(NEW YORK) — On May 6, 2013, the city of Cleveland witnessed a miracle when Amanda Berry called 911 from a neighbor’s phone.
“I’ve been kidnapped and been missing for 10 years. I’m here. I’m free now,” Berry, now 29, told the 911 operator.
Berry, along with Gina DeJesus, now 25, and Michelle Knight, had been held captive for more than 10 years by Ariel Castro. Castro kidnapped each of the women between 2002 and 2004.
For years, the women endured unimaginable abuse, as they were chained, starved and tortured by Castro. But during their captivity, they held on to the conviction that their families would never give up on them. That faith helped bring them home.
Berry and DeJesus together wrote their memoir, Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland, with Washington Post journalists Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, and it was released on April 27. The two young women say they have since moved on with their lives.
In an exclusive interview with Robin Roberts that will air on Tuesday, April 28 at 10 p.m. ET on ABC, Berry and DeJesus discussed what their lives were like in captivity and what they are like today.
April 21, 2003: Amanda Berry Is Abducted
Just a day before her 17th birthday on April 21, 2003, Amanda Berry got up and got ready for work.
“I almost called off of work that day ‘cause the next day was my birthday. You know, what if? What if I would’ve called off that day?” Berry said.
On her walk home from work, she encountered a vehicle in a driveway.
“I kind of had to walk around the van and so I kind of looked at them, and it was a man and his daughter. And I smiled at them ‘cause I’m like, ‘Oh, she looks familiar,’” Berry said.
Later, the vehicle started to follow her down the street, and the man inside asked her if she needed a ride home.
“I said, ‘Yes,’” Berry said. “I see that the girl, there’s nobody else in the van anymore. It’s just him.”
The man, Ariel Castro, was an elementary school bus driver and the father of a classmate from middle school.
“He’s like, ‘Well she’s at my house. Would you like to go see her?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” Berry said.
After they entered the white, two storied house on Seymour Avenue, Berry said Castro told her that his daughter might be taking a bath.
“So he said, ‘We’ll just wait,’” Berry said. “So he started showing me around the house. And I never got back out.”
Castro took her upstairs and showed her something strange: a mystery woman sleeping in a bedroom in front of a television set. She later learned that the woman was 22-year-old Michelle Knight, who had been Castro’s prisoner for almost a year. Her memories of what happened next are still raw.
“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,” Berry said. “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.”
She became Castro’s second prisoner.
“He took me to the basement and he taped my wrist and he taped my ankles and he put on a belt around my ankles over the tape,” Berry said. “He put a helmet over my head, and he said, ‘Just be quiet and don’t make any noise. And I’ll take you home.’”
Berry said he chained her to a pole, shut off the lights and left her in the dark with a television.
“I just started screaming and crying. And, ‘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.”
April 24, 2003: Day 4 of Amanda Berry’s Captivity
As news of her abduction made headlines, Berry watched her mother and her sister on the TV in the basement.
“That kept me going. And I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to make it home to you. As long as you fight, I’m going to fight,’” Berry said.
On the fourth day of her abduction, April 24, 2003, Berry said Castro moved her to an upstairs bedroom and chained her to a radiator.
“It was really hard, you know, ‘cause in the beginning the chain was around my stomach,” Berry said. “Going to sleep at night, you know, if you wanted to toss on to your back, you couldn’t do that, you would have to take the whole chain and move it to the front of your stomach so that you’re not laying on the big lock on your back.”
“Well, the first week I was there was really tough,” Berry said. “So he eventually asked me, ‘Well, would you like to, you know, do you want me to get you something from the store, something to pass the time?’ So I asked for maybe a coloring book and something I can write in, a journal or something.”
He gave her a diary with a tiny lock and key. She wrote her first entry by the flickering light of the TV.
“You never know what you got ‘til it’s gone! I just can’t wait to go home. I’m 17 now, but don’t have a life. But he told me I’m young and will go home before summer. Another two months!” Amanda wrote in her diary.
One Week After Amanda Berry’s Abduction, Castro Calls Her Family
Berry was missing for a week when her family received a late-night call from Castro, taunting them, using Berry’s cell phone.
“He called and said, ‘I have Mandy,’ which, nobody called her Mandy but [people] who knew her,” said Berry’s sister, Beth Serrano. “She wants to be with me.”
The call led rescuers to within two blocks of Castro’s house. In 2003, the FBI was just starting to develop technology that could track a cell phone’s location if it was turned on.
