The three women who survived their decade-long captivity in Ariel Castro’s Cleveland House of Horrors shared a stage together in public for the first time on Monday night.
Amanda Berry, 27, Gina DeJesus, 24, and Michelle Knight, 33, were honored by Ohio Governor John Kasich at his annual courage awards – where they received a two-minute standing ovation.
Kasich called the women’s story one of hurt beyond imagination, but also a story that didn’t end there.
‘It is also a story of three women who found an inner strength and a courage that brought them through and sustained them,’ Kasich said near the end of his annual State of the State speech.
‘No one rescued them, they rescued themselves-first by staying strong and by sticking together, and then by literally breaking out into freedom.’
The women were rescued in May after being kidnapped by Ariel Castro from the streets of Cleveland between 2002 and 2004 at the ages of 14, 16 and 21.
Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus escaped when Berry pushed out a door and yelled for help.
She told a police dispatcher in a dramatic 911 call: ‘Help me. I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years, and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.’
Castro pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. He hanged himself on September 3, just weeks into his sentence.
The award presentation nearly overshadowed Kasich’s speech given the women’s popularity since their release.
They were household names in Cleveland for years as missing persons, and their discovery electrified a community accustomed to bleaker outcomes.
Kasich hugged the three women as he entered the hall before his speech and pictures of that moment quickly flew across cyberspace.
As he announced the awards, Kasich called them ‘three extraordinary women, who despite having the worst in this world thrown at them, rose above it and emerged not as victims, but as victors.’
The three women then walked onto the stage to be embraced by the governor and receive their medals.
The audience stood and cheered in raptures for more than two minutes, the longest ovation of the night.