The three women who were kidnapped, beaten and held in captivity for a decade in a Cleveland home appeared to be "genuinely happy" in an upbeat video they posted on YouTube today.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight took one step closer to recovery, according to Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victim services for the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).
"When I was watching the video, it seemed as though they were making the transition from victim to survivor," said Marsh. "I am happy they have found support and it seems as if they are moving along the path of recovery."
"One of the things that struck me was how sincere they were and how genuinely happy they appeared to be," she said.
"Clearly, what they were reading was very scripted, but that doesn't take away from what they are saying. Speaking on camera is challenging for anyone and they have probably had limited interactions over the course of their captivity."
Each of the women appeared separately in the 3-minute, 33-second video. Berry and Knight made a brief statement, while DeJesus answered questions from someone off camera, followed by her father, Felix DeJesus, and then her mother, Nancy Ruiz.
Berry, who with her 6-year-old daughter fought her way out from under their accused captor, 52-year-old Ariel Castro, was the first to speak. She appears calm and happy and smiles frequently in the video, which was filmed July 2.
"First and foremost, I want everyone to know how happy I am to be with my family and my friends, it has been unbelievable," said Berry, who was the most composed. "I want to thank everyone who has helped me and my family through this entire ordeal. Everyone who has been there to support us has been a blessing, to have such an outpouring of love and kindness. I am getting stronger each day and having my privacy has been helping immensely. I ask that everyone continues to respect our privacy and give us time to have a normal life."
The three women looked healthy and strong in the video, all with stylish new haircuts. Knight, who had been held captive the longest and had allegedly been repeatedly beaten, wore a pair of designer-type glasses and spoke last.
"I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and with my head held high and my feet firmly on the ground," she says. "Walking hand-in-hand with my best friend, I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation."
Marsh said that she noticed all three women were making eye contact with the camera and DeJesus was interacting with her parents.
"You could tell that [DeJesus] was happy, and her parents also seemed sincere," said Marsh. "I felt as though her mom appealed to other families who had children take and came from such a genuine place. Never give up hope."
DeJesus' mother Ruiz thanked The Cleveland Courage Fund, which was set up by the Cleveland Foundation to help the girls readjust to life. It has already raised $1 million.
Thanking her community and neighbors, Ruiz says, "Every single one, they know who they are. Awesome. So people, I'm talking not just about people but parents in general that does have a loved one missing, please do me one big favor. Count on your neighbors. Don't be afraid to ask for the help, because help is available."
The women's alleged abductor Castro has pleaded not guilty to 329 counts of rape, torture and murder for allegedly keeping the three women in his home. The former school bus driver is also accused of the aggravated murder of a fetus for allegedly forcibly causing an abortion in Knight, whom he is accused of impregnating, a charge that could potentially carry the death penalty.
Castro allegedly snatched Berry, DeJesus and Knight between 2002 and 2004 and imprisoned them, sometimes restrained by chains. Berry was 16, DeJesus was 14, and Knight was 20.
The women were freed on May 6 when Berry cried out for help from behind a closed screen door, getting the attention of neighbors.