3 women, missing for a decade, found alive in Ohio

(CBS42)
(CBS42)
These undated handout photos provided by the FBI show Amanda Berry, left, and Georgina
These undated handout photos provided by the FBI show Amanda Berry, left, and Georgina “Gina”  Dejesus. (AP Photo/FBI)

[lin_video src=http://eplayer.clipsyndicate.com/embed/player.js?aspect_ratio=16x9&auto_next=1&auto_start=0&div_id=videoplayer-1367965009&height=480&page_count=5&pf_id=9624&show_title=1&va_id=4047656&width=640&windows=2 service=syndicaster width=640 height=480 div_id=videoplayer-1367965009 type=script]CLEVELAND (AP) – One neighbor says a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard of the house a few years ago. Another neighbor says he heard pounding on        the doors and noticed plastic bags over the windows.

Police showed up at the house both times, the neighbors say, but never went inside.

Now, after three women who vanished separately about a decade ago were rescued from the peeling, rundown house Monday in a discovery that exhilarated and astonished the city,   Cleveland police are facing questions about their handling of the case and are conducting an internal review to see if they overlooked anything.

Police Chief Michael McGrath said Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight had apparently been held captive in the house since their teens or early 20s.

Authorities arrested three brothers, ages 50 to 54. One of them, former school bus driver Ariel Castro, owned the home, situated in a poor neighborhood dotted with boarded-up houses.  No immediate charges were filed.

This undated combination photo released by the Cleveland Police Department shows from left, Onil Castro, Ariel Castro, and Pedro Casto.The three brothers were arrested Tuesday, May 7, 2013, after three women who disappeared in Cleveland a decade ago were found safe Monday. The brothers are accused of holding the victims against their will. (AP Photo/Cleveland Police Department)
This undated combination photo released by the Cleveland Police Department shows from left, Onil Castro, Ariel Castro, and Pedro Casto.The three brothers were arrested Tuesday, May 7, 2013, after three women who disappeared in Cleveland a decade ago were found safe Monday. The brothers are accused of holding the victims against their will. (AP Photo/Cleveland Police Department)

The break in the case came when the 27-year-old Berry kicked out the bottom of a locked screen door at the home and used a neighbor’s telephone to call 911. Choking back tears, she breathlessly told the dispatcher: “Help me. I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”

Police arrived to find the two other women, along with a 6-year-old girl who authorities said was believed to Berry’s daughter. Police would not say who the father was or where the child was born.

“Prayers have finally been answered. The nightmare is over…These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin.” -Stephen Anthony, head of the FBI in Cleveland

He added: “Words can’t describe the emotions being felt by all. Yes, law enforcement professionals do cry.”

Authorities would not say how the women were taken captive, whether they were restrained inside the house or if they had been sexually assaulted. Police said they were trying to be delicate in their questioning of the women, given their ordeal.

Cleveland police came under heavy criticism in a separate case a few years ago following the discovery of 11 bodies in a man’s home and backyard in another poor section of the city. Neighbors had long complained about foul odors, and the victims’ families charged that police didn’t take the reports of missing women seriously.

As for whether police this time overlooked hints about the women’s fate, city Safety Director Martin Flask said Tuesday morning: “At this point, I can confirm that we have no indications that any of the neighbors, bystanders, witnesses or anyone else has ever called regarding any information, regarding activity that occurred at that house.”

However, he said authorities were still checking all databases of calls to police, fire and emergency services.

Two neighbors said Tuesday that they were alarmed enough by what they saw at the house to call police on two occasions.

Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter once saw a naked woman crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard several years ago and called police. “But they didn’t take it seriously,” she said.

Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of Castro’s house, which had plastic bags on the windows, in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. “They walked to side of the house and then left,” he said.

Neighbors also said they would see Castro sometimes walking a little girl to a neighborhood playground. And Cintron said she once saw a little girl looking out of the attic window of the house.

