CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Cleveland woman who was held the longest at Ariel Castro’s house of horrors was there to see it shortly before it was torn down Wednesday.
Michelle Knight handed out yellow helium-filled balloons Wednesday morning to people who’d gathered for the demolition of the 1,400-square-foot house where she and two other women were raped and held captive for roughly a decade.
Minutes later, a hydraulic excavator began reducing the house to rubble, destroying the site of one of Cleveland’s most notorious crimes.
Knight told reporters that she was at the demolition site in part to remind relatives of abducted children that all is not necessarily lost.
“I want the people out there to know — including the mothers — that they can have strength, they can have hope, and their child will come back,” she said.
Castro forfeited the house on Seymour Avenue as part of a July plea deal with prosecutors that took the death penalty off the table in exchange for a life sentence, plus 1,000 years in prison.
Demolition began around 7:30 a.m. as an aunt of another former Castro captive, Georgina DeJesus, made the first hit on the house, operating the excavator with assistance.
By 10 a.m. the house had virtually been leveled, and the excavator’s arm was dropping debris into a garbage truck.
Before the demolition, Knight gave out balloons and, standing not far from the house where she lived an 11-year nightmare, she led a group in releasing them into the air. She said they represented abducted children who were never found.
“I go from here as being a motivational speaker and let everybody know that they are heard, that they are loved, and that there is hope for everyone,” she said.
The goal is to tear the house down and get the property filled in, graded and seeded in a single day, said Gus Frangos, president of Cuyahoga Land Bank, which is supervising the demolition.
Castro pleaded guilty last month to 937 counts, including murder and kidnapping. The charges stem from his kidnapping, rape and assault of three women: Knight, abducted in 2002; DeJesus, abducted in 2004; and Amanda Berry, abducted in 2003.
Also held was Berry’s daughter, who was born at the home six years ago. DNA tests confirmed that Castro is the girl’s father.
Berry and her daughter escaped from the home with the help of a neighbor on May 6, calling police in her now famous 911 call: “Help me, I am Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m here. I’m free now.”
Knight’s visit to Castro’s home was at least her second in a week. On Friday, she stood outside and looked at the house at 2207 Seymour Ave., a neighbor said.
She also attended Castro’s sentencing Thursday, telling him “I spent 11 years in hell. Now, your hell is just beginning.”
Castro’s friends and family removed personal items from the home Monday, including musical instruments and photographs. Police said most of the items removed Monday were personal items left over after investigators collected evidence.
Berry also visited the house his week, collecting pictures drawn by her daughter.
Castro reconfigured the home to keep the captives’ whereabouts a secret, FBI agent Andrew Burke testified during the sentencing. The back door was outfitted with an alarm, bedspreads and curtains obscured parts of the home, and a porch swing was placed in front of the stairs leading to the rooms where Castro held the three.
CNN’s John Murgatroyd contributed to this report.
Martin Savidge, Jason Hanna and Ed Payne | CNN