A message of thanks. The three young Cleveland women recovered two months ago after being held captive for nearly a decade have posted a video on YouTube.
Amanda Berry says, "Everyone who has been there to support us, it's been a blessing to have such an outpouring of love and kindness. I'm getting stronger each day and having my privacy has helped immensely."
Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight all appear on the video. They say financial support from the public is allowing them to restart their lives. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, the three women held against their will for a decade locked in a Cleveland, Ohio, home, posted a video on YouTube early this morning to offer thanks for the support they have received trying to rebuild their lives.
Each of the women appeared separately in the 3-minute, 33-second video, with Berry and Knight each making a brief statement, while DeJesus answered questions from someone off camera, followed by her father, Felix DeJesus, and then her mother, Nancy Ruiz.
Berry appears calm and happy in the video, which was filmed July 2. She smiles frequently, as she offers thanks not only for those who have helped her, but to those who have respected the three women's request for privacy.
"First and foremost, I want everyone to know how happy I am to be home with my family, my friends," she says. "It's been unbelievable. I want to thank everyone who has helped me and my family through this entire ordeal. Everyone who has been there to support us has been a blessing to have such an outpouring of love and kindness. I am getting stronger each day and having my privacy has helped immensely."
In response to a question of what she wants to say, DeJesus briefly answers that she would like to say thank you, before her father and then her mother speak at greater length.
Ruiz reflected on the love and support of neighbors, such as those who played such a big role in helping the three young women finally escape their captivity.
"Parents in general that do have a loved one missing, please do me one big favor. Count on your neighbors. Don't be afraid to ask for the help because help is available," she said.
Knight, who appears last, expresses confidence for the future and talks about how her faith in God has helped her.
"I may have been through hell and back, but I am strong enough to walk through hell with a smile on my face and with my held high and my feet firmly on the ground," she says. "Walking hand-in-hand with my best friend, I will not let the situation define who I am. I will define the situation."
Kathy Joseph, an attorney for Knight, said in a statement about the video that the three young women wanted to "say thank you to people from Cleveland and across the world."
"People are recognizing them now as they go about in public, so they decided to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages," Joseph said. "It was their decision to relay their thanks in this way to all of the many people who have offered support to them, for which they are extremely grateful."
James Wooley, attorney for Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, said the release of the video does not mean that the three women will begin making public appearances or granting interviews any time soon.
"It is important for everyone, especially the media, to understand that the three women still have a strong desire for privacy," Wooley said. "They do not want to talk about their ordeal with the media or anyone else. This cannot be stated strongly enough."
Ariel Castro, 52, the man accused of kidnapping the three women and keeping them inside his home, has pleaded not guilty to a 329-count indictment that includes charges of kidnapping and rape.
Castro, a former school bus driver, also is also accused of the aggravated murder of a fetus for allegedly forcibly causing an abortion in one of his victims that he is accused of impregnating, a charge that could potentially carry the death penalty.
Meanwhile, a fire in Southern California destroyed a pair of mountain lodges Monday while a new fire near a rural Arizona community grew to 300 acres within a matter of hours, prompted evacuations and claimed at least one home.
More than 750 firefighters, including 18 elite Hotshot crews, in Nevada were battling the Carpenter 1 Fire some 25 miles northwest of Las Vegas, said Jay Nichols, a U.S. Forest Service spokesman in the Spring Mountains National Recreation Area.
Smoke from the 24-square-mile fire created a towering white cloud that stretched northeast, visible from downtown. The Clark County Department of Air Quality issued a health advisory that officials said would remain in effect today through Sunday.
An influx of firefighters and equipment including bulldozers, seven helicopters, four air tankers and a DC-10 jet fire retardant bomber arrived in the area as crews in Arizona neared containment of a deadly blaze that killed 19 Hotshot firefighters near Yarnell on June 30 and another fast-moving fire in the state erupted farther south.
Pinal County Deputy Chief Steve Henry said the new fire fueled by salt cedar trees along the San Pedro River bed outside the remote community of Kearny had burned a ranch-style home and two other structures. It also threatened the local airport in the town of some 2,000 residents.
Residents of a trailer park were evacuated as a precaution after the fire was reported about 5 p.m. Monday. It was unclear how it started. The Arizona Republic reported (HTTP://BIT.LY/170OCJA ) the fire had spread across 300 acres by late Monday.
Temperatures in eastern Arizona where the fire sparked were expected to rise just above 100 degrees in the area Tuesday, but possible showers and thunderstorms would help firefighters' efforts.
Henry said crews were expected to work through the night to make advances on the blaze.
"I don't think they want to wait on the temperatures picking up in the morning," Henry said.
The fire in California destroyed two lodges along a mountain road in rural San Diego County, burned at least six other structures and threatened dozens of cabins as it surged to more than 7 square miles in soaring heat that's expected to return Tuesday.
