‘What if today is the day that we go home?’: Michelle Knight recalls the day she became free

Published: May. 5, 2023 at 6:39 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - “I still have those feelings that he’s breathing down my neck like he’s right there. I was trapped in a small room. I considered it a shoebox.”

Michelle Knight, now known as Lily Rose Lee, sat down with 19 News to describe what it was like to be held captive for more than a decade.

She reflected on the day she, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus finally escaped the house of horrors on Seymour Avenue.

“I was drawing a picture of a dove, and doves mean freedom. I turned to Gina, I said, ‘Hey, what if today is the day that we go home?’” Lee recalled.

“I said, ‘It’s almost Mother’s Day. Wouldn’t it be beautiful to walk into your mom’s house?’” said Lee.

On that same day, May 6, 2013, Yvonne Pointer went to church and got what she described as a message from God.

“I was crying so hard, praying, and I was saying to God ‘Do you even care what’s going on?’ And not about anything in particular. I was just so tired of the violence and so tired. And then he gave me a scripture that said ‘I’m going to set the captives free,’” expressed Pointer.

The two women, connected through tragedy, did not know their paths would cross on that sunny, 70-degree Monday, 10 years ago.

“It was like no other day. It was different,” expressed Lee.

Lee and Pointer, then strangers, would become life-long friends.

The two women brought together that fateful day by former Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba.

They shared their emotional story for the very first time.

“I got a call from the commander in our dispatch center. And he said Chief, they found Amanda “And he said she’s alive,” described Tomba.

Tomba rushed to the unbelievable scene on Seymour Avenue.

It was a familiar route he’d taken dozens of times.

He passed that house not knowing the horrific, evil things that happened inside by a monster, who for more than a decade, tortured and held the three women captive in his basement.

Berry and DeJesus’ missing cases were highly publicized.

But, Knight didn’t have an active missing persons case.

“I saw an FBI agent standing in front of the house and I said, ‘Hey... is it true?’ And they were in the wagon, it was getting ready to pull away as I got out of my car, Gina’s mom Nancy and her sister are running down the street they are screaming at me and saying ‘Is it true?!” explained Tomba.

Tomba quickly put the women in his unmarked car with the lights and sirens blaring and rushed them to the hospital.

Moments later, he witnessed the remarkable, emotional, reunion.

“We ran into the emergency room, and we opened the door and Gina was standing right there. I was standing next to Nancy the first time she saw her daughter and Gina looked at her and said ‘Hi, Mommy and Nancy’, kind of buckled and it was really a kind of surreal,” explained Tomba.

Family and friends gathered outside MetroHealth Medical Center, rejoicing for Gina and Amanda.

But, Knight, now known as Lee, had no one to comfort her.

“I really felt very alone,” described Lee.

Tomba picked up the phone to get help.

”So I actually called my friend Yvonne Pointer,” said Tomba.

Pointer is an anti-violence activist, motivational speaker and author who is well known and beloved in the community.

Her 14-year-old daughter Gloria was kidnapped, raped, and murdered while she was on her way to school back in 1984.

Yvonne did not know who she was showing up to the hospital for at the time she got the call and pulled back the curtain.

“And there she was in the bed, petite little person, petite, and I don’t mean short in statue, just thin frame. And I will never forget her eyes would tighten back and forth, back and forth, and I’m a nervous wreck. But that scripture that I had read that morning, it said I will rejoice over thee,” described Pointer.

“When she walked in the room like an Angel came in. With her brightly colored clothes, and just was like, you know, with this sweet voice,” expressed Lee.

“I thought about my own daughter’s homicide and what I would have given to just have the privilege to hold her hand,’ Pointer stated.

Lee reacted by saying, ”And I felt that comfort and warmth from her as she was sitting there, holding my hand.”

“And I asked her can I get her anything? And she said cheesecake. “So we were holding hands, singing, lift every voice and sing,” described Pointer.

The Black National Anthem, Lift Every Voice and Sing, is Lee’s favorite song.

It is symbolic of freedom and the impact of the past.

She said one of her teachers taught it to her.

She said the song helped her get through some of her darkest days.

“She taught me that song to lift my voice and sing because my voice is the most powerful thing,” said Lee.

She and Pointer sang the song together for the first time since that special meeting in the hospital.

Pointer was happy the women were found alive, but, every day wondered when her precious daughter Gloria would get justice.

About week after the women were rescued Tomba called her and said police arrested her daughter’s killer.

“They were free from their captive. So, I too was set free that same day,” expressed Pointer.

It was a day the two say a new chapter of healing began.

Lee continues to help other survivors and animals in need by connecting them through therapy with her non-profit, Unleashed Animal Rescue.

She is holding a fundraiser called “Tragedy to Triumph” to speak of the unimaginable tragedy she endured, and having the strength to move forward and upward.

She event will be held at Windows on the River at 5 p.m. on May 7.

Click here to purchase tickets to Tragedy to Triumph and/or make a donation to Unleashed Animal Rescue.

“We can make a bigger impact and a better difference in each one of these souls that we touch,” stated Lee.

Pointer and Lee are forever linked by a day of freedom 10 years ago.

“If you want to remember this day for anything, remember it for the millions of women and children that are still missing.”