A day after her captor was sentenced to life in prison, Cleveland kidnapping survivor Amanda Berry made her first public appearance at a Saturday evening concert in Cleveland.
Berry, 27, came on stage with her family and the rapper Nelly, but did not address the crowd at the daylong RoverFest. She waved and smiled, drawing audience cheers.
Her appearance was notable at least on a symbolic level: Riding a pair of monster hits, Nelly’s star was burning brightest just before Berry’s sudden disappearance into captivity at age 16 in April 2003.
For 10 years, Berry would be held under brutal conditions in Ariel Castro’s Cleveland home along with two other women, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, with Castro fathering a child with Berry during her captivity.
The details and memories of the conditions have been so horrific that the women’s attorneys had openly signaled hope that prosecutors could find “a just and prompt resolution” to the hundreds of criminal charges filed against Castro after his arrest -- and the women’s rescue -- in May. Berry had been the first to escape and call 911 with the aid of neighbors.
Since their release, the women have carefully avoided speaking out publicly except to thank the community and to request continuing privacy. Berry’s Saturday appearance kept up the limited exposure, except this time with Nelly introducing Berry to the crowd.
“He said, ‘Everyone, here’s Amanda Berry,’ and she came out with a friend, another young woman,” concertgoer Kayleigh Fladung told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “She didn’t say anything, but she was smiling and happy. She waved to the crowd, everyone went crazy cheering, and she went backstage. Nelly did his set, four or five songs, and then he brought her out again and everyone cheered.”
The possibility of Berry participating in a grueling trial was voided Friday as Castro accepted a plea bargain for life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years -- a sum intended to ensure that Castro, 52, would die behind bars. The death penalty was waived as part of the deal.
Kidnapping victim Knight has said that each of her five pregnancies ended after Castro starved and repeatedly punched her, grounds for the charges that could have brought the death penalty.
In comments to a judge Friday, Castro blamed a pornography addiction and mentioned being sexually abused as a child.
As part of the plea deal, Castro’s home will be turned over to county officials and demolished.
Knight, Berry and DeJesus made their first spoken statements through a video released three weeks ago by a crisis-management public relations firm based in Cleveland.
Times staff writer Michael Muskal contributed to this report.