In northern Nevada, the Bison Fire in the Pine Nut Mountains straddling the Douglas and Lyon county lines nearly doubled in size Monday from a day earlier as it burned through tinder-dry brush, dead trees and pinion-juniper forests. By afternoon the fire was estimated at 17,500 acres, or more than 27 square miles.
The mountain range also stretches into Carson City. Late in the day, fire officials closed popular back-country roads leading from the state capital into the mountains because of the fire's path.
The blaze broke out July 4 and firefighters initially hoped to have it contained Monday. But those ambitions were dashed Sunday when strong winds fanned the fire into an inferno that pushed to the northeast and created a towering, swirling smoke plume seen for miles.
No homes have been lost, but officials said several old structures burned in the Slater Mine area.
More than 700 firefighters battled winds, low humidity and steep terrain to clear fire breaks through grass, pinion and juniper.
Firefighters lost ground Monday on both of the Nevada fires, which each were about 15 percent contained. Fire managers expecting crews to spend a week on both fire lines.
No injuries were reported in the southern Nevada fire and no structures burned in the fire since it started July 1 on the west side of Mount Charleston near Pahrump and quickly spread east into rugged terrain reachable only on foot. Officials said Monday that some $2.4 million had already been spent fighting the fire.
Mount Charleston is a popular weekend getaway, where summer temperatures can be 15 to 20 degrees cooler than in Las Vegas, which has sizzled in the triple digits for more than 10 days.
More than 400 homes in Trout, Kyle, Lee, Harris Springs and Lovell canyons were evacuated during the weekend, along with a Clark County-run youth correctional camp that houses 98 teenagers at a mountain elevation of almost 8,500 feet above sea level. State highways 156 and 157 were closed into the canyons, and evacuation shelters were set up at schools in Las Vegas and Pahrump.
Crews were also working to protect about 100 non-residential structures including barns, sheds and corrals, Nichols said.
Daytime high temperatures on the mountain were expected to decrease over the next few days after peaking at 90 degrees on Saturday, but firefighters were hampered by gusty winds and humidity levels in the single digits.
The fire, named Carpenter 1, was declared a top priority nationwide due to its size and the value of homes and structures at risk, said Suzanne Shelp, a Forest Service spokeswoman.
"This fire, these last few days and going forward, is going to depend on the weather," Shelp said.
Associated Press writer Sandra Chereb in Carson City contributed to this report.
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The military found itself on the defensive after the bloodshed, but the interim president drove ahead with the army's political plan. He issued a swift timetable for the process of amending the Islamist-backed constitution and set parliamentary and presidential elections for early 2014.
The killings further entrenched the battle lines between supporters and opponents of ousted President Mohammed Morsi, who was removed by the military July 3 after a year in office following mass demonstrations by millions of Egyptians.
Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood called for an uprising, accusing troops of gunning down protesters, while the military blamed armed Islamists for provoking its forces.
The shootings began during a protest by about 1,000 Islamists outside the Republican Guard headquarters where Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected leader, was detained last week. Demonstrators and members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood said troops descended on them and opened fire unprovoked as they finished dawn prayers.
"I was in the last row praying. They were firing from the left and right," said Nashat Mohammed, who had come from southern Egypt to join the sit-in and was wounded in the knee. "We said, 'Stop, we're your brothers.' They shot at us from every direction."
After a battle lasting about three hours, at least 51 protesters were killed and 435 wounded, most from live ammunition and birdshot, emergency services chief Mohammed Sultan told to the state news agency.
At a nationally televised news conference, Army Col. Ahmed Mohammed Ali said police and troops came under "heavy gunfire" at around 4 a.m. and attackers on rooftops opened fire with guns and Molotov cocktails. A soldier and two policemen were killed, and 42 in the security forces were wounded, eight critically, he said.
While he said troops had a right to defend the facility, Ali did not directly explain how the protester deaths occurred. He expressed condolences but offered no apologies for the deaths.
A collection of video of the clashes provided by the military to Egyptian TV showed protesters on rooftops lobbing projectiles at troops below, including firebombs and toilet seats. It also showed some armed protesters firing at close range at the troops, but it did not show what the military did. It was also not clear at what time in the fighting the videos were shot. It included aerial views of the clashes.
Several witnesses from outside the protest said the gunfire started when troops appeared to move on the camp.
University student Mirna el-Helbawi told The Associated Press that she watched from her 14th floor apartment overlooking the scene, after she heard protesters banging on metal barricades, a common battle cry. El-Helbawi, 21, said she saw troops and police approaching the protesters, who were lined up on the street behind a make-shift wall. The troops fired tear gas, the protesters responded with rocks, she said.
Soon after, she heard the first gunshots and saw the troops initially retreat backward — which she said led her to believe the shots came from the protester side. She saw Morsi supporters firing from rooftops, while the troops were also shooting.
