One of the three women held in a house in Ohio for over a decade by Ariel Castro has spoken out about her ordeal in a gripping and disturbing interview with the Guardian.
Michelle Knight, now 33, was kidnapped in August 2002 and endured 11 years of being raped and beaten on a daily basis by Castro, who later abducted Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus and held them prisoner in his basement in Cleveland.
It was a year to the day yesterday when Berry managed to escape and raise the alarm, prompting the release of all three women from their horrific captivity. Castro admitted holding them hostage and later committed suicide in his prison cell.
Out of all three captives Ariel Castro held in his basement Michelle Knight was treated the worst, a trial last year heard
In a far-reaching interview with the Guardian's Simon Hattenstone out today, Knight talks about how she has forgiven the man who made her pregnant and forced her to miscarry five times during her imprisonment.
According to a psychiatrist at the trial, Castro treated Knight the worst of all three women because, as Knight says, "he couldn't break me. He hated the fact I didn't subject myself to what he wanted."
Knight also had the added trauma of knowing that unlike Berry and DeJesus, her family did not look for her after she went missing, something she described as "very painful" (she has not been in contact with her relatives since her release).
Knight had a troubled childhood: she was sexually abused at the age of five and bullied at school before running away from home. She returned as a teenager and aged 18 gave birth to a son, Joey. He was taken away by social services when her mother's boyfriend became violent towards him.
Gina DeJesus (left) and Amanda Berry (right) were kidnapped alongside Michelle Knight
Knight was on her way to a custody hearing that fateful day in 2002 when Castro abducted her. He lured her to his house on the promise of a lift home and then took her inside to show her "some puppies" that her son would like.
"Then we got upstairs, that's when it struck me really hard, that I'm never going to leave this place," she recalled. "There was too much silence."
"He kept telling me how, 'I'm just going to leave you here for a little while. Everything will be OK. I'm not going to harm you as long as you listen.'"
She then described how Castro tied her hands behind her back and her neck to a pole in the basement as he repeatedly raped and beat her. She passed in and out of consciousness over a period of days, weeks and years - "not a day went by that I didn't get messed with or get hurt in any type of way."
"After a certain amount of time I was like God, if there's nothing more for me, just let me go," she told Hattenstone. "[But] I couldn't let my son know [that] I gave up on him."
The transcript from Amanda Berry's 911 call to police just after escaping from Ariel Castro's house last year
Knight said one rare high point during her time in captivity was when she realised Berry and DeJesus were there with her too, even though she hated that they had to go through the same terrible ordeal as her.
"There was very little times that I actually cracked a smile in that house," said Knight. "When I first met Amanda and Gina, I smiled. That made me happy to know that I wasn't the only one. But that made me sad too."
For some months, the three women were chained together in the basement and Knight saw news reports of Berry and DeJesus' families appealing for their whereabouts, although "I knew nobody would look for me."
Ariel Castro was sentenced to 1,000 years and committed suicide in jail
When she was finally rescued just after Berry put in a 911 call to police last year, Knight fell into the arms of a police officer and begged her never to let her go (the officer in question became emotional as she recalled the moment at the trial of Castro last year).
"I didn't think it was real, I didn't think I was going home," Knight said.
She is now focusing on re-building her life and regularly uses a punchbag with Castro's face pinned onto it. She also has a tattoo that reads "know me as the victor not the victim."
Neighbours of the three women hold a vigil last year after news of their release
Knight says she has forgiven her tormentor Castro and does not hate him. "He felt bad for it, he didn't want to do it. But there was a monstrous side to him that made him do it. That's what he always said."
"I kind of wish he never killed his self, but to each his own mind..." she added. "He didn't want to be alive, he couldn't take what he did. And I understand that."
If she had not been kidnapped, Knight believes "I would be probably either living on the streets or dead right now."
"I got to survive it and I got to be able to say that I overcame this. And it didn't define who I am."
Simon Hattenstone's full interview with Michelle Knight comes out in this Saturday's Guardian
Photos: Rex Features, Words: Anna Brech