'We've been through hell' – kidnap trio break silence
The three women who were kidnapped and held captive for a decade in a house in the US have described their determination to lead ordinary lives after going "through hell and back".
In their first public remarks since escaping from Ariel Castro's home in Cleveland, Ohio, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight said they were recovering with help from relations, friends and supporters.
"I want to thank everyone who has helped my family through this entire ordeal," said Ms Berry, who disappeared in 2003.
Ms Berry (27), who has a six-year-old daughter by Mr Castro, said she wanted "everyone to know how happy I am" in a video statement from the three women posted online yesterday.
"I'm getting stronger today, and having my privacy has helped immensely," she added. "I ask that everyone continues to respect our privacy and give us time to have a normal life."
Mr Castro (52) a former school bus driver, is accused of capturing all three women in the same area of the city over several years before locking them inside his house and repeatedly raping them.
It is alleged that he kept them chained in rooms in his home that were locked to visitors. He has been charged with aggravated murder for allegedly causing Ms Knight to miscarry by beating her.
The women were rescued on May 6 after Ms Berry escaped from the house with the help of several neighbours.
Ms Knight, who disappeared in 2002 and allegedly suffered Mr Castro's most brutal abuse, gave the video's most strident message, saying: "I will not let this situation define who I am. I will define the situation."
Prosecutors allege that Mr Castro forced Ms Knight to deliver Ms Berry's baby in an inflatable paddling pool on Christmas Day 2006, and threatened to kill her if the baby did not survive.
She said that despite her ordeal she did not want to be "consumed by hatred" and would instead devote herself to helping "others who have been in the same situations I have been in".
"Thank you for all your prayers. I'm looking forward to my brand new life," the 32-year-old added.
Ms DeJesus (23) who was the best friend of one of Mr Castro's daughters when she disappeared in 2004, appeared in the video with her parents and said only: "Thank you for the support."
Her father, Felix, thanked his family for their "passion and faith and strength" and expressed his gratitude to the public for donating more than $1m (€800,000) to a "courage fund" for the women.
Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty for Mr Castro, who has pleaded not guilty via his lawyer while remaining silent through two court appearances so far.
He faces a total of 329 criminal counts.
He is due back in court for a pre-trial hearing on July 24. (© Daily Telegraph, London)