The Freedom and Justice party, the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, called on Egyptians to rise up against the army, which it accused of turning Egypt into "a new Syria."
"This could be a moment of extremism for both sides" of the equation, Mohammed Mahsoub, a member of the Islamist Wasat Party told Al-Jazeera TV.
The sole Islamist faction that backed Morsi's removal, the ultraconservative Al-Nour Party, suspended its participation in talks on forming a new leadership for the country. The group is now torn by pressure from many in its base, furious over what they saw as a "massacre" against Islamists.
Reeling from scenes of bloodied protesters in hospitals and clinics, many with gaping wounds, some of Egypt's politicians tried to push new plans for some sort of reconciliation in the deeply polarized nation.
Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the most prominent Sunni Muslim institution, demanded that a reconciliation panel with full powers immediately start work and that those detained in recent days be released. Five prominent Brotherhood figures have been jailed since Morsi's fall, and Morsi himself is held in detention in an unknown location.
El-Tayeb's announcement he was going into seclusion was a symbolic but dramatic stance — a figure seen as a moral compass by many Egyptians expressing his disgust with all sides in the events. Egypt's Coptic popes have at times gone into seclusion to protest acts against the Christian community, but the sheik of Al-Azhar has never done so.
Struggling whether to fully bolt from the new leadership, the ultraconservative Al-Nour Party denounced what it called incitement against fellow Islamists. Speaking to Al-Jazeera TV, the party's chief Younes Makhyoun raised the possibility of calling a referendum on Morsi as a compromise measure.
There were multiple calls for an independent investigation into the bloodshed as a way to establish the truth and move forward.
The military-backed interim president, Adly Mansour, ordered a judicial inquiry into the killings. Significantly, the statement from his office echoed the military's version of events, saying the killings followed an attempt to storm the Republican Guard's headquarters.
The new leadership announced a fast-track timetable that would lead to elections for a new parliament within about seven months.
Under the plan, two panels would be appointed to made amendments to the constitution passed under Morsi. Those changes would be put to a referendum within about 4½ months. Parliamentary elections would be held within two months, and once the new parliament convenes it would have a week to set a date for a presidential election.
The swift issuing of the plan reflected a drive to push ahead with a post-Morsi political plan despite Islamist rejection — and is certain to further outrage the Brotherhood.
Egypt's escalating crisis could further complicate its relations with Washington and other Western allies, which had supported Morsi as the country's first freely elected leader and now are reassessing policies toward the military-backed group that forced him out.
Still, the White House said Monday that cutting off the more than $1 billion in annual aid to Egypt was not in the U.S.'s best interests, though it was reviewing whether the military's moves constitute a coup — which would force such a measure under U.S. law.
But Egypt's new leadership appeared to be pushing ahead with the "road map" the military set up for the post-Morsi political system. Negotiations have been ongoing over appointing a prime minister, who will hold the main powers in governing the country. Talks have been stalled by Al-Nour Party vetos of candidates from liberal and secular factions — but if the party drops out, those factions may push through a candidate.
At the same time, the military was pushing hard to isolate Islamists from public support, depicting their protests as rife with gunmen and weapons.
Ali said the sit-in outside the Guard headquarters had "abandoned peacefulness." Ali also pointed to other incidents of Islamist violence, including coordinated, deadly attacks by extremists on military installations in the Sinai Peninsula.
Prosecutors in Cairo also ordered the closure of the Brotherhood party's headquarters amid investigations into a cache of weapons found there, according to the official Middle East News Agency.
During the wave of protests last week that led to Morsi's removal, Brotherhood supporters used guns in several instances to defend their offices when opponents marched on them — or outright attacked them.
Pushing ahead with the military "road map" is likely to further infuriate Islamists who have vowed to continue protests until Morsi is restored and now depict the military as willing to wipe them out by force of arms.
Outside hospitals and clinics near Monday's violence, Morsi supporters waved the bloodied shirts of the dead or wounded.
"The only thing the military understands is force and they are trying to force people into submission," said Marwan Mosaad, speaking at a field hospital run by Morsi's supporters. "It is a struggle of wills and no one can predict anything."
Abu Ubaida Mahmoud of Al-Azhar University said he had been praying when the sit-in's security teams began banging on metal barricades in warning. He then saw troops coming out of the Guard complex.
"The number of troops that came from inside was stunning," said Mahmoud, who was wounded in the hand.
It was "as if they were firing at an enemy," said another protester, Ahmed Youssef.
By the afternoon, the sit-in site was cleared along with blockades that had been set up on roads. The site of the early morning clashes, a strip of road about a kilometer long (about half a mile), was covered with rocks, shattered glass, shoes, clothes, prayer rugs and personal photographs.
A big Morsi banner remained hoisted in front of the Republican Guards' building. On the ground below it, graffiti read: "Where are our votes?"
