Three kidnapping survivors abducted by Ariel Castro between 2002 and 2004 describe horror conditions9 min read

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Three women who were kidnapped in Cleveland have described the nightmare conditions they endured during their more than nine years in captivity, including the strict rules their abductor Ariel Castro enforced and the divisions he created between them.  

Amanda Berry, 33, Gina DeJesus, 29, and Michelle Knight, 38, – each abducted by Castro between 2002 and 2004 – spoke out about the time they spent locked inside his home after their miraculous 2013 escape in an ABC 20/20 interview airing Friday. 

In addition to Castro’s sickening abuse – which saw the women chained, starved, tortured, and raped – they were isolated from each other, spending most of their time in separate rooms.  

‘We really didn’t have a relationship because he kept us divided. He wouldn’t let us talk,’ said Berry, who Castro snatched off the street as she was walking home from work on April 21, 2003, just one day before her 17th birthday. 

Castro also built a deep distrust between the women by treating each differently when it came to how much food they got or what clothes they wore.  

‘It was just simple things, but when you don’t have anything you’re like: “Well, why don’t I have that? I want that,”‘ Berry said. 

DeJesus, who was the last to be abducted in 2004, said: ‘In the beginning I was his favorite, he would get me different restaurant foods and clothes.’ 

Three women who were kidnapped in Cleveland by Ariel Castro described the nightmare conditions they endured over more than nine years in captivity in a new ABC 20/20 special. Pictured is Amanda Berry, who was abducted the day before she turned 17 in April 2003

Three women who were kidnapped in Cleveland by Ariel Castro described the nightmare conditions they endured over more than nine years in captivity in a new ABC 20/20 special. Pictured is Amanda Berry, who was abducted the day before she turned 17 in April 2003

Gina DeJesus (pictured) recalled how Castro kept his victims isolated in separate bedrooms and created hostility between them by picking favorites

Gina DeJesus (pictured) recalled how Castro kept his victims isolated in separate bedrooms and created hostility between them by picking favorites

Michelle Knight (pictured) said Castro only gave them one sliver of soap to bathe themselves

Michelle Knight (pictured) said Castro only gave them one sliver of soap to bathe themselves

The women were able to finally escape on May 6, 2013 when they were left alone in the home (pictured) and for the first time in 10 years, Berry found her bedroom door unlocked

The women were able to finally escape on May 6, 2013 when they were left alone in the home (pictured) and for the first time in 10 years, Berry found her bedroom door unlocked

In September 3, 2013, he was found dead in his prison cell after committed suicide.

Castro is pictured in court on August 1, 2013, when he was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping and rape

The women were typically only allowed to leave their rooms to perform chores, for which Castro had a strict set of rules. 

‘There were so many tiny rules we had to live by,’ Berry said. 

When preparing food, they were required to keep the pan directly in the center of the stove.  

‘It couldn’t be a little to the left, a little to the right,’ Berry said. 

Castro was also very particular about how they cleaned the kitchen afterward. 

 ‘We got to use just a tiny drop of dish soap to wash a full sink of dishes,’ Berry said. 

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Knight recalled how Castro also limited the amount of soap they were allowed to use to wash themselves.  

‘We got a little sliver of soap about that thick,’ she said, holding her index finger and thumb less than an inch apart.  

Berry, DeJesus and Knight (from left to right) are pictured in February 2014 after their escape

Berry, DeJesus and Knight (from left to right) are pictured in February 2014 after their escape

Knight was the first of the three women to be kidnapped, when she was 21-years-old. Castro grabbed her off the street as she was leaving her cousin’s house on August 23, 2002. 

Nine months later, he kidnapped Berry, who knew him as the father of Arlene, her classmate and friend from middle school.   

Castro, who worked as an elementary school bus driver, approached her in his vehicle and asked if she needed a ride home. 

Castro (pictured in his mugshot) was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping and rape in August 2013

Castro (pictured in his mugshot) was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping and rape in August 2013 

She agreed, and he then invited her to his home to hang out with his daughter. Once she got in, she wouldn’t leave for years.

‘He took me to the next bedroom, and it was just really dark in there, and he didn’t turn on the lights, and there was a little, like, a little room off of the bigger bedroom, kind of a big closet,’ Berry said. ‘And he took me in there, and he told me to pull down my pants. And from there I knew, like, this was not going to be good.’

Castro chained her to a pole and left her in a dark room with a television on. 

‘I just started screaming and crying… “Somebody please help me,” you know. And nobody, nobody came. I was so scared that I was going to die. I didn’t think that I was going to ever make it home,’ Berry said. 

A week after Berry went missing Castro called her family to taunt them using her cell phone. 

‘He called and said:  “I have Mandy,” which, nobody called her Mandy but [people] who knew her,’ her sister Beth Serrano said. ‘She wants to be with me.’

The FBI were able to narrow down the phone’s location to a thirty to forty block area and despite exhaustive search measures, were unable to find Berry. 

Knight was the first of the three women to be kidnapped on August 23, 2002, when she was 21 years old. The now-38-year-old is pictured before her abduction

Knight was the first of the three women to be kidnapped on August 23, 2002, when she was 21 years old. The now-38-year-old is pictured before her abduction 

Berry was kidnapped second on April 21, 2003, when Castro snatched her off the street as she was walking home from work. She is pictured before her abduction

Berry was kidnapped second on April 21, 2003, when Castro snatched her off the street as she was walking home from work. She is pictured before her abduction

Berry and DeJesus (pictured before her abduction on April 2, 2004) both knew Castro through his daughter, Arlene

Berry and DeJesus (pictured before her abduction on April 2, 2004) both knew Castro through his daughter, Arlene

Castro grabbed DeJesus in a similar fashion on April 2, 2004, when she was 14 as she was walking home. She was good friends with Castro’s daughter Arlene.

