Three months and a day after the three women escaped what was then Ariel Castro’s house, it was demolished with Ms. Knight and family members of Ms. DeJesus in attendance.
The event, less than a week after Mr. Castro was sentenced to a lifetime plus 1,000 years in prison, is the latest symbol of recuperation for the women, their families, and the city.
Knight arrived before the 7:30 a.m. demolition with a bundle of yellow balloons that she said represented abducted children who were never found. After passing the balloons out to neighbors, the group released them before the first strike on the house.
“I want the people out there to know, including [abductees’] mothers, that they can have strength, they can have hope. And their child will come back,” she said, CNN reports.
An aunt of Ms. DeJesus was in the excavator cab and helped land the first blow on the house as a group of about 100 neighbors cheered.
“It just felt great, knowing that it’s coming down,” the aunt, Peggy Arida, told WOIO-TV, CBS Cleveland affiliate.
In particular, the event highlighted the more public role Knight seems ready to move into as a motivational speaker and inspiration for families with missing children.
“I go from here as being a motivational speaker and let everybody know that they are heard, that they are loved, and that there is hope for everyone,” she said Wednesday morning.
While each of the women are recovering in their own ways – Ms. Berry appeared onstage at a Nelly concert last month and a six-foot-high privacy fence was just donated to DeJesus – Knight has shown the greatest desire to step into a public role.
In a thank-you video released to supporters last month, Knight, who often speaks of her faith in God, said she believes she’s been given a new purpose.
“God has a plan for all of us,” she said. “The plan that he gave me was to help others that have been in [the] same situations I have been in.”
Castro forfeited the house as part of the plea deal he accepted to avoid a possible death sentence. He was sentenced last week to life without parole, plus 1,000 years, after he pleaded guilty to 937 counts, including kidnapping, rape, and aggravated murder.
The president of the Cuyahoga Land Bank, which now owns the house, told the Monitor Tuesday that the three women and community members would have the lead deciding what goes in place of the house.
The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16, and 20 years old. Each had accepted a ride from Castro. They escaped May 6, when Ms. Berry, now 27, broke part of a door to Castro's house and yelled to neighbors for help. Castro was arrested that evening.