Amanda Marie Berry was a normal teenage girl. She worked at Burger King, hung out with friends, and would sometimes stay out a bit later than her mother would have liked. Then one day, her life changed forever. Amanda disappeared on April 21, 2003, the day before her 17th birthday.
Only the teenager wasn’t missing: she had been kidnapped by a violent psychopath who wanted a harem of women all of his own. The teenager spent eleven years as one of Ariel Castro’s three female captives. It wasn’t until years after her escape that the world finally learned the true extent of the depravities committed against her and the other women…
Last Day of Freedom
Amanda Berry made a phone call to her sister earlier that evening. She told her that she was getting a ride home from her job at Burger King and that she’d be home later. Originally, the authorities believed Amanda had run away. But a week later, an unidentified man used her cell phone to call her mother stating: “I have Amanda. She’s fine and will be coming home in a couple of days”.
Amanda’a kidnapper, Ariel Castro, was a Puerto Rican immigrant who had previously worked as a bus driver for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. That is, until he was fired for several infractions such as using his bus to go grocery shopping or leaving a child on the bus while he went for lunch. Losing his job apparently sent Castro over the edge and propelled him into a life of kidnapping and torture. And Amanda wasn’t his only victim…
Castro’s other victims included 21-year-old Michelle Knight, who disappeared on August 23, 2002, after leaving a cousin’s house. There was also Georgina “Gina” Lynn DeJesus who went missing at age 14 after she was last seen using a pay phone at 3 pm on April 2, 2004. Gina was even friends with Castro’s daughter, Arlene, and had relied on Castro to take her home that night from her their house. She never made it.
Each of the three women was kidnapped after accepting a ride from Castro. They apparently all knew him in some way and were subsequently lured inside his home, where he took them to the basement, restrained them, and held them prisoner for the next 11 years. Once they had become his prisoner, each girl was forbidden from leaving the home and suffered at the cruel hands of their captor…
Amanda’s mother was still fervently looking for her. A 2004 segment of America’s Most Wanted even linked Amanda’s disappearance to Gina’s, but no one had been able to locate either of the girls. Both were profiled on The Montel Williams Show, where self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne told Berry’s mother that her daughter Amanda was dead and that she was “in water”.
The “news” of her daughter’s death devastated her mother. She took down all her pictures, gave away her possessions, and for a time, resigned herself to her daughter’s demise. She soon came out of it, though, and continued the search, up until her own death from heart failure in 2006. Meanwhile, Amanda and her fellow prisoners were still suffering…
Born in Captivity
On December 25, 2006, Amanda Berry gave birth to a daughter. She and the other girls had suffered not only physical punishment and abuse but sexual abuse, as well. The little girl was Castro’s and was the end result of many miscarriages amongst the three young women he had in his care.
Amanda, Michelle, and Gina were basically starved to death under Castro’s “care”. If he fed them at all, it would usually be something like a bag of chips or crackers. Berry had actually been shocked that she had become pregnant because she barely ate. She lost a full 30 lbs in captivity. They also endured far more indignities while living in the house…
If the girls tried to escape or if they talked back they were hit with dumbbells, punches, and slammed against walls. Starvation was also included. The beatings were so bad for Michelle Knight, Castro’s first abductee, that she lost hearing in her left ear and needed reconstructive surgery after her eventual escape.
Screaming For Help
On May 6, 2013, Amanda Berry looked out the door and saw that Castro’s neighbors were outside. Castro was out and had forgotten to lock the inside door. The storm door was bolted of course, but she knew that this was her only opportunity for freedom. She was afraid to try and break through the storm door because she was afraid that Castro had been testing her. Still, she had to take her chance, if only for her daughter’s sake…
Neighbor Angel Cordero, heard Amanda screaming but couldn’t understand her. He spoke very little English but knew something was wrong. He called another neighbor, Charles Ramsey and together the two broke a hole into the storm door. Amanda and her daughter crawled through and went to a neighbor’s house to call 911.
“Help me,” she said to the operator “I’m Amanda Berry… I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m here. I’m free now”. Her words led police to the house in Downtown Cleveland where they broke in and rescued the other two women, who were cowering in the locked rooms upstairs. As for Ariel Castro…
Castro eventually pleaded guilty to 937 criminal counts of rape, kidnapping, and aggravated murder as part of a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. He was sentenced to life in prison with an additional 1,000 years and no chance of parole. On September 3, 2013, he hanged himself in his cell after just one month of imprisonment.
The Women Today
Today, 27-year-old Gina DeJesus, 35-year-old Michelle Knight, and 30-year-old Amanda Berry are just trying to live healthy, normal lives. Amanda and her daughter still live together, and the three girls have reconnected with their relieved and grateful families. It is only recently that the girls have come forward to tell some of the horrible tales of their imprisonment…
Telling Our Story
Amanda and Gina have shared their story in the new book entitled “Hope: A Memoir of Survival In Cleveland”. The book was co-written with Washington Post reporter Mary Jordan and discusses revelations of the girls’ horrifying and heartbreaking ordeal as prisoners in Castro’s dilapidated home.
As it turned out, Ariel Castro was deeply a paranoid individual. In order to keep the women locked up, he had sheared the bolts on the doors to their rooms and placed the hinges behind unbreakable plexiglass. Unsurprisingly, he also wired the front door of the house to an alarm and kept Amanda chained to a radiator by a five-foot chain for the first few years of her captivity. Until his daughter was born…
In much the same way as he did when he “tested” the girls by leaving doors open, Castro loved to play mind games with his victims. He frequently engaged in emotional torture that was just as devastating as the physical abuse. He even forced the girls to watch the episode of America’s Most Wanted about their disappearance.
Learning the News
Amanda Berry was even made to watch the 2004 episode of Montel Williams where the psychic told her mother that she was dead. As angry as she was at the fake psychic, she still had no idea that the incident had caused her mother’s health to decline. She wouldn’t learn about her “death” until years later when she saw it on the news. As for her own daughter…
After Amanda had given birth to Castro’s daughter, he became a very different person, at least when it came to the little girl. “She loved him, and he loved her.” When the 3-year-old daughter started asking about the women’s chains, Castro removed them and even let the little girl play outdoors in the sun. He would even take her to visit his mother, her grandmother sometimes.
Today, the women seem split on their feelings of forgiveness for their captor. Amanda has thought a great deal about forgiving him but found that ultimately she couldn’t. “He took my mom from me…” she says, and it’s not untrue to say that her kidnapping is what ultimately led to her mother’s poor health and eventual demise. Gina DeJesus says that she just wishes he had taken a bit longer to die: and that he suffered.