The Forgotten Victim: Cleveland’s Michelle Knight
The oldest kidnapping victim is finally free. Well, almost. By Christine Pelisek.
Loud cheers greeted Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus as they arrived at their homes Wednesday afternoon, almost one decade after they were abducted, subjected to prolonged sexual and psychological abuse, and apparently bound with ropes and chains, in the Cleveland house of horrors.
The happy homecoming came on the same day that 52-year-old Ariel Castro was charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape, and police officers pulled out more than 200 items of evidence from Ariel Castro’s home on Seymour Avenue.
Castro reportedly only let the women, whom he allegedly forced to wear disguises, outside twice in 10 years to walk from the house to the garage. Castro was arraigned this morning in a Cleveland Municipal Court and is being held on bond for $2 million in each case. His brothers, Onil and Pedro, were not charged in the kidnapping after police interviewed the women and Castro, who waived his right to remain silent and spoke with investigators.
Berry, 27, and her 6-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, arrived first to her sister’s home with a police escort. The front porch was covered with balloons, cards, and teddy bears. A large sign read “Welcome Home Amanda.” A few hours later, 23-year-old DeJesus, who pulled a hoodie over her face, gave a thumbs up to the crowd before she ran into her family’s home, which was being protected by the red beret–sporting Guardian Angels.
Some family members of Michelle Knight, who is reportedly 32, are saying that they are still waiting for their moment to celebrate. Knight is reportedly receiving medical care in a hospital after FBI agents interviewed her on Tuesday. Knight was reportedly beaten regularly by Castro in the face and suffered hearing loss. According to a leaked police report, Knight got pregnant five times while held captive, miscarrying each time after Castro pummeled her.
“I’ve been trying since day one to see her,” says Knight’s grandmother Deborah. “Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus have been reunited with their family. We are just sitting here waiting. We are trying to get in touch with her. She has no one there for her right now.”
“We need to get all the family together,” she added.
“There was no one looking for her when she disappeared,” says Deborah’s granddaughter Tiffani White. “I want her to know that there is someone there for her. To find out she was in a basement is devastating ... I have gone through hell and high water to come here to see her. It doesn’t seem like she has support, but she does. We just want to hear from her mouth that she is OK. We want her home.”
Deborah, who lives only a few miles away from Seymour Avenue, says she has mostly been relying on media reports to find out the latest news on her granddaughter’s situation. Michelle’s mother, Barbara, recently flew in from Naples. Barbara, who was interviewed by WKYC, said that Michelle was currently being treated for a mental-health condition. "By my understanding, she is having methro, methamphetamine—I can't even pronounce it—mental problems and there are some other problems, too, with her."
Knight’s brother, Freddie, reportedly visited her in the hospital Monday. He told CNN that he was kicked out of the house when he was 14, and didn’t even know his sister was missing.
The story of Knight, the first known abduction, is less well known. Knight was 20 years old when she disappeared in 2002 near her cousin’s house around West 106th Street and Lorain Avenue, shortly after her own son, Joey, had been taken from her custody.
“She had problems with a case worker,” said Deborah. “After that we never saw her again ... We tried to get the baby. He is out there someplace, and we have no idea where he is.”
Family members say Knight was just a regular, everyday kid who loved music, especially music by Christina Aguilera. “I used to babysit her,” says Nellie White, who was married to one of Deborah’s sons. “When she found out I was pregnant with Tiffani, she was so excited. She was a really bright girl. She was not out of control. She was the best kid ever.”
Deborah said Michelle’s life changed dramatically in her mid-teens when two boys allegedly sexually assaulted her in a school bathroom. They pulled her into the bathroom and raped her, says Deborah. Deborah says Knight became pregnant after the attack. “She recovered and took care of the baby with her mom’s help,” she said.
The day after she disappeared, her mother, Barbara, filed a missing-person report. The report mentioned that Knight suffered from a mental condition that made her frequently confused, and she went by the nickname “Shorty.”
Deborah said her granddaughter’s case went nowhere because she was 20 years old at the time of her disappearance and they weren’t 100 percent sure she was abducted. She also thought Knight may have ran off because she was upset over losing custody of her son. “We thought she might have been with friends she knew.”
Barbara Knight, who spoke to Cleveland’s Plain Dealer, said she never believed her daughter would run away and kept searching for her.
“I know she was an adult at the time,” said Barbara’s stepson Frank. “But the Cleveland Police, they lack a lot.”
Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba admitted on Tuesday that the bulk of the investigations had centered on Berry and DeJesus. Knight, he said, “was the focus of very few tips.”
The fallout over Castro’s dirty deeds has affected many lives, including his former Grupo Fuego bandmates he once played with. Band manager Miguel Quinones told The Daily Beast that he has received hate phone calls and emails since the story broke. He has had to deal with promoters who don’t want to have anything to do with a band affiliated with Castro. Quinones said that Castro only played with the band twice in 2008, and he got rid of him because he was always late.
“He was not an active member of the band,” he says. “He makes the band look bad. We have been getting emails from people talking negative about the band and the phone calls ... I spoke to the promoters and told them I am talking to the media. The promoters were calling me concerned. I already made a statement on Facebook.”
Quinones, who knows Castro’s family, says they are devastated by what happened. “His family is in shock,” he says. “The uncles are in shock, too. He comes from a great respectable family in the community. The family has been here for over 50 or 60 years.”
Castro’s family members aren’t the only ones who are shocked by Castro’s sinister behavior. Rafael Davila says he met Castro 20 years ago when he needed some work done on his car. A friend recommended Castro, who at the time was working as a part-time mechanic. Davila said Castro was generous and would always fix his car on the cheap. He would oftentimes sit around and watch Castro fix his car, and chat. “He had aspirations,” he said. “He talked about making money from playing in a band. He was a prince. He was wholesome like John Ritter. I never heard him swear.”
Davila, who said that Castro was devastated over his divorce, said he was shocked when he heard the news. “I thought. It can’t be. Now, he is more like a Latino Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”