Lily Rose Lee shares experience with Boca audience
By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Michelle Knight was just 21 years old when her life took a horrific turn. On Aug. 23, 2002, she was walking along a street in Cleveland when a school bus driver named Ariel Castro, whose daughter she knew, offered her a ride, telling Michelle he’d give her a puppy for her young son. Once inside the car, Knight was abducted and then imprisoned in Castro’s home for the next 11 years, “tied up like a fish.”
Miraculously, she and two other women kidnapped later and held until May 6, 2013, enduring sexual abuse, starvation, beatings and miscarriages, escaped from the prison/house at 2207 Seymour Ave. Castro, arrested and charged with multiple crimes, took his own life in prison.
Knight, who has changed her name to Lily Rose Lee, told her story to a Channel 12 news anchor and hundreds of people at the Boca Raton Resort & Club Feb. 21, during the 10th annual Heart of a Woman luncheon to benefit Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse (AVDA).
Founded in 1985, AVDA operates a 24-hour crisis hotline, emergency shelters for women and children, transitional housing and outreach, educational and prevention programs through Palm Beach County schools. Jeannette DeOrchis, Rosemary Krieger, Anne Vegso and Gail Veros were event co-chairs.
Before Lily Rose spoke, AVDA honored Mary Wong as the Heart of a Woman individual honoree; Soroptimist as community organization honoree and Marshalls as community business honoree.
Seated in an armchair on the stage, Lily Rose spoke to Liz Quirantes, CBS 12 News anchor, but all in the audience could hear. They applauded, wept or cheered for the woman who had endured incredible abuse during her captivity.
Knight suffered such sexual abuse while tied up and chained as a prisoner, she reportedly became pregnant five times, but miscarried each time after being starved and beaten by Castro who later abducted two other women, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus.
Lily Rose told the AVDA crowd she referred to Castro as “Dude,” explaining: “I believe someone who’s a monster deserves a name.” As soon as she entered Castro’s house, “I had an eerie feeling in my stomach, but it was too late.” The captor put a dirty sock in her mouth and tied an extension cord around her head.
Knight was forced to deliver Berry’s child, fathered by Castro during her captivity. Their abductor also taunted Knight because DeJesus and Berry had family members desperate to find them, while it appeared no one was searching for Knight.
“I was in a dark place with chains around my neck and chest. I tried to escape, but I couldn’t get the chains off. I tried to kill myself. I was in a dark place, the basement.”
To help her deal with her torment, she turned to God. “I knew for a fact there was a reason God put me here. I had to learn to survive. I was very angry, very frustrated.” She spent time writing and doing artwork – when Castro allowed his abductees to have paper. “If I didn’t do these things, I probably wouldn’t be here.”
Lee had been a victim of abuse before she met Castro. Because she was only 4-foot-7 inches tall, she earned the nickname, “Shorty,” and was bullied in high school. She dropped out after becoming pregnant.
The teen gave birth to a son, Joey, who was apparently abused by her boyfriend. After the child was injured, he was taken from the home and placed in foster care.
Lily Rose said she wished she could have found a place like AVDA to get help. “People like ADVA understand domestic violence which is growing every day.”
Looking to the future, she said she hopes to marry and have children. She feels that despite her troubled life, “I still have a kind heart. My voice is very powerful. If by speaking here today, I can help one person, it’s worth it.”
“If you are an abuse victim, don’t wait until it is too late,” she warned. “I had people in my life who waited too long and ended up killing themselves.”
At Castro’s sentencing in August 2013, Lily Rose told her captor: “I’ve got my life back. I spent 11 years in hell. Now, your hell is just beginning.” Castro hanged himself in prison on Sept. 3, 2013.
In May 2014, Lily Rose wrote Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed: A Memoir of the Cleveland Kidnappings, recalling her experiences.