CHICAGO, May 7 – Three young women who had been missing for a decade – two of whom disappeared as teenagers – were found alive in a house in Cleveland, police in the US state of Ohio said on Monday.
The dramatic discovery drew hundreds of cheering people to the usually quiet, residential street to celebrate that girls, long feared dead, were very much alive.
The details of the trauma they may have suffered in captivity were not yet known, but it appeared that at least one of the girls had borne a child during her captivity.
The nightmare ended when Amanda Berry reached her arm through a crack in the front door and called for help.
“I heard screaming… And I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside of the house,” Charles Ramsey told the local ABC news affiliate.
“I go on the porch, and she said ‘Help me get out. I’ve been here a long time.’”
Ramsey said he tried to get her out through the door but could not pull it open, so he kicked out the bottom and she crawled through “carrying a little girl.”
Berry went into a neighbouring home and called police, begging them to come as soon as they could “before he gets back.”
“I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped. I’ve been missing for 10 years. I’m free. I’m here now,” Berry said in the recording of her frantic call to 911.
She told the dispatcher that the man who had held her captive was called Ariel Castro. When police arrived she told them there were other captives in the home.
“All three women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, seem to be in good health,” Cleveland police said in a statement.
“A 52-year-old Hispanic male has been placed under arrest regarding this incident.”
Berry was last seen on April 21, 2003 when she left work at a fast food restaurant that was just a few blocks from her home around 7:40pm, according to the FBI. She was 16 when she disappeared.
Her mother, Louwanna Miller, reportedly died of heart failure in March 2006.
DeJesus was 14 when she vanished while walking home from school on April 2, 2004.
Knight, who was 21 at the time of her disappearance, was last seen at a cousin’s house on August 23, 2002, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Kayla Rogers, 23, went to school with DeJesus and joined the crowd gathered near the house on Seymore Avenue where her friend had been held captive.
“They don’t find people who go missing, you know,” Rogers, 23, told the Plain Dealer.
“I’m at a loss for words.”
Rogers said she only attended one vigil over the years, because it was too painful.
Neighbour Charlie Czorb said he was stunned by how long the women had lived at the house undetected.
“This is our own backyard,” Czorba told the paper. “These girls were locked up in our own backyard.”
Castro was described by neighbours as a friendly school bus driver and musician whose daughter would often come over with his grandchildren.
Tasheena Mitchell, 26, said she didn’t believe her brother at first when he called to tell her that their cousin Amanda had been found alive.
She’d had her hopes dashed by false reports before. But this time, it was true. So she rushed to the hospital in hopes of confirming it with her own eyes.
“She was my best friend,” Mitchell told the Plain Dealer.
A friend interrupted her, “She’s alive. She is your best friend.”
“You’re right,” Mitchell continued. “She is my best friend. I’m so nervous. I’m so excited. They won’t let me inside. But I will stay here all night if I have to.”
An emergency room doctor who treated the three women said they were in fair condition and were being evaluated.
“This isn’t the ending we usually hear to these stories so we’re very happy for them,” Gerald Maloney told reporters.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said he was “thankful that these three young ladies are found and alive.”
“We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing,” Jackson said in a statement.
Police said they would provide more details at a press conference on Tuesday morning.