HUNTINGTON — A Cleveland kidnapping and rape survivor held captive for nearly a decade will tell her story to the Huntington community Friday in hopes of encouraging a new outlook on missing persons and human trafficking.
“Missing: A Survivor’s Story with Gina DeJesus” will take place at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13, via Zoom and is open to the public. It is organized by the Marshall University chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma, a criminal justice honor society, with a donation provided by the Student Government Association.
DeJesus was abducted in 2004 by Ariel Castro as she walked home from school in Cleveland. An Amber Alert was never issued for her because police presumed her to be a runaway.
Along with Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight, DeJesus was held captive for nearly a decade until May 2013, when Berry escaped with her daughter after a hole was kicked through the bottom of a storm door by neighbors, which she crawled through to safety.
Castro died by suicide months later in his prison cell.
Sometime after her escape, DeJesus joined John Majoy, chief of police in the village of Newburgh, on the Northeast Ohio Amber Alert Committee, which helps train law enforcement agencies and evaluates the execution of Amber Alerts in the area.
About three years ago, DeJesus went on to become the co-founder of Cleveland Family Center for Missing Children and Adults with her cousin, Sylvia Colon. The center is a nonprofit providing resources and assistance to families, law enforcement and survivors, with the goal of deterring the abduction and exploitation and trafficking of humans.
Majoy, who is also the board president of the center, said the foundation is nearing the end of its building phase. The building that houses the nonprofit is located about 200 feet from where the women were held captive.
“There are a lot of places in Cleveland we could have gone, but she was very insistent she wanted it to be there,” he said. “It keeps her reminded of the mission that there are others that are out there and we need to bring them home.”
The group isn’t an arresting or investigating body, but acts as a supplement by doing things a police department might lack.
DeJesus typically does not go into specific details about her captivity, but through her talks, she hopes to destigmatize the notion of missing persons and remind families to not give up hope, he said.
“Human trafficking is one of the most prominent, yet (little talked about) crimes that we don’t see in the headlines every day, but it’s happening every day,” he said. “A runaway can quickly become a victim of sex trafficking. It’s right under our nose, and that’s why it’s important.”
It’s important that talks like the one being presented Friday come from DeJesus, he said, because she knows better than any law enforcement officer or textbook.
“I’ve been in law enforcement for 30 years. I’ve handled many calls, from many small calls to homicide and everything in between,” he said. “I can never go to someone and say I know how you feel; I can’t do that. What I can say is I know someone who does, and I can get them to you.”
Majoy gave an example of a girl who went missing in his jurisdiction after meeting a man from Charlotte, who drove to the Cleveland area and took her back to North Carolina with him. She was found within 48 hours and spoke to DeJesus for an hour when she returned home. In the two years since, the girl has been on track in school and life and has not been a problem.
“I want them to come away with her message — never to give up hope,” he said. “She is a believer, a survivor, a champion and a very dynamic person.”