Ariel Castro victim Michelle Knight still unable to see son years after escape
The day Michelle Knight was captured by Ariel Castro she had been preparing for the fight of her life.
Michelle had been on her way to a custody meeting on August 21, 2002, for her two-year-old son Joey who had been recently taken into foster care.
But she was stopped on the street by a man she quickly recognised as the father of one of her friends — and would later inflict unimaginable cruelty on her.
Offering to give her a lift to the hearing, Castro said they would first stop by his house so he could give Michelle a puppy, which the young mum hoped to gift to her son.
But instead he imprisoned her inside the unassuming Cleveland home for more than a decade until her release in May 2013.
Now more than six years on from her escape physical wounds may have healed but Michelle’s struggles from her life both before and in captivity remain.
While all three women endured horrific abuse at the hands of Castro, Michelle’s story is perhaps the most harrowing.
Not only was she in captivity the longest, she also suffered the worst abuse — from Castro breaking the neck of the puppy he used to lure her into his house to repeated beatings and sexual assaults.
But perhaps the most tragic consequence of Michelle’s kidnapping has been the loss of Joey.
During her imprisonment Michelle’s son was adopted out to another family, as her own relatives made little attempts to search for her. Michelle is now believed to have no contact with him.
“For my son I pray and hope that I get to see him soon,” she told host Piers Morgan.
‘YOU NAME IT, I WENT THROUGH IT’
Michelle’s suffering began long before she was imprisoned by Castro alongside his other victims, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus.
Raised by a poor family in Cleveland where they didn’t have “a couch to sit on”, Michelle helped raise her younger siblings.
After suffering sexual abuse at the hands of a male relative, Michelle ran away from home aged just 14.
“You name it, I went through it,” Michelle told US TV channel ABC News earlier this month. “I got to the point where I said, ‘I’m more safer on the streets than I am living in my own home.’ So, I basically ran away.”
She eventually returned home where she went back to high school and was bullied by other classmates.
After dating a male classmate Michelle welcomed son Joey at age 18, vowing to be the best mother she could despite struggling financially and still living at home.
According to Michelle, she lost custody of Joey in early 2002 after her mother’s boyfriend got drunk and fractured her son’s knee, and he was eventually put in foster car.
On the day of Michelle’s kidnapping she had been on her way to a case management meeting and got lost, stopping into a store to ask for directions.
“I was trying so desperately to get a hold of them. I tried to call them on a payphone. It didn’t work. So I felt like there’s no way I was gonna make it,” she told ABC.
Michelle was relieved when a man offered to help her and she recognised him — it was Castro, but he wouldn’t take her to the hearing, insead locking her up inside his house.
One of the first things Castro did to Michelle when he imprisoned her was cruelly taunt her about Joey.
“He ripped up my son’s picture right in front of me — the only picture I had — and said, ‘You will never see him’,” Michelle said.
“That hurted so bad. The knife felt like it was going deeper and deeper into my chest.”
‘YOU CAN’T BREAK SOMEONE WHO’S ALREADY BROKEN’
Michelle’s family filed a missing-person report in the days following her sudden disappearance.
However it was quickly presumed by police and loved ones that she was a runaway, possibly disgruntled after losing custody of Joey.
But in reality Michelle was being chained up “like a fish” for days on end, as well as being repeatedly raped by Castro, who told her he was a sex addict.
Seven months later, in April 2003, Michelle was joined by 16-year-old Amanda, who Castro kidnapped walking home from her job.
In 2004 Castro abducted Gina, who was just 14 at the time and on her way home from middle school.
But Castro hated Michelle the most, with law enforcement later putting it down to the fact that she often spoke back to him.
She refused to call Castro by his name, instead referring to him as “dude”.
“He wanted to break me and that’s something he couldn’t do … because you can’t break someone who’s already broken. You can only make them stronger,” Michelle said in a 2014 interview with NBC.
Michelle fell pregnant “four or five times”, however, Castro would beat her until she miscarried.
The injuries she suffered at his hands were so severe it has left Michelle unable to have children today.
Michelle was also forbidden to speak to the other women and said trying to escape was too risky.
“We had no way to get out of that house and even if we tried we got hurt,” Michelle told Good Morning Britain.
“I tried to escape one time and I literally end up in a bad situation where my neck was hurt, my back was hurt.”
Michelle’s captivity hell only ended on May 6, 2013, when Amanda and her daughter, who Castro had allowed her to give birth to, managed to escape and alerted neighbours.
“I really didn’t know what was going on,” Michelle told Good Morning Britain.
“I was too afraid to go downstairs but when I did reach the courage to actually open the door that’s when the police officer was yelling, ‘Police! Police!’ and I saw that badge.
“I just ran up into their arms and said, ‘never let me go, never let me go’.
‘I ONLY HAD TWO DAYS TO LIVE’
Despite being released after almost 11 years in captivity it was no time to celebrate, with Michelle instead rushed to hospital.
Michelle weighed just 38 kilos at the time, with police initially believing her small stature meant she was only a child and not a 32-year-old woman.
“I was very sick, I found out that I had a bacterial infection eating away at my stomach and they told me I only had two days to live so things weren’t looking really bright,” she told Good Morning Britain.
Her eyesight has since been left permanently damaged by the years Castro kept her imprisoned in the dark.
But worst was the mental trauma Castro’s torture had inflicted on her, with Michelle describing it as a “major healing process”.
Speaking out since her release, Michelle has revealed she often contemplated suicide during her captivity but the thought of Joey kept her going.
“It definitely got me through all those years. If it wasn’t for my son being out there and hoping to come home to him I don’t know what I would have done,” she told Good Morning Britain.
Captured by police soon after the three women escaped, Castro pleaded guilty and was sentence to life in prison — with Michelle the only one of his victims to attend the hearing.
Castro later took his own life while in custody.
‘WAITING WITH OPEN ARMS’
In the six years since her release from Castro’s house of horrors Michelle has become an advocate for other victims of sexual abuse, releasing memoirs Finding Me and Life After Darkness.
She married Miguel Rodriguez in 2016 after meeting through mutual Facebook friends, with Michelle describing her husband as the love of her life.
She has also changed her name to Lily Rose Lee.
However there has still been heartache for Michelle, who says her troubled relationship with her family has remained fractured and she hadn’t felt supported by them following her escape.
“Unfortunately some of that (support) did not happen because my family made the choice a long time ago for me not to see them,” Michelle told Good Morning Britain.
However, they have sent her photos of him and kept Michelle informed about his life, she said.
For now, Michelle remained hopeful that things might change in the future and she can once again see her son.
“I said, you know what? I’m going to let him be and when he’s ready to come see me, I’ll be willing and waiting with open arms,” she said.