(NEW YORK) — Fear paralyzed Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus during the 10 years that they, along with fellow survivor Michelle Knight, were held captive by Ariel Castro in his Cleveland home. That fear kept them from ever attempting to escape.
“There was always a chance: What if he killed everybody?” DeJesus told ABC’s Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview that will air Tuesday on a special edition of 20/20.
“You never know until you’re in the situation what you’re going to do, how you’re going to react,” Berry told Roberts.
Until one day, Berry said, she saw an opportunity to run.
Amanda Berry is pictured here after police rescued her, left, and today. (Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office|Heidi Gutman/ABC)
Berry, 29, and DeJesus, 25, were abducted in 2003 and 2004, respectively, as teens. While she was Castro’s prisoner, Berry gave birth to Castro’s daughter, Jocelyn, who is now 8 years old.
For years, the women endured unimaginable abuse as they were chained, starved and tortured by Castro, but they still maintained their strength and kept their hope alive. Then, on May 6, 2013, they finally found the courage and opportunity to make their escape in the most unexpected way: Jocelyn.
“So Jocelyn goes downstairs, and then she runs back up. And she says, ‘I don’t find Daddy. Daddy’s nowhere around,’” DeJesus said.
“She’s like, ‘Mom, Daddy’s car is gone.’ Like, my heart immediately started pounding ‘cause I’m like … ‘Should I chance it? If I’m going to do it, I need to do it now,’” Berry said.
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.
“So I’m just like waving my arm, and I’m like, ‘Somebody, please, please help me. I’m Amanda Berry, please,’” Berry said. “I could die any moment. I’m so terrified.”
Gina DeJesus is pictured here after police rescued her, left, and today. (Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office|Heidi Gutman/ABC)
Outside, a neighbor saw Berry but was too afraid to intervene.
“After I got to that locked door and the guy didn’t help me, I was like, ‘He’s going to come home, and this is just going to be the end,’” Berry said.
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 had Ramsey call 911, and she spoke to the operator.
“I was terrified,” Berry said. “I still don’t know why he left that day with the door unlocked. I will never know.”
Hearing the banging on the door, DeJesus said she thought Berry had been caught by Castro and talked Knight out of running to Berry.
“I turn to Michelle and I’m like, ‘We could run. We could do this.’ But then once Michelle gets pumped, I’m like, ‘No.’ I talked her out of it,” DeJesus said.
“At first, it was so unreal,” Berry said. “When the cops had gotten there, I told them, ‘There’s two other girls in the house.’ … They put me in a car and then that’s when they ran upstairs to get them, and once I saw that I’m like, ‘This is it. I think we’re free now.’”
Within minutes, police started flooding the street and stormed the house where DeJesus and Knight were cowering in their room, afraid of Castro’s rage.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re next. He’s coming for us, so close the door,’” DeJesus said. “It didn’t get that much closed ‘cause they yelled, ‘Police!’ And then, she, like, Michelle swings the door open and just runs out there and hugs them.”
When DeJesus told police what her name was, she said it was the first time she had heard her name in five years. Castro had made the three women use different names. After 10 long years of darkness, the flashing lights were so bright that it hurt their eyes.
Soon, their families arrived after hearing the news.
“It was like a dream,” said DeJesus’ father, Felix DeJesus. “I needed somebody to wake me up. … ‘Thank you, Lord. You brought my baby back home.’”
Berry’s mother suffered a massive heart attack and died before she could be reunited with her daughter, but Berry’s sister, Beth Serrano, was there to welcome her back with open arms.
“I just looked like, ‘Oh my God, she’s so skinny,’ but she was still beautiful,” Serrano said. “She had the biggest smile. I could just feel her love.”
Castro, 53, was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison on Aug. 1, 2013, after he pled guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping, rape and aggravated murder. He was found dead in his prison cell after committing suicide by hanging on Sept. 3, 2013.
Now, two years since their escape, DeJesus and Berry’s memoir, Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland, written with Washington Post journalists Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, was released on April 27. In the book, they describe what they endured inside Castro’s home and their hope for the future.
Sarah Baker, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
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