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Cleveland women held captive will suffer long-term damage: sources

Amanda Marie Berry (L) and Georgina Lynn Dejesus are pictured in this combination photograph in undated handout photos released by the FBI.
Amanda Marie Berry (L) and Georgina Lynn Dejesus are pictured in this combination photograph in undated handout photos released by the FBI.

By Kim Palmer

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Two of the women imprisoned in a Cleveland house in conditions described as similar to a prisoner of war camp suffered from severe malnutrition and will require long-term therapy for injuries such as hearing loss and joint and muscle damage, two sources with direct knowledge said.

The basement where the women were held had chains coming from the wall, and dog leashes attached to the ceiling, the sources said. The women were restrained with them and duct tape in "stress positions" for long periods that left them with bed sores and other injuries, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the investigation, who asked not to be identified.

Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were in worse condition than Amanda Berry when they emerged from at least nine years in captivity at the home of Ariel Castro, accused of kidnapping and raping the women. Castro appeared to treat Berry better than the other two, the sources said.

"There is a reason why you have only seen a picture of Amanda (Berry)," said one of the sources, referring to the condition of DeJesus and Knight.

Berry, who broke down a door to freedom a week ago with the help of a neighbor, and then told police of the other women, was photographed smiling immediately after the dramatic rescue. Berry has a six-year-old daughter fathered by Castro in captivity.

In contrast, DeJesus wore a hooded sweat-shirt covering her head when she first went home last week, and Knight was hospitalized for days, and has stayed out of public view.

The sources said DeJesus and Knight were gaunt and had closely cropped hair when they were freed.

One of the sources, who has been in the house, said the basement had chains coming from the walls and "dog leashes attached to the ceiling." Knight and DeJesus told police they spent extensive time in the basement. A second source corroborated the details.

"One of the girls has difficulty moving her head around from being chained up," said one of the sources. The second source identified DeJesus as the woman suffering this injury.

"It was like they were POWs (prisoners of war). They had bed sores from being left in positions for extended lengths of time," a source said.

All the bedroom doors in the house had padlocks on the outside and the rooms were spare with only a mattress on the floor. Their movement through the house was very restricted, the women have told authorities.

"If he left for long periods of time he would sometimes duct tape-up the women over all parts of their faces, even their eyes, only leaving an opening so they could breathe. Then he would just rip it off pulling off skin and hair," one of the sources said.

A police report said Knight was starved for weeks at a time and punched in the stomach to induce several miscarriages. A county prosecutor intends to file fetal homicide charges against Castro in connection with the miscarriages.

The women, especially DeJesus and Knight, were now exhibiting signs of malnutrition as Castro used food as a means to torment them, one of the sources said.

"He would bring food to one or two of the girls and made the others watch as they or he would eat in front of them," the source said.

Knight and DeJesus would sneak food to each other, this source said.

Castro generally kept one woman upstairs and the other two - usually Knight and DeJesus - in the basement, the source said.

Despite their ordeal, a Cleveland city council member stressed that the women are reveling in their freedom.

"They are doing well, doing very well. They are thriving and enjoying their freedom," City Councilman Brian Cummins said on Monday.

The sources asked to be anonymous because they were not authorized to speak on the record. They were discussing some of the details of the captivity because they felt tight information control had left the impression that authorities ignored calls and reports about Castro's house that could have freed the women sooner.

Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath on Monday issued a statement defending the police department's policy of restricting information on the crimes.

"The disclosure of sensitive information and details of these horrendous crimes only further victimize three young women. The criticism of law enforcement efforts is disheartening. The dissemination of misinformation erodes the critical relationship between law enforcement and community," McGrath said.

Little is known about the relationship among the three women. Knight, who is now 32, Berry, 27 and DeJesus, 23, have not spoken publicly.

Psychologists say the women, who did not know each other before they were abducted, likely formed a bond that may have been strengthened by the young girl born during their captivity.

Knight delivered Berry's daughter in a plastic children's swimming pool and gave the baby mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, the police report said.

"The closest parallel would be prisoners of war," Sherry Hamby, a psychology professor at the University of South, Sewanee, said of the girl's possible relationship.

Berry and DeJesus, along with Berry's daughter, have since been reunited with their families. Knight, who is estranged from some of her family members, according to her grandmother, has gone into seclusion.

Terri Weaver, a professor of psychology at the St. Louis University, said although it remains unclear how regularly they interacted, the girls were likely helped by each other's presence.

"Having someone who has been a witness to those intimate details can really forge a powerful bond because there is a shared understanding," she said.

It is unclear how the women's relationship may develop as they put their lives back together.

Psychologists said that as people who have suffered traumatic experiences rebuild their lives, the bond is frequently maintained.

Other times, victims feel the best way to move forward is to put the whole period and those involved behind them.

(Reporting by Kim Palmer; Additional reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Greg McCune, Dan Trotta, Paul Thomasch and Bernard Orr)

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