Now 27, Amanda had not seen her father, Johnny Berry, since before she was allegedly kidnapped in 2003 by monster Ariel Castro, who held her prisoner in his home for more than a decade. The tearful reunion took place, appropriately, over Father’s Day weekend.
“Spending time with my daughter Amanda and my granddaughter was the best Father’s Day ever,” Johnny told The ENQUIRER in an exclusive interview.
Amanda, her 6-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, and Amanda’s sister Beth Serrano made the eight-hour drive from Cleveland to Elizabethton, Tenn., where father and daughter spent five days getting reacquainted.
“When Amanda came through my front door it was like a miracle,” Johnny said. “She started crying and ran up to me and we hugged for the first time in 10 years. I had tears in my eyes the size of raindrops.
“Man, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to let her go. I told her, ‘ ’Bout time you got here!’
“That made her laugh. Then finally, Amanda said to me the words I haven’t heard from her in 10 years, ‘Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.’ And before I realized it, she slipped a beautiful silver ring on my finger that says: ‘DAD.’ I’m never going to take that ring off.”
Johnny says he was equally excited to meet his granddaughter, who was allegedly fathered by the evil kidnapper.
“I thought she would be a bit nervous but she just fit right in immediately,” he recalled. “She gave me a hug and I instantly knew deep in my heart that she’s a Berry. She has her mom’s beauty, strength and intelligence. I said to her: ‘Hi, Jocelyn, I’m your grandpa Johnny, and I love you.’”
The warm reception was a world away from Amanda’s ordeal at the hands of her alleged captor Castro. The fiend has been charged with 329 counts including kidnapping, rape and murder in connection with his imprisonment of Amanda, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.
Now, crime lab experts in Ohio have found additional DNA evidence in Castro’s home, and they want to test it to see if the twisted creep had even more victims. Meanwhile, prosecutors are still deciding on whether or not to seek the death penalty.
The captives were found when brave Amanda, with help from neighbors, broke free from Castro’s home on May 6. When police arrived, they discovered Gina and Michelle inside the house.
The women have all been reunited with family. But, as The ENQUIRER reported in our June 3 issue, Amanda’s ailing dad Johnny, 53 – who is nearly paralyzed and suffers from deadly pulmonary disease – feared that he wouldn’t live long enough to see Amanda again or get to meet his granddaughter.
While Amanda isn’t ready to talk about the painful years she allegedly spent as Castro’s prisoner, Johnny calls her a “real survivor.”
“She’s real strong,” he said. “Her nickname as a kid was ‘Commando Amando.’ I brought my kids up tough, and Amanda is proof of that.
“I’m going to let her talk about it when she’s ready. I’m just happy she’s back home. I’m here for her and ready to help in any way I can.”
Johnny wanted to make Amanda’s first trip to visit him as comfortable as possible, so he fixed up her old bedroom as soon as he found out she was coming.
“We put some family photos on the wall and got her some beautiful flowers. I wanted everything to be perfect,” he said.
During her stay, Amanda was also able to spend time with some other relatives in the area. The family even put together a small reunion at a local campsite, where they feasted on hot dogs, cheeseburgers and potato salad. And they surprised her with her favorite dessert – banana pudding.
“Amanda is slowly getting her life back on track,” Johnny noted. “She’s getting her and her daughter’s medical checkups completed and thinking about putting Jocelyn into school next year. Amanda is going to finish up her high school education and wants to eventually go to junior college.
“She’s even painted her nails and dyed her hair blonde. She really can’t make any major plans until the trial is over. Once it is, I’m hoping that she’ll move down here to Elizabethton where she has tons of family.”
But Johnny adds that Amanda still feels imprisoned because she has to tell the FBI whenever she goes anywhere and is forbidden from contacting her fellow captives until after the trial.
Still, Johnny is happy Amanda is finally free from Castro and content with their twice daily phone calls.
“Amanda told me she’s coming back to see me next month,” he said. “I’m already counting the days.”