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Once she entered his home, she became unnerved by Castro’s behavior.  

‘He was, like, fixing his eyebrows and, like, trimming his mustache and, like, cutting his nose hairs,’ DeJesus said.

‘He’s like, starts like, to, like, touch me and stuff, and then I’m like: “What are you doing? You could go to jail.” He just switches up like: “Well, okay, we’re going to, you’re going to go home now.” He said: “But you can’t go through the same door you came in.”‘ 

DeJesus tried to fight him off and screamed for help when he brought her to the basement and chained her up. Her cries were drowned out by radios playing in his basement and living room.

‘He, would take my hair and like, put it in his mouth. … I don’t know why he did it but it was gross,’ she said.

DeJesus said the first time Castro raped her was on May 7, 2004 but did not want to deliberate on the sexual abuse. 

Berry became pregnant by Castro when she was 20 and gave birth to her daughter  Jocelyn on Christmas in 2006. 

‘I was terrified. How? I mean, I barely eat and I’m chained to a wall, and I have a bucket for a bathroom,’ Berry said. 

She said life in captivity changed for her with the birth of her daughter. She noted Castro even became kinder and took off her chains after her daughter started to notice them. She told Jocelyn the chains were bracelets, as per Castro’s orders. 

‘This is his kid, you know. How do I feel about that? And she resembled him a lot, and I would look at her, and I just felt, like, she’s mine. She’s mine,’ Berry said. 

‘It was fun because I can get away from the situation. When I was playing with Jocelyn, Jocelyn made me forget everything.’ 

Photos from inside Castro's home in Cleveland shows the squalid conditions the women lived in where windows were boarded up and they slept on bare, yellowed mattresses

Photos from inside Castro’s home in Cleveland shows the squalid conditions the women lived in where windows were boarded up and they slept on bare, yellowed mattresses 

The women were forced to live in filthy conditions where they were chained in their rooms, their bedrooms locked, barely fed and given buckets to use as a bathroom

The women were forced to live in filthy conditions where they were chained in their rooms, their bedrooms locked, barely fed and given buckets to use as a bathroom

Berry's room which she shared with her daughter Jocelyn pictured above

Berry’s room which she shared with her daughter Jocelyn pictured above

The women were forced to live in squalid, filthy conditions where they were chained in their rooms, their bedrooms locked, barely fed and given buckets to use as a bathroom. 

‘The mattress was old and nasty, and it was just disgusting. And we had the bucket to use the bathroom, and that smelled horrible,’ Berry said. 

The women were fed once a day and were given measly chips or crackers or other snacks as meals. They were also only allowed to shower once a week. 

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‘I mean, he tried to act nice, but he’s like: “Well, maybe you need to go take a shower,” and I had to take a shower with him,’ Berry recalled. 

The women underwent years of sexual abuse and rape in their captivity. 

Berry said she had to ‘numb’ herself to cope with the egregious abuse.   

‘You, like, put your mind somewhere else so that you’re not there. You know, you’re not in that room with him,’ Berry said.

She’s try to record how many times he raped her each day in her diary by using a code.   

‘I would always write these numbers at the top of the pages, because I felt like, you know, one day maybe authorities will get to read it. And he’ll be punished for what he did,’ Berry said. 

The women were able to finally escape on May 6, 2013 when the women were left alone in the home and for the first time in 10 years, Berry found her bedroom door unlocked. 

‘Jocelyn goes downstairs, and then she runs back up, and she says: “I don’t find Daddy. Daddy’s nowhere around,”‘ Berry said.

‘My heart immediately started pounding. I’m like: “Should I chance it? If I’m going to do it, I need to do it now,”‘ she added. 

Berry and her daughter made a break for it and ran out the front door, even though it was wired with an alarm. Beyond it the storm door was padlocked shut and Berry squeezed an arm out when a neighbor say her struggling and kicked the door open.

Once out Berry called for Jocelyn to crawl through the door and the two found a neighbor and used their phone to call 911.

FBI forensic personnel remove evidence from Castro's house after the women escaped

FBI forensic personnel remove evidence from Castro’s house after the women escaped

Berry reunited with her sister Beth Serrano and daughter in Cleveland after their escape

Berry reunited with her sister Beth Serrano and daughter in Cleveland after their escape

Police swarmed the home and the women were finally rescued.

DeJesus recalled being hesitant to leave her room in disbelief.  

‘I thought maybe they were people in costumes ’cause I was shocked,’ she said. 

‘When I was telling [first responders] my name, they looked like they’d seen a ghost or something. Like their face completely dropped,’ she added, describing the moment police realized they finally found the three women who had been missing for years.  

Three months later on August 1, 2013, Castro was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping and rape.  

On September 3, 2013, he was found dead in his prison cell after committed suicide.

The Cleveland Kidnappings special will air on ABC’s 2020 on Friday. 

Castro is pictured at his sentencing on August 1, 2013. He committed suicide in his prison cell just over a month later

Castro is pictured at his sentencing on August 1, 2013. He committed suicide in his prison cell just over a month later