Frantic 911 call leads to 3 missing women in Ohio
ABOVE PHOTO: Neighbor Charles Ramsey speaks to media near the home on the 2200 block of Seymour Avenue, where three missing women were rescued in Cleveland, on Monday, May 6, 2013. Cheering crowds gathered on the street where police said Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, who went missing about a decade ago and were found earlier in the day.
(AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, Scott Shaw)
Neighbor helps Amanda Berry and others escape. Ariel Castro held on $8 mil. bail.
By Thomas J. Sheeran and John Coyne
CLEVELAND — The woman’s voice was frantic and breathless, and she was choking back tears. “Help me. I’m Amanda Berry,” she told a 911 dispatcher. “I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”
Those words led police to a house near downtown Cleveland where Berry and two other women who vanished about a decade ago were found Monday, elating family members and friends who had longed to see them again.
Authorities later arrested three brothers, ages 50 to 54. One of them, Ariel Castro, owned the home.
Police Chief Michael McGrath said he thinks Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were held in the house since they were in their teens or early 20s.
A 6-year-old also was found in the home, and Cleveland police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said Tuesday that the girl is believed to be Berry’s daughter. He declined to say who the father was or where the child was born.
The women appeared to be in good health and were taken to a hospital to be evaluated and reunited with relatives. A photo released by Berry’s family showed her smiling with an arm around her sister.
All three were released from Metro Health Medical Center on Tuesday morning. Cleveland police Commander Keith Sulzer said the three women were taken to an undisclosed location in the Cleveland suburbs.
A sign outside the home of DeJesus’ parents read “Welcome Home Gina.”
Her aunt Sandra Ruiz told reporters that she was able to see all three. She asked that the family be given space.
“Those girls, those women are so strong,” she said. “What we’ve done in 10 years is nothing compared to what those women have done in 10 years to survive.”
Authorities declined to say whether the women were restrained or if any of them had been sexually assaulted. Police said they were trying to be delicate in their questioning of the women, given the trauma they endured.
Neighbor Juan Perez told NBC’s “Today” show that he rarely saw Castro or anyone else at the house.
“I thought the home was vacant. I thought he probably had another property and he would just come and check and see if everything is OK.” Perez said. “I didn’t even know anybody lived there.”
The women’s escape and rescue began with a frenzied cry for help.
A neighbor, Charles Ramsey, told WEWS-TV he heard screaming Monday and saw Berry, whom he didn’t recognize, at a door that would open only enough to fit a hand through. He said she was trying desperately to get outside and pleaded for help to reach police.
“The neighbor who kicked open a door to help free three women who police say were held captive in a Cleveland home for close to a decade says he at first thought the screaming he heard was a domestic dispute.
“I heard screaming,” Charles Ramsey told WEWS-TV of Monday’s dramatic rescue. “I’m eating my McDonald’s, I come outside and I see this girl going nuts trying to get out. I go on the porch and she said, ‘Help me get out. I’ve been here a long time.’ I figure it was domestic violence dispute. She comes out with a little girl and says, ‘Call 911, my name is Amanda Berry.’”
Berry disappeared in 2003 at age 16. Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus, who were found inside the home, went missing as teenagers in 2002 and 2004, respectively.
“I’m like, ‘I’m calling 911 for Amanda Berry? I thought this girl was dead,’” Ramsey told reporters.
Ariel Castro, 52, was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping.
“I barbecue with this dude,” Ramsey said. “We eat ribs and listen to salsa music.”
Castro’s two live-in brothers, ages 50 and 54, also were arrested. Their names were not released.
PHOTO: These undated handout photos provided by the FBI show Amanda Berry, left, and Georgina “Gina” Dejesus.. Michelle Knight’s photo was from a H.S. yearbook; Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath said he thinks Berry, DeJesus and Michelle Knight were tied up at the house and held there since they were in their teens or early 20s. Berry and the two other women who went missing a decade ago were found on Monday, May 6, 2013 elating family members and friends who’d longed to see them again.
The three women were taken to Cleveland MetroHealth Center for evaluation. “We’re in the process of evaluating medical needs,” Dr. Gerald Maloney said Monday. “They appear to be in fair condition at the moment.”
Ramsey added: “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”Neighbor Anna Tejeda was sitting on her porch with friends when they heard someone across the street kicking a door and yelling.
Tejeda, 50, said one of her friends went over and told Berry how to kick the screen out of the bottom of the door, which allowed her to get out.
Speaking Spanish, which was translated by one of her friends, Tejeda said Berry was nervous and crying. She was dressed in pajamas and old sandals.
At first Tejeda said she didn’t want to believe who the young woman was. “You’re not Amanda Berry,” she insisted. “Amanda Berry is dead.”
But when Berry told her she’d been kidnapped and held captive, Tejeda said she gave her the telephone to call police, who arrived within minutes and then took the other women from the house.
