Cleveland kidnapping victim Gina DeJesus waves Puerto Rican flag in first public appearance


One of the three women held captive in a Cleveland house for a decade made her first public appearance at a parade — waving and smiling from atop a car in a joyous celebration of her newfound freedom—Erin McClam reports for NBC News.

Gina DeJesus, wearing a T-shirt in support of a candidate for Cleveland city council, waved a Puerto Rican flag as the car rolled through the streets on Sunday as part of the city’s Latino Fest.

Her appearance came three days after Ariel Castro was sentenced to life in prison without parole, plus 1,000 years, for the abductions. He pleaded guilty to hundreds of crimes, including rape and kidnapping.

Two themes of the parade were hope and healing, but DeJesus’ father, Felix DeJesus, reminded people gathered to watch it that there were still missing children who need help.

“Our work is not done,” he said. “We gotta keep our eyes and ears open. Don’t let these girls go in vain.”

All three women released a video last month thanking the people of Cleveland for their support and for donations. The Cleveland Courage Fund, set up to help them rebuild their lives, has raised more than $1.2 million.

They have made their first live appearances in strikingly different ways. Amanda Berry joined the rapper Nelly on stage at a concert in Cleveland in late July. He said he was inspired by her perseverance.

And Michelle Knight, the third victim, held the courtroom rapt on Thursday as she addressed Castro during his sentencing hearing. She said that she cried every night in captivity.

“I spent 11 years in hell, but your hell is just beginning,” she said, her back turned to Castro at the defense table. “You deserve to spend life in prison.”

The three women were abducted between 2002 and 2004. They were sometimes chained in the house, according to investigators, and one of them bore a daughter, now 6, by him. The women escaped when Berry broke free one day in May while Castro was out of the house.

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