Cleveland kidnapping mystery: Where is Michelle Knight?

Michelle Knight, one of the three Cleveland kidnapping victims, was released from the hospital Friday, but not even her mother knows where she is. Her story offers hints as to why she might need more time and space to recover.

Mark Duncan/AP
Deborah Knight (c.), grandmother of Michelle Knight, drives her wheelchair past the home of Gina DeJesus in Cleveland Friday.

When Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight released their first brief statements through their lawyers Sunday, one was notably different from the rest.

"Thank you to everyone for your support, and good wishes," Ms. Knight's said. "I am healthy, happy, and safe and will reach out to family, friends, and supporters in good time," Ms. Knight said.

For Ms. Berry and Ms. DeJesus, that "good time" could not come soon enough, it seemed. They, after all, have already been reunited with their families in emotional ceremonies that brought an indelible end to a decade of captivity.

But some time on Friday, Knight left the hospital where she was being treated without even telling her mother. While CNN quotes a source close to the investigation saying Knight "is in a safe place and very comfortable," her family has no idea where she is.

From the first moments after the three women were freed from a house where, police allege, they were taken as prisoners and then abused and raped for 10 years, Knight has been the "other" captive. First, she was the woman for whom no photo was available. Then, she was the woman who didn't leave the hospital. And finally, she was the woman who didn't have a homecoming.

Now, the question of where Michelle Knight is seems inextricably wrapped in the question of who she is – and police documents and media reports offer a glimpse of a woman whose past appeared troubled even before her kidnapping, and whose decade in slavery might have been appalling even beyond the measure of her fellow captives.

Victims of such crimes need no small amount of time and unconditional love to recover, experts say. In Knight's case, a "good time" could understandably be much more than a week.

According to police reports, Knight was the first woman captured by Ariel Castro, in 2002. She was also the only victim not kidnapped as a teenager. Berry was kidnapped at 16, DeJesus at 14. In 2002, Knight was 21. And in that fact is perhaps the beginning of the story of how Knight eventually became the "other" captive.

At 21, Knight already had a child of her own and was involved in a custody battle that might have involved abuse. Cleveland's WOIO-TV reports that records show a man named David Feckley "was charged and convicted in the early 2000s of child endangerment, for breaking Michelle's infant son's arm. He served eight years in prison. But a rape charge was dropped when the alleged victim, Michelle, couldn't be found. Of course, now we know where she was...."

Moreover, at 21, Knight had already become estranged from her family – to the point that, when she disappeared, she was considered a runaway.

When Berry and DeJesus went missing, their families held vigils, raised awareness by posting "missing" signs, and never gave up looking. The girls locked in the house at 2207 Seymore Avenue knew this. They could watch TV. When Berry at last broke free on Monday, she told the 911 dispatcher: "I'm Amanda Berry. I've been on the news for the last 10 years."

Within 15 months of Knight's disappearance, however, Cleveland police took her name off an FBI list of missing people because they could not find "a parent, guardian, or other reporting person to confirm that Ms. Knight was still missing," according to another CNN report.

Meanwhile, within the house, Knight seems to have been singled out for particularly horrific treatment by Mr. Castro, according to police reports.

She told police that she had become pregnant by Castro at least five times. Castro responded by starving her for two weeks, and then beating her in the stomach to force a miscarriage. Meanwhile, when Berry got pregnant, Castro forced Knight to attend to the birth and told her that if the baby died, he would kill Knight.

Knight's grandmother told WOIO-TV that Knight might need reconstructive facial surgery because of damage sustained at 2207 Seymore. "When she was severely beaten, he had beat her so bad in the face, she has to have facial reconstruction, and she's lost hearing in one ear," said Deborah Knight.

How Deborah Knight might have learned that is an open question. According to CNN, Knight refused hospital visits from family members, including attempts by her mother, Barbara, to see her. (A Slate report disagrees, suggesting that the mother was admitted once on Wednesday.)

One media report, by Britain's Daily Mail, suggests that Knight formed a close bond with DeJesus while in captivity and that the DeJesus family is actually trying to adopt her. The Daily Mail quotes a DeJesus family friend, Lupe Collins, as saying: "She was Georgina’s sister for 10 years in that house and she’s still her sister now."

While the report could not be verified, Deborah Knight, the grandmother, went to the DeJesus house with balloons on Friday after learning of Michelle's release from the hospital. "She told reporters that she did not know where her granddaughter would go..., but hoped she would go to DeJesus's house," ABC reported. (Michelle's mother now lives in Florida, though she has come to Cleveland since Michelle was found.) Michelle was not there, however.

The family learned of Knight's release from the hospital through the media. A lawyer hired by the family says the hospital "stonewalled" the mother's attempts to meet with Michelle.

MetroHealth Hospital confirmed that Knight left Friday, but would not say where she went, according to the ABC report. "Michelle Knight has been discharged from MetroHealth," the hospital said in a statement. "She is asking for her privacy at this time."

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