For 11 years, Michelle Knight was repeatedly raped while being held captive in a Cleveland house, impregnated at least five times by her abuser, Ariel Castro, who beat and starved her to terminate the pregnancies.
In an interview Monday, Knight said she forgives Castro, who killed himself in his cell, where he was serving a life sentence for kidnapping and using three women as sex slaves. Tuesday is the anniversary of the women's escape on May 6, 2013.
“If I did something wrong, even if it was a small thing, I would want somebody to forgive me, so I can forgive him for what he done wrong because that’s the way of life," Knight told “Today’s” Savannah Guthrie in an exclusive interview aired Monday.
Knight, who has changed her name to Lillian Rose Lee to symbolize her new life, appeared on NBC’s “Dateline” and the Today show to promote her memoir. The book, “Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, A Life Reclaimed,” is out this week.
“I felt like every brand-new start needs new beginnings,” she said.
Knight, who now goes by Lilly, was the first of three women kidnapped by Castro. She disappeared in August 2002 at age 21. Gina DeJesus was 14 when she disappeared in April 2004. Amanda Berry was kidnapped in April 2003, just before her 17th birthday, and gave birth to a daughter in captivity.
The three were kept in Castro’s house on Seymour Avenue. All were repeatedly raped and tortured before they escaped.
Knight said she rarely has contact with the captives.
“Right now, we’re all healing in our own way. Sometimes relationships, including friendships, don’t last that long,” she said. “We were just in each other’s life for a short while in time and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get back together.”
Knight said her love for her son, born before she was kidnapped, provided her with faith to get her through the ordeal. The boy, now 14, has been adopted by a family who has not told him what happened to his biological mother.
Knight said that's been hard for her. “But I’m glad they have him and he’s doing really well,” she said.
At his sentencing, Castro received life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 1,000 years.
"You took 11 years of my life away,” Knight told her abuser at the sentencing. “I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning ... I can forgive you, but I will never forget."
In September 2013, Castro committed suicide by hanging in his cell.
“I was saddened by it but also confused at the same time,” Knight said of the suicide. “Like why would he hurt his children like that? Why would he leave them?
“He was a human being, and every human being needs to be loved, even though they did something wrong.”
In the interview broadcast on “Dateline,” Knight showed Guthrie the diary she kept during her captivity. It contained her drawings, songs and poems and hopes for a bright future.
“Vibrant butterfly, full of life,” Knight recited, reading on entry. “Every time I see one, it reminds how precious life can truly be. To be able to turn from a caterpillar into a butterfly, and to be able to fly so gracefully across the sky.”“
Guthrie said she was amazed that Knight could find hope amid the horror of captivity.
“It was difficult, but I managed it, and it made me feel a lot better inside when I wrote it,” Knight said.