One year ago yesterday, three women escaped from a house of horrors in Cleveland.
On Tuesday night, Gina Dejesus and Amanda Berry were among those given 'Hope Awards' by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which annually recognizes "individuals whose efforts have contributed to making the world a safer place for children."
Dejesus, Berry, and Michelle Knight were held captive and subject to abuse for years in a home owned by Ariel Castro.The women were kidnapped separately between 2002 and 2004. Berry was 14, DeJesus was 16 and Knight was 20. On May 6, 2013, Amanda Berry realized that Castro had failed to lock the home's "big inside door," and she screamed for help. A neighbor, Charles Ramsey, heard her cry.
"She said help me get out," he said. "I figured it was a domestic violence dispute," he told The Associated Press. The door would only open a crack, so he told her to kick out the screen. "She comes out with a little girl and says 'Call 911.'
The three young women, along with Amanda's 6-year-old daughter, who was born in captivity, were finally rescued from their prison.
"Amanda and Georgina, who were children when they were captured, will receive NCMEC's 2014 Hope Award for their tremendous courage and resilience and for giving hope to so many families still searching for their children," according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website.
Castro pleaded guilty to 937 counts of rape, kidnapping and aggravated murder and was sentenced to prison with no chance of parole. One month into his sentence, he hanged himself with bedsheets in his cell.
On Tuesday, members of Gina DeJesus' family were out in the streets of Cleveland along with police and the Guardian Angels, knocking on doors and handing out flyers about missing children.
“I’m out here today to get this message out that we need to pay attention and get these girls home,” said Jackie Roman, second cousin to Gina DeJesus. "We need to pay attention and wake up because these people are missing and they don’t need to be missing,” she told Newsnet5, the ABC affiliate in Cleveland.
Amanda Berry issued the following statement Tuesday:
"I would like to thank all the people who have helped and supported my family and me. You have changed our lives in ways you'll never know. On this day, we decided that the right place for us to be was with other families who have gone through what our family has gone through. I want these families to know they will always have a special place in our hearts. So much has happened this past year. I have grown. I am strong. And I have so much to live for, to look forward to. The future is bright."
Gina DeJesus issued this statement on the anniversary:
"I want to thank everyone who donated to the Courage Fund and sent gifts to me. You have made such a difference in my life. This past year has been amazing, full of healing and hope. I am spending time with my family and working with Amanda on a book that we are really excited about. I have also been enjoying new experiences, such as learning how to use new technology and how to drive. Thanks for continuing to respect my privacy and that of my family."
And Michelle Knight, interviewed Monday on NBC's "Today" show, said Castro deserves forgiveness because she'd want to be forgiven if she did wrong, and "that's the way of life."
She added, "he is a human being and every human being needs to be loved," even if he did wrong.
Knight told CNN that she never lost hope.
After being starved, chained and repeatedly raped, after being brutalized physically and humiliated psychologically, Knight said that she actually got stronger.
It might not have helped her in Castro's eyes, but Knight stayed defiant -- so much so that it became a source of pride.
"All my life, I was made to feel insecure, like I was worthless," she recalled. "And for the first time in my life, I stood up to a person that was a demeaning person."
"And it felt good to stand up for myself, (because) I never did before."
Knight – who released a book on Tuesday “Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed” – said she's a singer who just recorded a song, and she's also training to be a boxer.