With smiles and determined confidence, the three Cleveland women who survived 10 years in captivity released a joint video Tuesday to warmly thank their supporters and show how far they've come in the two months since their dramatic and unexpected rescue.
"I want everyone to know how happy I am to be home with my family and my friends. It's been unbelievable," said Amanda Berry, now 27.
"I may have been through hell and back," said Michelle Knight, at 32 the oldest of the trio, "but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and with my head held high, and my feet firmly on the ground."
Glancing occasionally at a written statement she held in her hands, Knight added: "Walking hand in hand with my best friend, I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation. I don't want to be consumed by hatred. With that being said, we need to take a leap of faith and know that God is in control. We have been hurt by people, but we need to rely on God as being the judge."
And Gina DeJesus, flanked by her parents Felix and Nancy, acknowledged the more than $1 million donated so far to the women via the Cleveland Courage Fund by saying, "Thank you for the support."
Knight, DeJesus and Berry – along with Berry's 6-year-old daughter, allegedly fathered by the young women's accused captor, Ariel Castro – were freed May 6 from the squalid two-story house where they'd been locked and sometimes chained, after neighbors heard Berry's cry for help while Castro was away.
Castro has pleaded not guilty to kidnapping and murder charges stemming from aborted pregnancies.
Since then, each of the young women has retreated to a separate cocoon:
DeJesus, kidnapped on her walk home from school in April 2004, reunited with a boisterous, affectionate household whose annual rallies helped keep her disappearance in the news.
Berry, who vanished after a restaurant work shift in April 2003, lost her mother to illness while she was being held and settled down with a sister while making time to visit her dad in Tennessee on Father's Day.
Knight, last seen in Aug. 2002 and thought by some at the time to be a runaway, has kept herself out of sight while keeping a deliberate distance from her biological family.
But as each woman has slowly ventured back into the world from which they were kept, they collectively agreed to come forth amid growing curiosity about their recovery and appearance.
"People are recognizing them now as they go about in public, so they decided to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages," says Kathy Joseph, an attorney for Knight. "It was their decision to relay their thanks in this way to all of the many people who have offered support to them, for which they are extremely grateful."
'Strong Desire for Privacy'The 3-minute video posted on YouTube was filmed July 2 at the Cleveland office of the Jones Day law firm, whose attorneys – along with a PR firm, social media strategist and videographer – are all donating their work on the women's behalf. But it does not represent a total drop of the veil just yet.
"The three women still have a strong desire for privacy," said James Wooley, an attorney for Berry and DeJesus. "They do not want to talk about their ordeal with the media or anyone else. This cannot be stated strongly enough. We thank everyone for the privacy and courtesy shown to Amanda, Gina and Michelle over the last few months and ask that this continue."
For now, that leaves only the strong, brief impression made by the women themselves, and none more so that Knight.
"God has a plan for all of us," she said in her video statement. "The plan that He gave me was to help others that have been in the same situations I have been in. To know that there's someone out there to lean on, and to talk to. I am in control of my own destiny with the guidance of God.
"I have no problem expressing how I feel inside," she added. "Be positive. Learn that it's [more] important to give than to receive. Thank you for all your prayers. I'm looking forward to my brand-new life."