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'I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile': Cleveland kidnap victims say thanks

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Describing a journey “through hell and back,” the three Cleveland women held captive for a decade broke their silence Tuesday to thank supporters whose love, support and donations have helped them adjust to their newfound freedom.

The women — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — appear composed as they speak one by one in the three-minute video, which was recorded last week at a law office and posted overnight to YouTube.

The lengthiest and most defiant remarks come from Knight, who prosecutors say was impregnated by the accused captor, Ariel Castro, and punched in the stomach until she miscarried.

“I may have been through hell and back,” she says, “but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face, and my head held high, and my feet firmly on the ground.”

The women were freed May 6 after Berry broke partway through a door and screamed for help while Castro was out of the house. A neighbor who helped rescue them, Chuck Ramsey, achieved Internet fame for his colorful candor.

Castro, 52, has pleaded not guilty to 329 criminal counts, including kidnapping and — for the terminated pregnancies — attempted murder. He is being held on $8 million bond. Prosecutors have said that they may seek the death penalty.

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Castro is set for trial Aug. 5 and appeared in court most recently last week. A judge denied a surprise request by Castro to see his 6-year-old daughter, whom prosecutors say Berry bore in captivity. The judge called the request “not appropriate.”

Berry says in the video that she’s happy to be home with family and friends, and gives thanks for an outpouring of love and kindness.

“I’m getting stronger each day,” she says, “and having my privacy has helped immensely. I asked that everyone continues to respect our privacy and give us time to have a normal life.

DeJesus speaks only one line, answering an off-camera question about the Cleveland Courage Fund, which has raised more than $1 million for the three women. Asked what she would say to donors, she says: “I would say thank you for the support.”

DeJesus’ mother and father also appear. The mother, Nancy Ruiz, says to anyone with a missing relative: “Please do me one big favor. Count on your neighbors. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help. Because help is available.”

Castro is accused of kidnapping the women between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14 to 16 years old. Berry is now 27, DeJesus 23 and Knight 32.

Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler and an NBC News analyst, said on TODAY that the video suggests the women have bounced back physically and psychologically.

Now that the women will be recognized publicly, there’s a risk to their privacy, he said, but he said it was important for them to replace the ugly memories of their time in captivity with good ones.

“Everything positive that they do,” he said, “that takes the place perhaps of one of the 3,000 negative days where they underwent alleged torture and were held as kidnap victims.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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