After decade, women rescued
CLEVELAND — Three women who went missing separately about a decade ago were found Monday in a home just south of downtown and likely had been tied up during years of captivity, said police, who arrested three brothers. One of the women said she had been abducted and told a 911 dispatcher in a frantic call, “I’m free now.”
Crowds gathered Monday night on the street near the home where the city’s police chief said he thought Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight had been held since they went missing when they were in their teens or early 20s.
The women appeared to be in good health and were taken to a hospital to be evaluated and to reunite with relatives. Police said a 6-year-old also was found in the home, but the child’s identity or relationship to anyone in the home wasn’t revealed.
Neighbors said they heard someone kicking at a door, yelling for help and trying desperately to get outside the house.
A neighbor, Charles Ramsey, told WEWS-TV he saw Berry, whom he didn’t recognize, at a door that would open only enough to fit a hand through.
“I heard screaming,” he said. “I’m eating my McDonald’s. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house.”
Anna Tejeda, who lives across the street, said Berry was nervous, crying and appeared dressed in pajamas and old sandals after she kicked out the screen in a door to escape and call police. Tejeda speaks Spanish, and a friend translated her comments to The Associated Press.
On a recorded 911 call Monday, Berry declared, “I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been on the news for the last 10 years.”
She said she had been taken by someone and begged for police officers to arrive at the home on Cleveland’s west side before he returned.
“I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years,” she told the dispatcher. “And I’m here. I’m free now.”
Berry disappeared at age 16 on April 21, 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. DeJesus went missing at age 14 on her way home from school about a year later. They were found just a few miles from where they had gone missing.
Police said Knight went missing in 2002 and is 32 now. They didn’t provide current ages for Berry or DeJesus.
Police said one of the brothers, a 52-year-old, lived at the home, and the others, ages 50 and 54, lived elsewhere. Authorities released no names and gave no details about them or what charges they might face.
Ramsey, the neighbor, said he’d barbecued with the home’s owner and never suspected something was amiss.
“There was nothing exciting about him — well, until today,” he said.
Julio Castro, who runs a grocery store half a block from where the women were found, said the homeowner arrested is his nephew, Ariel Castro.
Berry also identified Ariel Castro by name in her 911 call.
Attempts to reach Ariel Castro in jail were unsuccessful Monday. Messages to the sheriff’s office and a jail spokesman went unanswered, and there was no public phone listing for the home, which was being searched by dozens of police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
The uncle said Ariel Castro had worked as a school bus driver. The Cleveland school district confirmed he was a former employee but wouldn’t release details.
The women’s loved ones said they hadn’t given up hope of seeing them again.
A childhood friend of DeJesus, Kayla Rogers, said she couldn’t wait to hug her.
“I’ve been praying, never forgot about her, ever,” Rogers told The Plain Dealer newspaper.
Berry’s cousin Tasheena Mitchell told the newspaper she couldn’t wait to have Berry in her arms.
“I’m going to hold her, and I’m going to squeeze her and I probably won’t let her go,” she said.
Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, who had been hospitalized for months with pancreatitis and other ailments, died in March 2006. She had spent the previous three years looking for her daughter, whose disappearance took a toll as her health steadily deteriorated, family and friends said.
Councilwoman Dona Brady said she had spent many hours with Miller, who never gave up hope that her daughter was alive.
“She literally died of a broken heart,” Brady said.
Mayor Frank Jackson expressed gratitude that the three women were found alive. He said there are many unanswered questions in the ongoing investigation.
At Metro Health Medical Center, Dr. Gerald Maloney wouldn’t discuss the women’s conditions in detail but said they were being evaluated by appropriate specialists.
“This is really good, because this isn’t the ending we usually hear in these stories,” he said. “So, we’re very happy.”
In January, a prison inmate was sentenced to 4ﾽ years after admitting he provided a false burial tip in the disappearance of Berry. A judge in Cleveland sentenced Robert Wolford on his guilty plea to obstruction of justice, making a false report and making a false alarm.
Last summer, Wolford tipped authorities to look for Berry’s remains in a Cleveland lot. He was taken to the location, which was dug up with backhoes.
Two men arrested for questioning in the disappearance of DeJesus in 2004 were released from the city jail in 2006 after officers didn’t find her body during a search of the men’s house.
One of the men was transferred to the Cuyahoga County Jail on unrelated charges, while the other was allowed to go free, police said.
In September 2006, police acting on a tip tore up the concrete floor of the garage and used a cadaver dog to search unsuccessfully for DeJesus’ body. Investigators confiscated 19 pieces of evidence during their search but declined to comment on the significance of the items then.
No Amber Alert was issued the day DeJesus failed to return home from school in April 2004 because no one witnessed her abduction. The lack of an Amber Alert angered her father, Felix DeJesus, who said in 2006 he believed the public will listen even if the alerts become routine.
“The Amber Alert should work for any missing child,” Felix DeJesus said then. “It doesn’t have to be an abduction. Whether it’s an abduction or a runaway, a child needs to be found. We need to change this law.”
Cleveland police said then that the alerts must be reserved for cases in which danger is imminent and the public can be of help in locating the suspect and child.
Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.