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Grandmother of kidnap victim: We nearly 'died of a broken heart'

by Scott Stump /  / Updated 

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The grandmother of one of the women rescued after being allegedly kidnapped and held for 10 years in a Cleveland home described her joy over the rescue, and the heartache the family has been through.

Fern Gentry, grandmother of Amanda Berry, spoke with Matt Lauer on TODAY Thursday, just days after an emotional phone conversation with her granddaughter following the rescue of Berry, her daughter, and two other women on Monday from the home of suspect Ariel Castro.

In 2006, during Berry’s time in captivity, her mother, Louwana Miller, died at age 43 after being hospitalized with pancreatitis. Gentry had not spoken to her granddaughter since Berry was 15 years old.

“I wish we could’ve done a lot more and got her out a lot sooner or something, I really do,’’ Gentry told Lauer. “I think we all pretty well died of a broken heart though, really. When my granddaughter’s missing that long, there’s no rest for you. It’s just something you carry with you. It’s over now.’’

Gentry, who lives in Hampton, Tenn., said she immediately recognized her granddaughter’s voice when they spoke on the phone on Tuesday. During that conversation, Berry confirmed that the 6-year-old girl rescued with her and the other two women is her daughter. Berry told Gentry, “The little girl is mine, and she’s a joy.”

“I couldn’t believe it,’’ Gentry said. “We just got on there and we were crying, happy, (saying) we love each other and just thankful that she got away and all the good stuff. She told me about the little girl, and I asked if it was hers, and she said yes it was. So we’ve got another one to the family. So we’ve got two now.”

Berry, missing since 2003, was rescued along with her daughter and two other women, Michelle Knight and Georgina DeJesus. Castro has been charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape. He kept all three women chained in the basement for the first years of their captivity and eventually allowed them to live upstairs on the second floor, according to the police report.

Amanda was forced to give birth to her now 6-year-old daughter in a plastic inflatable baby pool in the house to “contain the mess,’’ and Michelle Knight, another one of the abducted women, was forced to help deliver the baby under threat of death, according to the police report. Knight told police that Castro told her that he would kill her if the baby died, and she said she breathed into the baby’s mouth to resuscitate her when the infant was initially not breathing.

Gentry told Lauer that she will be there for her granddaughter whenever Berry wants to speak about the horrific ordeal.

"If she needs to talk to me about it, good, that’s fine, but no, I’m not going to bother Amanda until she’s ready,’’ Gentry said. “If Amanda is ready to talk I’ll give her room and space. She’ll know when to do it. She’s a tough girl.’’

Louwana Miller had tirelessly searched for her daughter before her death, organizing vigils, passing out fliers, regularly buying presents for Berry and keeping in contact with police and FBI investigators. Gentry believes the heartache over the loss of her daughter contributed to Miller’s death at a young age.

“I’m strong,’’ Gentry said. “Louwana wasn’t that strong. I think she gave up there at the end. She did do everything she could do, I know that much. She kept at it, kept on it, done everything she could.”

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