First Night of Freedom: Nurses Talk About Survivors’ Strength

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CLEVELAND– Within an hour of their rescue from about a decade of brutal captivity, Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus were in the care of the doctors and nurses at MetroHealth Medical Center.

They likely couldn’t have been in a better place.

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary since their rescue from Ariel Castro’s Seymour Avenue home.

Now, the nurses who cared for them are telling their story for the first time.

Rick Nicastro was in charge of nurses in the emergency department that night.

“Just as I got a call that they were coming,” Rick said, “detectives came through the back door with Amanda, followed closely by the others right behind.”

He quickly assigned Betsy Martinez to care for the three women, as well as Amanda’s six-year-old daughter, who had been born during their captivity.

“I went to them individually and gave them hugs and welcomed them home,” Betsy said.

Gina’s family arrived first.

“The hug, it was like surreal,” Betsy said. “It was like, ‘am I really touching her? Is she really here?'”

“The emotion I got to witness,” Rick added, “was probably something I’ll never see again in my lifetime.”

Amanda’s aunt and her sister, Beth, arrived next.

“Immediately, Beth embraced her, held her so tight,” Betsy recalled, “and all three of them went into a little circle in front of the bed.”

And then, almost at the same time, all the nurses who were helping to care for the three women and Amanda’s daughter noticed the same thing.

“Amanda’s family was there; Gina’s family was there; and then there was Michelle,” said Betsy.

“Michelle was the one who seemed to touch me the most, just because she didn’t seem to have anyone with her,” said Elizabeth Booth, Metro’s Sexual Assault Nursing Coordinator.

Both Betsy and Elizabeth said, at that point, they showered Michelle with attention – all the while making sure they were caring for all four of their patients.

“I wanted her to know that I didn’t know her,” Betsy said, “but I did love her.”

Rick said there were “literally thousands” of people on the streets outside MetroHealth Medical Center cheering. Inside, people were trying to catch a glimpse of the women he had put in two back trauma bays to guard their privacy.

“At one point, we had to push a linen cart out into the hall.. to block the view of people trying to look down the hall,” Rick said.

Rick made a conference room available for the police to interview the women about what had happened inside Castro’s home.

The interviews were done one at a time, from beginning to end, and they were so disturbing that Elizabeth said, at times, veteran law enforcement officers had to leave the room.

“In between each girl’s story, you just wanted to go in the bathroom, and cry, throw up,” Elizabeth said.

“To hear about it on the news is one thing,” she continued, “but to hear it first-hand, what went on, to realize there is that evilness in the world, and that it went on for so long, you feel helpless.”

Elizabeth said the women did see the coverage of their rescue that night, and Amanda heard her frantic 911 call where she told the police dispatcher, “I’ve been on the news for the last ten years.”

Ariel Castro was even at some of the rallies for Amanda and Gina, and would bring them back fliers to see.

Knowing their families and community were still looking for them, “was the thing that kept them going,” Elizabeth said, “And they said, ‘if they didn’t give up, we’re not going to give up.'”

Nobody gave up over a decade or more – certainly not Michelle, Amanda, and Gina.

And as soon as they were free, they went from a decade of horrible neglect, and much worse, to a place where they were loved and cared for as if they were family.

Elizabeth said one year later, she thinks we should remember “their strength, and the hope to just never give up.”

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