When Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight reunited July 2 to record a video thanking supporters, they could not hold back their emotions.
“They cried and hugged. They have genuine happiness to be alive, to be out there, to just BE,” Chris Kelly, the lawyer managing the Cleveland Courage Fund on behalf of the women, says in this week’s PEOPLE.
In the video that posted Tuesday on YouTube, they thank family, friends and complete strangers for the outpouring of support they’ve received since escaping alleged kidnapper Ariel Castro after a decade in captivity. Castro has pleaded not guilty to 329 counts including 139 charges of rape.
“It’s beyond belief. You’d think [the women] wouldn’t want to see each other because of the memories,” says Kelly. “There’s a bond there.”
But despite the ordeal, the women came carefully prepared with their statements.
“They wrote them. We were thinking they were going to ask us to write, but they all came with their handwritten notes,” says Kelly. “One of the lawyers here read them and said, ‘Don’t change any of this.'”
For the full story on how Berry, DeJesus and Knight have fared since their escape – including exclusive and inspiring detail on the resilience of the 6-year-old girl Castro fathered with Berry – pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday