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'The nightmare is over'

Three held captive for years finally rescued

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The Associated Press
Amanda Berry (right) hugs her sister, Beth Serrano, after being reunited in a Cleveland hospital on Monday.

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The Associated Press Amanda Berry (right) hugs her sister, Beth Serrano, after being reunited in a Cleveland hospital on Monday.

CLEVELAND -- The families of three women who spent years in apparent captivity inside a Cleveland home celebrated their remarkable rescue Tuesday as questions began emerging about why police were called to the house at least twice yet never went inside.

The women -- Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight -- vanished separately a decade ago while in their teens and early 20s only blocks from the 1,400-square-foot house where they were found Monday night. Their rescue came almost by accident, when Berry, now 27, hailed a neighbour while her alleged captor was out, slipped through an obstructed front door with the neighbour's help and frantically called 911.

Yet, there had been signs something was amiss inside the two-storey house, which was just steps away from a gas station and Caribbean grocery. Neighbours said that in recent years, a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard and pounding was heard on the doors. Police showed up each time but stayed outside, they said.

The home, in a heavily Latino neighbourhood, was owned by Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver who was arrested along with his brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50. Authorities said children and family services investigators went to the home in January 2004 after all three girls went missing, because Ariel Castro had left a child on a school bus.

Investigators "knocked on the door but were unsuccessful in connection with making any contact with anyone inside that home," Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said, adding officials "have no indication that any of the neighbours, bystanders, witnesses or anyone else has ever called regarding any information, regarding activity that occurred at that house on Seymour Avenue.''

The Castro brothers had not been charged as of late Tuesday afternoon.

The dramatic rescue of the three young women, who disappeared doing things as innocuous as walking home from school or from a job at Burger King, produced a flood of emotions from local and federal authorities, who said they had never stopped investigating the cases.

"The nightmare is over. These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance," said Steve Anthony, special agent in charge of the FBI's Cleveland division. "The families of three young ladies never gave up hope and neither did law enforcement... Yes, law-enforcement professionals do cry."

In Washington, victims' rights advocate and former America's Most Wanted host John Walsh said he did "cartwheels" upon hearing the news from Ohio. "Most of these end where the child is never recovered or wind up like my Adam, murdered,'' said Walsh, whose son was abducted and killed in 1981. "To see these three alive, all at the same house, is remarkable to me after 25 years of sad endings," he said. "This is the most incredible ending to three nightmares."

In addition to the three women, a six-year-old girl was also rescued from the house, authorities said. The girl is believed to be the daughter of Amanda Berry.

Berry, now 27, disappeared in April 2003, a day before her 17th birthday, after calling her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. Gina DeJesus went missing a year later, at age 14, while walking home from middle school. The oldest of the women, Michelle Knight, disappeared in August 2002, when she was 20 years old.

While Berry's and DeJesus's disappearances prompted widespread attention and media coverage, the case of Knight, who was older and the first to go missing, at the time drew far fewer headlines.

Law-enforcement officials said there had been no prior reports of suspicious or criminal activity at the house where the women and girl were rescued.

On Monday, while Castro was out, Berry hailed a neighbour, convinced him to help her slip through an obstructed front door by kicking in the lower part and placed a frantic call to 911.

"Help me. I'm Amanda Berry. I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years," she told the dispatcher tearfully. "And I'm, I'm here. I'm free now."

Authorities declined to specify what charges the Castro brothers are likely to face or to detail how they were placed under arrest. Pedro and Onil Castro have addresses elsewhere in Cleveland, police said. The women and girls were reunited with their family members and assessed at Metro Health Medical Center, officials said. Sandra Ruiz, who identified herself as the aunt of Gina DeJesus, told reporters all three rescued women were in remarkably good spirits.

 

-- The Washington Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 8, 2013 A4

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