____ Associated Press correspondent Paul Schemm contributed to this report.
As violence blazed between security forces and supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the White House and State Department both urged the military to exercise "maximum restraint." They also said the military would not be punished with a cutoff of its $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid for toppling Morsi.
But if the American government makes a legal determination that the removal was done through a coup d'etat, U.S. law would require ending all non-humanitarian aid to Egypt, the vast majority of which goes to the military.
Administration officials said lawyers were still reviewing developments to make that ruling. However, the absence of a coup determination, coupled with the administration's refusal to condemn Morsi's ouster, sent an implicit message of U.S. approval to the military.
And officials said the White House had made clear in U.S. inter-agency discussions — as recently as a Monday morning conference call — that continued aid to Egypt's military was a priority for America's national security, Israel's safety and broader stability in the turbulent Middle East that should not be jeopardized.
"It would not be in the best interests of the United States to immediately change our assistance program to Egypt," White House press secretary Jay Carney said. He stressed that more elements — notably what the United States deems best for itself, its Mideast allies and the larger region — than just the physical removal from office of a democratically elected leader would be considered in the legal review.
"We are going to take the time necessary to review what has taken place and to monitor efforts by Egyptian authorities to forge an inclusive and democratic way forward," Carney told reporters. "And as we do, we will review our requirements under the law, and we will do so consistent with our policy objectives. And we will also, of course, consult with Congress on that."
Some members of Congress appeared divided on the question.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., criticized Morsi's performance as president but stressed that he had been elected by a majority of Egyptians in 2012.
"It is difficult for me to conclude that what happened was anything other than a coup in which the military played a decisive role," he said. "I do not want to suspend our critical assistance to Egypt, but I believe that is the right thing to do at this time."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in comments Monday emphasized the important role of the Egyptian military.
"Well I think the situation in Egypt is a tenuous one," he said. "One of the most respected institutions in the country is their military. And I think their military, on behalf of the citizens, did what they had to do in terms of replacing the elected president. But anything further, I think we'll wait for consultations with the administration on how we would move ahead."
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., called for the administration to slow U.S. aid until Egypt takes steps to restore democracy.
"I think that we need to suspend aid to the new government until it does in fact schedule elections and put in place a process that comes up with a new constitution," he said.
Some others voiced caution. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he had accompanied five Republican senators on a trip to the Middle East last week and that close U.S. allies in the region strongly advised against halting funding for Egypt.
"It's important that we not just shoot from the hip on that," he told reporters
Focusing on U.S. spending, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., tweeted: "In Egypt, governments come and go. The only thing certain is that American taxpayers will continue to be stuck with the $1.5 billion bill."
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki used similar, if not identical, language to Carney's to describe the current take on developments, pointing out that the U.S. has long provided significant assistance to Egypt even when it had serious concerns about the actions of its government. She appeared to refer to the tens of billions of dollars in U.S. aid sent to the government and military of authoritarian former leader Hosni Mubarak who ruled Egypt for decades without free and fair elections and under emergency decrees that gave him vast powers.
"The reason we have provided this aid in the past doesn't mean we have supported, even prior to this, every action taken by the government of Egypt," she said. "But there are security interests in the region; there are security interests for the United States."
Psaki demurred when asked if deposing an elected leader, placing him under house arrest and appointing a new head of state — as the Egyptian military has done over the course of the past five days — was not a clear example of a military coup. She pointed out that millions of Egyptians opposed Morsi, who had become increasingly autocratic, and did not believe his ouster was a coup.
Some officials, speaking anonymously because they were not authorized to describe internal administration discussions in public, said that a "no-coup" finding may become increasingly difficult to justify given the rising violence among Morsi supporters, his opponents and security forces that has led to fears of a civil war.
Meanwhile, Egyptian soldiers and police clashed with Islamists protesting the military's ouster last week of the president. The bloodshed left more than 50 protesters and three members of the security forces dead, officials and witnesses said, and the Muslim Brotherhood's political party called for all-out rebellion against the army.
The violence outside the Republican Guard building in Cairo — where Morsi was first held last week — marked the biggest death count since the beginning of massive protests that led to the fall of Morsi's government. The U.S. has condemned the violence and is appealing for restraint from all sides as well as a speedy return to elected civilian governance.
In the latest high-level contact between Washington and Cairo, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke again with Egypt's defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, on Monday — their fifth conversation in four days, according to Pentagon press secretary George Little.
Little would not disclose details of those conversations, but other officials said they had centered on U.S. concerns that the actions of the Egyptian military might force a suspension in American assistance, something the army relies on. They say that Hagel, and other senior administration officials, have told the Egyptian army brass to appoint a transitional civilian leadership and call for new elections and the drafting of a new constitution so as to give Washington some leeway in its legal review of the situation.
___ Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn, Bradley Klapper and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.