“We spent about a week, around the clock, in that area, hoping that this phone would be used again,” FBI agent Tim Kolonik said. But Castro never used Berry’s phone again.
Meanwhile, Berry’s dark and filthy room at Castro’s house was about the size a closet.
“The mattress was old and nasty, and it was just disgusting. And we had the bucket to use the bathroom, and that smelled horrible,” Berry said.
Once a day, Berry said, Castro gave her a bag of chips or crackers or other food to eat. But everything, including her weekly shower, came at a price.
“I mean, he tried to act nice, but he’s like, ‘Well, maybe you need to go take a shower,’ and I had to take a shower with him,” Berry said.
Berry said she had to “numb” herself to the sexual abuse.
“You, like, put your mind somewhere else so that you’re not there. You know, you’re not in that room with him,” Berry said.
In her diary, Berry used a code to record how many times he raped her.
“I would always write these numbers at the top of the pages, ‘cause I felt like, you know, one day maybe authorities will get to read it. And he’ll be punished for what he did,” Berry said.
Months into Berry’s captivity, Castro made her a disturbing promise.
“He would always tell me when he got another girl in the house that you know, ‘I’m just looking for this, another girl and then I will take you home,’” Berry said.
Almost a year after Berry became his prisoner, Castro went on the prowl again just five blocks away from the street where he kidnapped Berry.
April 2, 2004: Gina DeJesus Is Abducted
Gina DeJesus, then 14 years old, was close friends with Castro’s daughter, Arlene Castro. Ariel Castro was also friends with DeJesus’ dad. On the day she was kidnapped, DeJesus and Arlene Castro were heading home from school. DeJesus gave Arlene Castro some of her bus money to phone home.
“I was like, ‘You could come over,’ and then she was like, ‘Alright.’ And she asked her mom, and her mom says, ‘No.’ She went the other way, and then I went the other way,” DeJesus said.
Short on bus fare, DeJesus started the long walk home when a maroon vehicle pulled up on the curb with Arlene Castro’s father at the wheel.
“He asks me if, ‘You seen my daughter?’ I said, ‘Yeah, she’s right around the corner,’ and he was like, ‘Can you help me find her?’ And I said, ‘Sure.’”
When they arrived at Castro’s house, he asked her for help moving some equipment. DeJesus was unnerved by his bizarre behavior.
“He was, like, fixing his eyebrows and, like, trimming his mustache and, like, cutting his nose hairs,” DeJesus said.
“He’s like, starts like, to, like, touch me and stuff, and then, I’m like, ‘What are you doing? You could go to jail?’ He just switches up like, ‘Well, OK, we’re going to, you’re going to go home now.’ He said, ‘But you can’t go through the same door you came in.’”
Castro led Gina to his basement, where she said he grabbed her and chained her up.
“He didn’t make it tight enough, so I threw it over, and then I tried to run, but he sat on my back,” DeJesus said. “And then I just start kicking him. I kicked him, and I bruised him really bad.”
As Castro overpowered her, DeJesus screamed for help, but the radio in his basement and the radio in the living room were too loud.
For the first few weeks, Castro only talked to and touched DeJesus. The first time DeJesus said he raped her was on May 7, 2004. Though she remembers the exact date, DeJesus said it was too painful to discuss the details of what happened.
Life in Captivity
At first, DeJesus was Castro’s new favorite.
“‘He seems to treat me better than the other girls. I have the nicer room. He lets me eat first. I wonder if he’s kinder to me, because I’m the new girl,’” DeJesus wrote in her and Berry’s memoir, Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland. “‘I wonder what happens, when I’m not new anymore.’”
As the “new girl,” she slowly learned about the rigid house rules that Castro ruthlessly enforced. The calculated deprivation drove the girls apart.
“It could be from getting more food, less food, different clothes. It was just simple things, but when you don’t have anything, you’re like, ‘Well, why don’t I have that? I want that.’”
To fill the empty hours, Berry kept a diary in notebooks, on napkins and even on fast food bags. And the black-and-white television was their only window to the outside world.
But one of the cruelest things he did, Berry and DeJesus said, was play mind games with them. At one point, DeJesus said Castro asked her to play “Russian Roulette” with him, taking turns pointing a gun at each other.
“In my head I’m like why not, I got nothing to lose,” DeJesus said.
