Thoughts of her little boy — just a toddler when his 20-year-old mother was abducted in one of the nation’s most shocking multiple kidnappings — kept Michelle Knight focused on freedom for the 11 years she suffered at the hands of her abductor, who, she told Dr. Phil McGraw, was "obsessed with prostitutes" and threw money at her at the start of her captivity.
Many of the details she revealed on Dr. Phil's show are disturbing.
“I wanted him to know that I survived, loving him,” she said of her son Tuesday, in the first of two interviews on the show, the second of which will air Wednesday. “His love got me through.”
In an emotional conversation that highlighted Knight’s transformation from a woman reported to have a mental condition to one who now speaks with conviction and purpose, she recalled her years held captive with two other women, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, in the Cleveland home of Ariel Castro.
“We’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what took place inside that house,” Dr. Phil said on his show Tuesday.
Castro routinely beat and raped the three women, and forced Knight to miscarry several times. An extension cord was tied around Knight’s neck, her hands and feet were bound, and she was left hanging for days on end in a house subsequently labeled "the house of horror."
Knight is the first of Castro’s victims to speak out publicly. In 2002, she told Dr. Phil, she was on her way to an appointment with Children and Family Services, which had removed Knight’s son from her mother’s house after, Knight said, her mother’s boyfriend broke the toddler’s leg. She became disoriented, and Castro offered to help her, driving her instead to his house on Seymour Avenue in Cleveland to ostensibly care for a puppy. He lured Knight into the house by offering to give her one of the dogs to take home to her son.
He brought her to a second-floor bedroom and restrained her. “I was shocked. The only thing I could do was cry,” she told Dr. Phil. “I said ‘Please don’t do this to me’.” Then Castro threw money at her. “He was obsessed with prostitutes and also he thought I was a 13-year-old prostitute,” she said. “When he found out my real age he got mad.”
The house had no heat. Knight initially had no clothing, and just a thin sheet for warmth.
“I was lonely, scared, always praying to God to pop the locks or something,” she said. “I cried daily.”
She described the first time Castro realized she was pregnant. “He punched me in the stomach; I was standing up and he punched me with a barbell,” she said. “I fell to the floor, and he said, ‘tomorrow, it better be gone’.” He killed a dog she had in the house, allowed her just one shower for a year, forced her to use a bucket with a lid instead of a toilet, and subjected her to sexual and physical abuse for hours on end.
Castro also showed Knight an area in his basement with the words "rest in peace" scrawled on the wall, although he did not detail what was resting there.
Knight’s mother never advertised her daughter’s disappearance, a marked difference from the abductions of Berry and DeJesus, whose families led aggressive campaigns to find their loved ones. Knight was informed of Berry's disappearance through the TV news, so when Castro brought Berry in to meet Knight some time later, introducing her as his brother's girlfriend, Knight said she knew better.
Dr. Phil marveled at the transformation of Knight, a diminutive woman who has emerged as a spokeswoman for others who have gone missing and can’t speak for themselves.
“This is a woman of depth,” Dr. Phil told Kristen Dahlgren on TODAY Tuesday. “This is a woman of courage. And it’s a woman that is really sharp. In terms of her raw intelligence, her native intelligence — she is very bright, very focused, and very strong.”
And she is determined to leave the past behind. Castro, 52, was sentenced to life without parole plus 1,000 years in prison. He was found dead in his cell one month after his sentencing. His ‘house of horror’ was torn down this past August, and Knight was present at the demolition, carrying yellow balloons that she released into the air once the house had been reduced to a pile of rubble.
“I want my son to know me as a victor,” she told Dr. Phil. “Not a victim.”
Tune in to TODAY Wednesday for more excerpts from Dr. Phil’s interview with Michelle Knight. The whole interview airs on "Dr. Phil" Tuesday and Wednesday. Check your local listings for times.