JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gina DeJesus, one of three women held in a Cleveland home for nearly a decade, visited Jacksonville Wednesday, raising awareness for the parents of two boys who disappeared from the Westide in 2005.
DeJesus and her parents visited with the families of 12-year-old Mark Degner and 13-year-old Bryan Hayes, encouraging them to keep looking for the boys.
"Never give up hope," DeJesus told the parents. "I just want to help find missing kids like me so that they can be brought back to their families."
DeJesus was kidnapped when she was 14 years old, chained up and assaulted inside the Cleveland home of Ariel Castro, who also imprisoned two women. All three finally escaped in 2013.
She said she survived by never giving up hope.
"I thought it was a dream that I needed to pinch myself out of, to realize that I was home and not there anymore," DeJesus said.
DeJesus' parents searched around the clock, year after year.
"(The) No. 1 thing is: never give up," Felix DeJesus said.
"People, they are winning the Powerball. Guess what? I won the bigger one: I got my daughter back," Nancy Ruiz said.
The family now joining forces with BairFind Foundation to help those whose kids are still missing.
"Since we started, we have featured 278 missing kids in baseball stadiums, and 65 have been safely located. It's incredible," said Dennis Bair of the BairFind foundation.
The foundation is now trying to help find Degner and Hayes, who walked out of Paxon Middle School a decade ago and were never seen again.
New age-progression pictures were released of what the missing boys might look like today, hoping to create new leads in the case.
"There is no reason the detectives cannot give us a reason that we shouldn't hold on to hope. You have to," said Angie Campbell, Degner's aunt. "We try to hold out hope that Mark and Bryan will be found alive and well. As a family member of the missing, if you give up hope, you're giving up on them. Would you do that with your child? No way."
Gina DeJesus said her heart is with the boys' families and she believes they're alive.
"Keep fighting," Gina DeJesus said. "Never give up hope."
Wednesday's rally at Hemming Park for Degner and Hayes continues until 7. The families of the missing boys are asking anyone with information to call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 800-843-5678 or Crime Stoppers at 866-845-TIPS.