“He went first,” she continued. “So then he pulls the trigger and nothing happens, and I think then he gives me the gun and I’m like, ‘OK, I’m about to like pull the trigger and everything,’ and he’s like, ‘let me pray for a minute.’ And I said ‘what?’ I’m like, ‘why are you going to pray?’ So he gets on his knees and he starts praying. …So then I pull the trigger and nothing happened.”
Initially, all three women were isolated in separate bedrooms on the second floor. But on May, 23, 2004, Berry and DeJesus said Castro pulled them all into one room and forced them to watch an episode of America’s Most Wanted together. It was about DeJesus and Berry’s missing persons’ case, and their families were interviewed.
“I couldn’t stand him,” DeJesus said. “But I couldn’t, like, show it all the time. I had to act like I, I liked him and we were friends, but I really didn’t like him.”
“There was just a gate there between the doors, and we would talk through the gate,” Berry said. “And when a door was locked we would, like, slide, like, pictures and stuff under the door.”
Once, when Castro’s daughter visited, he forced all three girls to hide in the basement. Though they thought about trying to yell for help, the women didn’t.
“There was always a chance, ‘What if he killed everybody?’” DeJesus said.
Christmas 2006: Amanda Berry Gives Birth
On Berry’s 20th birthday, she realized she might be pregnant.
“I was terrified. How? I mean, I barely eat,” Berry said, “and I’m chained to a wall, and I have a bucket for a bathroom.”
On Christmas in 2006, Berry went into labor.
“He got this baby pool. And he put it on the bed ‘cause he didn’t want, you know, a mess on the bed,” said Berry.
Castro called on Knight to help deliver the baby.
“Michelle was kind of just talking to me, like, you know, ‘Relax. Calm down. You’re OK,’” Berry said. “And he sat in the rocking chair right there just reading this book about, like, birth and stuff.”
Hours later, Jocelyn was born.
“This is his kid, you know. How do I feel about that? And she resembled him a lot, and I would look at her, and I just felt like, she’s mine. She’s mine,” Berry said.
When Jocelyn was born, DeJesus said having the little girl there with them was a welcome distraction.
“It was fun because I can get away from the situation,” DeJesus said. “When I was playing with Jocelyn, Jocelyn made me forget everything.”
As Jocelyn grew older, Castro allowed her freedoms that Berry, DeJesus and Knight were not given. Though she was locked in with the three of them whenever Castro left the house, she occasionally was allowed to go outside in the backyard, to the park or to Sunday services with her father. Castro’s love for Jocelyn seemed to turn him into a different man.
“She loved him, and he loved her,” Berry said. “I was nervous, like, would he touch her? Would he ever think about touching her because, you know, he had his problems?”
May 6, 2013: The Women Make Their Escape
After 10 years, the women finally made their escape on May 6, 2013.
“So Jocelyn goes downstairs, and then she runs back up. And she says, ‘I don’t find Daddy. Daddy’s nowhere around,’” DeJesus said.
“My heart immediately started pounding,” Berry said. “because I’m like … ‘Should I chance it? If I’m going to do it, I need to do it now.'”
For the first time in 10 years, Berry said she found her bedroom door unlocked without Castro around. Downstairs, the front door was open but wired with an alarm. Beyond it, the storm door was padlocked shut, but Berry was still able to squeeze out an arm.
DeJesus said she thought Berry had been caught by Castro and talked Knight out of running to Berry. Outside, a neighbor saw Berry but was too afraid to intervene.
That’s when another neighbor, Charles Ramsey, showed up.
“He kind of, like, started like trying to pull on the door, but he couldn’t get it open either,” Berry said. “And so he, like, kind of kicks it, and he’s like, ‘There you go. Finish kicking it out, and you can get out.’”
After kicking the way out for her and Jocelyn, Berry called 911, and police arrived and rescued DeJesus and Knight.
“I was terrified. And just because there’s people on the street doesn’t mean that he wouldn’t hurt me. I was so terrified,” Berry said. “I still don’t know why he left that day with the door unlocked. I will never know.”
What Life Is Like for Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus Today
On Aug. 1, 2013, Castro was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison after he pled guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping and rape. On Sept. 3, 2013, he was found dead in his prison cell after committing suicide by hanging.
The two women rarely make public appearances since their escape, but have both moved on with their lives. DeJesus is in school and has her driver’s license, and Berry said life now is “great.”
Berry and DeJesus remain good friends. And though neither keeps in touch with Knight, they both wish her well.
“We just have a bright future, and [will] see what comes,” Berry said.
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