Police: No previous indication women were being held at Cleveland home

Posted at 9:38 PM, May 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-07 11:32:49-04
CLEVELAND (CNN) – Three women freed from a decade of captivity inside a Cleveland home celebrated in the arms of their families Tuesday, as police and the FBI worked to unravel the details of their abductions.

Amanda Berry, Georgina “Gina” DeJesus and Michele Knight were freed Monday night after Berry attracted the attention of a neighbor who helped her escape. A 6-year-old girl that police said is believed to be Berry’s daughter was also freed.

“Help me, I am Amanda Berry,” the young woman told police in a frantic 911 call from the neighbor’s house. “I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m here, I’m free now.”

A man who lived at the house, 52-year-old former school bus driver Ariel Castro, and his two brothers have been arrested and are jailed pending charges in the case, police said Tuesday.

Deputy Chief Ed Tomba of the Cleveland Police Department hailed Berry’s courage in escaping.

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“The real hero here is Amanda,” he said. “She’s the one that got this rolling. Without her, none of us would be here today.”

Investigators remained at the home overnight and plan to inspect other properties possibly owned by Castro.

Investigators haven’t yet interviewed the women in detail to learn details about their abductions and decade in captivity, Tomba said.

He said their reunion with relatives at a Cleveland hospital Monday night was “chaotic.”

Witnessing it, he said, allowed for “nothing but compassion and love in your heart for them.”

The women and the girl were released Tuesday from the hospital where they had been evaluated, a spokeswoman said.

The women vanished in separate incidents nearly a decade ago, according to police.

Berry was last seen after finishing her shift at a Burger King in Cleveland in 2003. It was the eve of her 17th birthday.

Georgina “Gina” DeJesus disappeared nearly a year later, in April 2004. She was 14.

Michele Knight vanished on August 22, 2002, according to Cleveland Public Safety Director Martin Flask. A family member reported her missing the next day, Flask said. She was 20 at the time.

The escape

Neighbor Charles Ramsey was sitting down to a fast food meal Monday night when he heard screaming.

“I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house,” he told CNN affiliate WEWS. “I go on the porch and she says, ‘help me get out. I’ve been in here a long time.'”

Figuring it was a domestic dispute, Ramsey kicked in the bottom of the door and the woman came out with a little girl and said, “Call 911, my name is Amanda Berry,” according to Ramsey, who admitted he didn’t recognize the name or know she was missing.

Free from the house where they had been held captive, Berry pleaded for a phone.

“They were crazy, screaming, ‘Help, call police, please help.’ … They were desperate, crying, running,” said Angela Garcia, whose aunt provided the phone for them to call police.

Ramsey also called 911, less than a minute later.

“She’s like, ‘This (expletive) kidnapped me and my daughter,'” he told 911.

DeJesus’s mother, Nancy, met with her at the hospital, cousin Sylvia Colon told CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live.” She had never given up hope of finding her daughter alive.

“She has always said that she just could feel it, a link a mom can feel, but she always believed Gina was alive and well,” Colon said. “She always believed that. I just want to say what a phenomenal Mother’s Day gift she gets this Mother’s Day.”

No suspicions

Police were called to the home twice, authorities said Tuesday, once after Ariel Castro called about a fight in the street and another time to investigate Castro on an unrelated incident involving a child who had been left on a school bus.

But authorities never had any indications that the women were being held in the home or that anything suspicious was going on there, Flask said. Neighbors had not provided any tips, Flask said.

Neighbor Israel Lugo said his sister got a bad vibe from the house and asked him not to let the children play unsupervised nearby. He said he heard yelling in the house in November 2011 and called police to investigate, but they left after no one answered the door.

He said he saw Castro at the park Sunday with a little girl and asked who it was.

“He said it was his girlfriend’s daughter,” Lugo told CNN.


Investigators have delayed in-depth interviews with the women to give them time to reunite with their families and to allow FBI experts to arrive, Tomba said.

“They’re the ones that are going to lead us down that path as to exactly what happened,” Tomba said.

FBI evidence technicians worked at the home until 5 a.m. Tuesday, Tomba said.

The suspects

Of the three brothers arrested, Ariel Castro was the only one to live at the home where the three women were apparently held, police said. The others lived elsewhere in the city.

Their uncle, Julio Castro, told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” on Monday that his family had grown up in the same west Cleveland neighborhood and knew the DeJesus family.

Castro told CNN’s Martin Savidge on Tuesday that family members were “surprised” over the developments.

“Shame on you,” Julio Castro said, when asked what he would say to his nephews.

Ariel Castro used to work as a bus driver for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, according to district spokeswoman Roseann Canfora. She did not have specifics Monday night on how long he was employed, when he left or whether he was fired or left voluntarily.

Ramsey told reporters the suspect wasn’t known for anything exciting — “until today.”

“We see this dude every day. I’ve been here a year. I barbecued with this dude. We eat ribs and listen to salsa music,” Ramsey said.

“We never saw the girls there, and we were always outside,” she said. “We only saw the guy.”

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said there were “many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing.”

“I am thankful that these three young ladies are found and alive,’ he said Monday.

Other cases

While amazing, such discoveries are more common now, said John D. Ryan, CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

“To us at the National Center, this is not something that we find shocking any more,” he said. “The fact is, we have seen more and more long term missing cases end up in the victim being rescued many years after their original abduction.”

The most widely reported such incident in recent years was that of Jaycee Dugard, who was freed in 2009 after 18 years of captivity behind the home of a California couple.

Dugard released a statement Tuesday saying the women who broke free in Cleveland “need the opportunity to heal and connect back into the world.

“This isn’t who they are. It is only what happened to them,” Dugard said. “The human spirit is incredibly resilient. More than ever this reaffirms we should never give up hope.”

In another case, Ryan said last year a 43-year-old man was found and reunited with his mother after being abducted at the age of 2.