Event showcases strength of kidnapping victim

Lillian Lee speaks with Tammi Sulliman at the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre’s annual ‘Strength of a Woman’ event. – Photo: Kelsey Jukam

Hundreds of supporters of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre packed the ballroom of The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman on Friday to hear a message of hope and healing from Lillian Rose Lee, who was kidnapped at age 21 and held captive in her abductor’s house for more than 11 years.

Ms. Lee, formerly known as Michelle Knight, was one of three women kidnapped by Ariel Castro in Cleveland, Ohio between 2002 and 2004. Their story made international headlines after Amanda Berry escaped on May 6, 2013, leading to the rescue of Ms. Lee and Gina DeJesus.

At the Crisis Centre’s annual “Strength of a Woman” luncheon fundraising event, Ms. Lee shared the story of how she rebuilt her life after the harrowing ordeal and offered words of encouragement to those who have also suffered from violence or abuse.

During a Q&A at the event with Cayman 27’s Tammi Sulliman, Ms. Lee said she never believed she was going to get out alive, but during such situations “being strong is the only choice that you ever have.”

“Giving up is not an option,” she said.

Ms. Lee said that thinking of her son – who was born before she was abducted – and her faith in God helped her to survive captivity.

Between learning life skills – like how to use complicated new cellphones – and learning how to trust people again, Ms. Lee said that life after her escape has been challenging, but that the ordeal taught her to not take life for granted.

“Everyday I wake up, I praise God for the things that I have, not the things that I don’t have,” Ms. Lee said.

“I just love life, because life was taken away from me,” she said.

Ms. Lee said that she wants to share her story to help others, and to encourage people to never give up hope.

“Don’t be ashamed of what you’re going through, don’t let that person define who you are, conquer that devil, put him in his place … you’re going to be OK,” Ms. Lee said. “It might be weeks, years. You will always remember it, but it’s best to forgive. Because in my heart, if I didn’t forgive the person that harmed me, I would be letting the devil win.”

At the event Ms. Lee also signed copies of her memoir “Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness, a Life Reclaimed.” She explained that she had written much of the book while she was in captivity, as she kept journals, wrote poetry and songs, and drew, finding comfort in artistic expression.

Ms. Lee said plans for another book are in the works, but there are many other career paths she is interested in pursuing besides writing. She said she could see herself going to cooking school, or becoming a therapist, or finding a way to work with animals – since her escape she’s adopted several dogs.

The event also included an art exhibit and sale, and a Krav Maga self-defense demonstration. Krav Maga Cayman is offering a free one-month membership to each person who purchased a ticket to the “Strength of a Woman” event.

All proceeds from the event will go to the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre to support its day-to-day operations and the creation of a new drop-in center, separate from the shelter, for administrative, after-care and outreach programs.