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Source: Michelle Knight was Cleveland suspect's main 'punching bag'

From Pamela Brown, CNN
updated 7:36 AM EDT, Thu May 16, 2013
  • NEW: "They're the true heroes here," officer says about kidnapped women
  • Knight said she became pregnant at least five times while held captive
  • Ariel Castro starved and punched her until she miscarried, she told investigators
  • Castro intends to plead not guilty, his attorneys tell CNN affiliate WKYC

Cleveland (CNN) -- The man accused of kidnapping three Cleveland women and holding them for close to a decade abused all of them but used captive Michelle Knight as his main "punching bag," a family friend of one of the victims told CNN.

The friend said suspect Ariel Castro hit Knight with a variety of objects, including hand weights. She has suffered vision loss, joint and muscle damage, and other problems from her time in captivity.

Castro, 52, was jailed on charges of kidnapping and rape after one of the women, Amanda Berry, escaped from the home with the aid of neighbors on May 6.

Knight, 32, stayed in the hospital for several days after the other two women left. She has released a statement saying she's doing well.

"I am healthy, happy and safe and will reach out to family, friends and supporters in good time," Knight said.

According to an initial incident report obtained by CNN, the three women told police Castro had abducted them between 2002 and 2004, held them captive and sexually assaulted them.

The family friend said Castro treated Berry slightly better than the other two women and Knight was treated the worst. All three women were underweight, the friend said.

How the abductions happened

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Berry gave birth to a daughter fathered by Castro, according to DNA testing by the Ohio state crime lab.

Knight said she became pregnant at least five times while in Castro's 1,400-square-foot home, according to the incident report.

When that happened, she told investigators, Castro "starved her for at least two weeks, then he repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried."

Knight said he ordered her to deliver Berry's child, according to a police source familiar with the investigation.

The baby was delivered in a plastic tub or pool in order to contain the afterbirth and amniotic fluid, the source said.

Panic ensued soon after. The child stopped breathing, and everyone started screaming, the source said, citing accounts by the young women.

Knight said Castro threatened to kill her if the baby did not survive, the initial police report states.

"What's most incredible here is that this girl who knows nothing about childbirth was able to deliver a baby that is now a healthy 6-year-old," the police source said.

Castro intends to plead not guilty, his attorneys told CNN affiliate WKYC in an exclusive interview.

"I know the media wants to jump to conclusions and all the people in the community want to say terrible things about the person who's accused," attorney Jaye Schlachet told the station. "We are not even at the beginning of the process. If this was a marathon race, we're not even at the starting line yet."

Castro's defense team may seek to move the trial out of the Cuyahoga County to improve their client's chances for a fair trial, lawyer Craig Weintraub said.

He said Castro is "completely isolated from society" without access to television, radio or newspapers and is under suicide watch in a Cuyahoga County jail cell.

I, too, am an abduction survivor

'They're the true heroes here'

On Wednesday, Cleveland police held a ceremony recognizing the work of officers who responded to the call at Castro's house.

Patrol Officer Anthony Espada recalled the emotion at the scene.

"It just took everything to hold everything together. I tried to do my best to broadcast all the information over the radio without actually breaking down because I was on the verge," he said.

"They were just so brave, going through all that for all those years. They're the true heroes here."

He said officers didn't think twice about going into the house.

According to the initial report, the women told investigators that they were chained in the basement but later were moved upstairs to rooms on the second floor. They were allowed out of the home only twice, and then just briefly.

Since their release, Knight and Gina DeJesus, the third captive, have talked on the phone at least once, according to a source who has been talking to all the victims' families and attorneys.

One of the them asked to speak with the other after they were freed, said the source.

The women are learning how to use new, and not-so-new, technology they missed out on during their years in captivity, the source said.

A glimpse of Castro's yard

Who is Michelle Knight?

Knight's disappearance generated far less publicity and attention than did those of Berry and DeJesus, and a level of mystery still surrounds her case.

Cleveland police removed Knight's name from an FBI database of missing people in November 2003 -- 15 months after her family reported her missing -- police said. They did so after "failing to locate a parent, guardian or other reporting person to confirm that Ms. Knight was still missing."

Police said, though, that her missing person's case remained open and was checked on as recently as November 2012.

As of last week, her family still didn't know exactly where she was.

Knight hadn't spoken yet with her mother, Barbara, a family spokesperson said. In fact, Knight's family had no idea where she was and had asked police for information on her whereabouts.

What little is known about Knight's whereabouts comes from a source close to the investigation, who told CNN that Knight "is in a safe place and very comfortable." The source did not specify further.

There were reports that Knight was at the DeJesus home, and there was a lot of activity there Saturday morning, but Knight was not there.

Ohio women just want to be with families

The Knight family apparently has a fractured history.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Knight became pregnant and dropped out of school.

Her mother told the newspaper that she then became involved with an abusive man, who, she thinks, hurt her toddler grandson.

The incident reportedly kicked off "a chain of events that led Michelle to lose custody of the child."

Knight vanished soon after that, on a day she was set to make a court appearance in the custody case, Barbara Knight told the Plain Dealer.

Times weren't always so tough for Knight though.

Her mother recalled happier days, when her daughter had lots of friends and fed apples to a neighbor's pony.

She liked fire engines and art class.

After helping her mother deliver a litter of puppies, Knight decided she likely wanted to be a veterinarian, Barbara Knight told the Plain Dealer.

"I really miss her," she reportedly said. "She was my daughter, but she was also my friend. She tried to make the best of her life and wanted to finish school. She never got the chance to go back."

Inside Cleveland's haunted house

CNN's Dana Ford contributed to this report.

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