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Gina DeJesus, one of the young women whose story of survival over years in captivity inside a Cleveland home has inspired millions, told CrimeCon 2021, presented by Oxygen, that her bond with her mother helped her to flip one of her captor’s attempts at psychological manipulation while he held her prisoner.
In 2004, on her way home from her middle school, 14-year-old DeJesus disappeared. Years later, it was discovered that Ariel Castro, an unemployed bus driver, was holding her captive along with two other women, Michelle Knight and Amanda Berry — locking them in upstairs bedrooms in his home, forcing them to use plastic toilets, and feeding them one meal a day. He also repeatedly raped and abused them over the years.
At CrimeCon, DeJesus spoke of how at one point during her nine-year ordeal, Castro handed her a missing person flyer with her picture and description on it — it had been handed to him by Gina’s mother, Nancy. Castro had presumably given the flyer to her as a way to show his power.
“He got to the house and told me that he saw my mom that day,” DeJesus told the audience. “And I asked him, ‘Can I have it,’ — so that I know that when we were found, that I would show my mom that I had it.
“It was the last thing that she touched,” she added.
Newburgh Heights Police Chief John Majoy, who was also on stage at the event in Austin, then asked DeJesus if Castro meant to influence her psychologically with this gesture.
“I mean, if that's what he thought he was doing, then he was wrong,” she said, pointedly.
Sylvia Colon, DeJesus’s cousin who spent years helping lead the search for her, was also on stage in Austin with her on Saturday to help promote and fundraise for the Cleveland Center for Missing, Abducted and Exploited Children and Adults, the nonprofit the two founded in 2018 to establish a place for families and survivors to come for support and resources.
The nonprofit’s offices ,which DeJesus helped pick for the headquarters, is located at Cleveland’s Pivot Center — which is in the Tremont section of the city and sits 300 feet from the site where DeJesus was held captive. She told the crowd that everyone, including her, should be able to be comfortable in the neighborhood.
While speaking of the long and emotional search for DeJesus, Colon recalled the iron will and resilience of DeJesus’s mother, Nancy Ruiz as she searched, with few resources, for her missing daughter. She also told the crowd of the deep connection that kept her certain that Gina was still alive.
“She'd send your butt home if you were negative,” Colon said of Ruiz’s demand for positivity from those helping with the search. “But the other thing that she would say is — ‘It's something that a mother and a daughter know. I'm connected to my daughter in a way that I know. She's still out there, and you can tell me you think she might be dead — but until you bring me a body, my daughter is alive.’”
Castro was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping and rape in August 2013. On Sept. 3, 2013, he killed himself in his prison cell. The home where DeJesus, Knight, and Berry were held captive has been demolished and is now a green space.
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