIATES NOW:
“For so long I was deprived of art, breathing air, being able to take a simple shower, brush my teeth. So all these, including coffee, was something that he took away from me and is something that I cherish every day.”
ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS, Associated Press