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Michelle Knight Marks 10 Years Since 'House Of Horrors' Escape By Launching Animal Fundraiser

Michelle Knight, who was held captive by Ariel Castro for years along with Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, is now focused on rescuing animals.

By Dorian Geiger
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Michelle Knight, who was kidnapped and held against her will for years by an unemployed school bus driver, is planning a fundraiser to mark 10 years since her time in captivity came to an end.

In 2002, Knight, now 40, was abducted by her friend’s father, Ariel Castro while she was on her way to a child custody hearing for her son. Knight, instead, was driven to Castro’s Cleveland home, where she lived in captivity in a torture chamber on the property for 11 years.

A decade since she was freed, Knight, who legally switched her name to Lilly Rose Lee, is using her platform and voice to transform the darkest time in her life into a charity event for animals in need. The May dinner-raffle event, dubbed "Tragedy to Triumph: An Evening with Michelle Knight," is geared to raise money for Knight’s nonprofit group, Unleashed Animal Rescue.

RELATED: 'He Doesn't Define Me,' Michelle Knight Speaks Out About 11 Years As Notorious Rapist Ariel Castro's Captive

“When I first came out of the House [of Horrors] I had nobody that I could physically and emotionally trust,” Lee told Oxygen.com on Friday. "I went through an emotional roller coaster at the beginning — I had to rise above everything that was going on in my life.”

Lee’s free-roam group rescue saves, rehabilitates and fosters a range of different animals and pets, including rabbits, birds, dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, tortoises, and other amphibians. She also has a pony named Angel.

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“Ever since I was a little girl I always wanted to take care of animals because I felt safe, I felt security. They never judged me, always stayed by my side no matter what…they were always there. My babies, they allowed me to be able to have my voice, be able to speak,” she added. “In a way, they helped me open trust, open up love, and be able to open up my heart to others.”

Lee, then-Knight, was locked in an upstairs bedroom at the home with Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, two other women Castro had kidnapped. Castro, the father of a friend of Lee’s, routinely sexually assaulted and abused the three women. Lee, Berry and DeJesus were typically forced to use plastic toilets. They were ultimately rescued after Berry escaped and contacted authorities.

“I chose to forgive [Castro], because I didn't want the emotional chain of that situation,” Lee then-told ABC News in 2020. “I didn't want it to hold me back or control my life anymore, so I had to break free.”

Lee also spoke at Castro’s 2013 sentencing, where she read a victim impact statement to the court. 

“I had to show him that he no longer has control over me,” Lee told ABC News “That he doesn't define who I am. I define who I am by everything I do in life.”

Castro was sentenced to life plus 1,000 years in prison after pleading guilty to 937 counts of kidnapping and rape in 2013. He killed himself in a prison cell in September 2013. The home where Castro imprisoned his victims was ultimately demolished. 

In the years since her abduction, Lee worked in a number of animal rescues, where she says she helped prevent the euthanasia of thousands of animals. She’s also helped facilitate the adoptions of about 160 pets during her time fostering rescues. Lee, who founded Unleashed Animal Rescue in 2023, is now hoping to raise $50,000 at her upcoming animal rescue fundraiser. She said on Friday she’s still working at securing sponsors.

“I want to make a big impact on everyone that I touch, whether it’s animals or humans,” Lee said. “I want people to see that they are the hero of their own story. They can accomplish it. There are people out there going through tremendous things every day and if I can do it, I have faith in each and every one that I touch or I inspire.” 

"Tragedy to Triumph: An Evening with Michelle Knight," is scheduled for May 7 at the Windows On The River in Cleveland.