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 come to the home on Cleveland’s west side before the man 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.”
Police said Knight disappeared in 2002 at age 20 and is 32 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. About a year later, DeJesus vanished at age 14 on her way home from school.
Berry is now 27, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Authorities didn’t provide a current age for DeJesus. They were found just a few miles from where they had vanished.
Police identified the three suspects as Ariel Castro, 52; Pedro Castro, 54; and Onil Castro, 50.
Ariel Castro was charged Wednesday with kidnapping and rape, accused of holding them under conditions so oppressive they were allowed outside for only a few moments in disguise and never saw a chance to escape until this week.
Investigators said the women apparently were bound with ropes and chains, and a city councilman briefed on the case said they were subjected to prolonged sexual and psychological abuse and suffered miscarriages.
Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver, was charged with four counts of kidnapping — covering the captives and the daughter born to one of them — and three counts of rape, against all three women.
The women, now in their 20s and 30s, vanished separately between 2002 and 2004. At the time, they were 14, 16 and 20 years old.
Prosecutors brought no charges against Castro’s two brothers, who were arrested along with him on Monday, saying there was no evidence they had any part in the crime.
Castro owns the run-down home where the women were rescued on Monday after one of them, Amanda Berry, broke through a screen door to freedom while he was away. The discovery electrified Cleveland, where many people had come to believe the missing young women were dead.
Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said it was the only opportunity they ever had to escape.
“Something must have clicked, and she saw an opportunity and she took that opportunity,” he said.
Tomba said the women could remember being outside only twice during their time in captivity.
“We were told they left the house and went into the garage in disguise,” he said.
The women were not kept in the same room but knew about one another, he said.
He also said a paternity test on Castro was being done to establish who fathered Berry’s 6-year-old daughter.
At a news conference, authorities would not discuss the circumstances of the women’s kidnappings or give further details about their ordeals. But City Councilman Brian Cummins said: “We know that the victims have confirmed miscarriages, but with who, how many and what conditions we don’t know.”
“It sounds pretty gruesome,” he added.
Castro was in custody Wednesday and couldn’t be reached for comment. A brother-in-law has said the family was shocked after hearing about the women at the home.
Neighbors said that over the years, Castro took part in the search for one of the women, Gina DeJesus, helped pass out fliers, performed music at a fundraiser for her and attended a candlelight vigil, at which he comforted her mother.
None of the women said anything that indicated Castro’s brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, were involved, Tomba said.
PHOTO: Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath addresses the media along with Cleveland Police public information officer Sammy Morris (at McGrath’s right) and other city officials on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 in Cleveland regarding the case of three missing women found alive in Cleveland on Monday. Three women who went missing separately about a decade ago were found Monday in a home in Cleveland and likely had been tied up during years of captivity, said police, who arrested three brothers.
(AP Photo/Jason Miller)
“Ariel kept everyone at a distance,” he said.
A court hearing for Ariel Castro was set for Thursday morning.
The deputy chief also said there was no evidence to indicate any of the women had been outside without clothes, despite claims from a neighbor who said a naked woman was seen crawling around the backyard.
Cleveland police have disputed claims by neighbors that officers had been called to the house before for suspicious circumstances. They said nothing in their records supports that.
Earlier Wednesday, Berry, 27, and DeJesus, who is in her early 20s, were welcomed home by jubilant crowds of loved ones and neighbors with balloons and banners. Family members protectively took them inside, past hundreds of reporters and onlookers.
Neither woman spoke.
“Give us time and privacy to heal,” said Sandra Ruiz, DeJesus’ aunt. Ruiz urged the public not to retaliate against the Castros or their families.
DeJesus’ father pumped his fist after arriving home with his daughter and urged people across the country to watch over the children in their neighborhoods, including other people’s kids.
“Too many kids these days come up missing, and we always ask this question: How come I didn’t see what happened to that kid? Why? Because we chose not to,” he said
The third captive, Michelle Knight, 32, was reported in good condition at Metro Health Medical Center, which a day earlier had reported that all three victims had been released. There was no immediate explanation from the hospital.
The Associated Press does not usually identify people who may be victims of sexual assault, but the names of the women were widely circulated by their families, friends and law enforcement authorities for years during their disappearances and after they were found.
Castro also was questioned about 14-year-old Ashley Summers, who disappeared near his house in 2007. But Tomba said there was no new information linking that case to Castro.
While prosecutors announced charges against Castro, federal agents searched a vacant house near where the women had been held. Officials would not say why they were there.
A 2005 domestic-violence filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court accused Castro of twice breaking the nose of his children’s mother, knocking out a tooth, dislocating each shoulder and threatening to kill her and her daughters three or four times in a year.
The filing for a protective order by Grimilda Figueroa also said that Castro frequently abducted her daughters and kept them from her. Figueroa died a year ago.
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