CLEVELAND, Ohio — Three Ohio women believed abducted separately about a decade ago were found alive together on Monday at a Cleveland house near where they had last been seen, and three brothers were arrested as suspects in their disappearances, police said.
Police said they were alerted to the whereabouts of the women by a frantic emergency call from one of them, Amanda Berry, moments after she was freed from the house by a neighbor who said he heard screaming and came to her assistance.
“Help me! I’m Amanda Berry. … I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m here. I’m free now,” Berry, now 26, is heard frantically telling a 911 operator in a recording of the call released by police and posted on the website of the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.
During the call, she gave the name of her alleged abductor, said he was “out of the house” and urged police to come quickly. She indicated that she knew her disappearance had been widely reported in the media.
The neighbor, Charles Ramsey, said in an interview broadcast by CNN that when he arrived, Berry appeared desperate to get through the door, which did not open properly.
“I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside,” he said, adding that he was astonished when she identified herself.
“Then I realized I’m calling 911 for Amanda Berry. I thought that girl was dead,” he said. He said Berry had emerged from the house with a little girl.
Berry had last been seen leaving her job at a fast-food restaurant the day before her 17th birthday in April 2003.
The two women found with her were identified by authorities as Gina DeJesus, 23, who vanished in 2004 aged 14 while walking home from school, and Michelle Knight, who was reported to have been between 18 and 20 when she went missing in 2002. All were from the west-side section of Cleveland where they ultimately resurfaced.
The disappearance of Knight did not attract the local media attention of the Berry and DeJesus cases. Her grandmother, Deborah Knight, told the Plain Dealer that some family members had concluded, based in part on suggestions by police and social workers at the time, that she had run away.
But her mother Barbara Knight, who now lives in Florida, told the newspaper she never believed her daughter would have vanished without a trace on her own and that she kept searching long after police gave up looking for her.
“I’m praying that if it is her, she will come back with me, so I can help her recover from what she has been through,” the mother was quoted as saying. “So much has happened in these 10 years. She has a younger sister she still has not met.”
The discovery of the three women was reminiscent of the case of Jaycee Dugard, who was snatched from her northern California home at age 11 by a convicted sex offender, Phillip Garrido, and kept in captivity for 18 years before being rescued in 2009.
During that time she was repeatedly raped by her abductor and gave birth to two girls fathered by him.
WOMEN IN FAIR CONDITION
All three women were taken to a hospital, MetroHealth Medical Center, where Dr Gerald Maloney told a news conference they were all safe and “appear to be in fair condition”.
“This isn’t the ending we usually have to these stories, so we’re very happy. We’re very happy for them,” Maloney said.
He declined to comment on unconfirmed media reports that two children were found with the three women at the house.
The suspects, aged 50, 52 and 54, were arrested based on information given to investigators by the three women after their rescue, according to Deputy Cleveland Police Chief Ed Tomba. One of the men was identified earlier as Ariel Castro, 52, who has worked as a bus driver for Cleveland public schools.
Tomba and Police Chief Michael McGrath said the women had probably been in the same house for the whole time they were missing.
An atmosphere of jubilation pervaded the city as word spread that Berry and DeJesus had been found alive, especially in the blue-collar, heavily Latino neighborhood where dozens of residents clustered near the house from which they were rescued.
A Puerto Rican flag hung from the porch of the modest, two-story dwelling, which was cordoned off with crime-scene tape. Cheers from the crowd erupted periodically as police cars entered the area.
City Councilwoman Dona Brady, a friend of the Berry family, told Reuters that Berry’s grief-stricken mother had not survived to see her daughter rescued. “She literally died of a broken heart,” Brady said, adding that the mother died aged 47.
A cousin of DeJesus, Sheila Figaro, told CNN that the girl’s mother, Nancy, “never gave up faith knowing that her daughter would one day be found”. “What a phenomenal Mother’s Day gift she gets this Mother’s Day,” she said.
The suspects’ uncle, Caesar Castro, who owns a grocery store on the same street, said Ariel Castro owned the house where the women were found. He said that members of his family and the family of DeJesus “grew up together”.
“Everyone is shocked,” the elder Castro said. He said he had known Ariel Castro to be “a good guy” and a musician who played the bass.
Police said one of the suspects owned the house where the women were found, while the two others lived at other addresses in the area.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said: “I am thankful that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight have been found alive.”
“We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing,” he added.
Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Christopher Wilson and Pravin Char