In the murder case from four years ago, the homeowner was eventually sentenced to death. In the wake of public outrage over the killings, a panel formed by the mayor recommended an overhaul of the city’s handling of missing-person and sex crime investigations.

The three rescued women appeared to be in good health and were briefly evaluated at a hospital and reunited with relatives. A photo released by Berry’s family showed her smiling with an arm around her sister. Police said they were taken to an undisclosed location in the 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.”

Investigators celebrated the news almost as much as the families.

The disappearances of Berry and DeJesus never left the minds of police. Investigators twice dug up backyards looking for Berry and continued to receive tips about the two every few months, even in recent years. But few leads ever came in about Knight, who was the first of the three to disappear, in 2002.

Police said Knight disappeared at age 20 and is 32 now. Berry vanished 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 was last seen at age 14 on her way home from school. They were found just a few miles from where they disappeared.

Police identified the three suspects as Ariel Castro, 52; Pedro Castro, 54; and Onil Castro, 50. Attempts to reach Ariel Castro in jail were unsuccessful.

Police did go to the house twice in the past 15 years, but not in connection with the women’s disappearance, officials said.

In 2000, before the women vanished, Ariel Castro reported a fight in the street, but no arrests were made, Flask said.

In 2004, officers went to the home after child welfare officials alerted them that Ariel Castro, a school bus driver, had apparently left a child unattended on a bus, Flask said. No one answered the door, according to Flask. At some point in the investigation, police talked to Castro and determined there was no criminal intent, he said.

The women’s loved ones said they hadn’t given up hope of seeing them again.

Berry’s cousin Tasheena Mitchell told The Plain Dealer newspaper: “I’m going to hold her, and I’m going to squeeze her and I probably won’t let her go.”

Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, who had been hospitalized for months with pancreatitis and other ailments, died in 2006. She had spent the previous three years looking for her daughter, whose disappearance took a toll as her health steadily deteriorated, family and friends said.

This is an update to previous Associated Press coverage below.

CLEVELAND (AP) — A Cleveland police official says a 6-year-old girl found in the house where three missing women were kept for years is the daughter of one of them.

A frantic 911 call led police to a house near downtown Cleveland, where the three women were found Monday.

Police say Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were held inside the house since they were in their teens or early 20s.

Cleveland police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba says the girl is believed to be Amanda Berry’s daughter.

Knight disappeared in 2002, Berry in 2003 and DeJesus about a year after that.

Officials say three brothers, ages 50 to 54, are in custody.

This is an update to previous Associated Press coverage below.

CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland officials say they have no records of anyone calling about criminal activity at the house where three kidnapped women were kept for years before being found.

A frantic 911 call led police to a house near downtown Cleveland, where the three women were found Monday.

Officials say three brothers, ages 50 to 54, are in custody.

Police say Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were tied up at the house and held there since they were in their teens or early 20s. Knight disappeared in 2002, Berry in 2003 and DeJesus about a year after that.

Police said Tuesday they went to the home in 2004 for an unrelated investigation but no one answered the door.

This is an update to previous Associated Press coverage below.

CLEVELAND (AP) — 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 a decade ago were found Monday, elating family members and friends who had longed to see them again.

Authorities later arrested three brothers. They released no names and gave no information about them or what charges they might face. A relative said one of them is the homeowner, his nephew Ariel Castro.

City officials have scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning.

Police Chief Michael McGrath said he thinks Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were tied up at the house and held there since they were in their teens or early 20s.

A 6-year-old also was found in the home, but police didn’t disclose the child’s identity or relationship to anyone in the home. The women appeared to be in good health and were taken to a hospital to be evaluated and be reunited with relatives.

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.

“I heard screaming,” he said. “I’m eating my McDonald’s. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house.”

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.”

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. Police said Knight disappeared in 2002 and is 32 now.

Berry is now 27, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Authorities didn’t provide a current age DeJesus. They were found just a few miles from where they had vanished.

Police said one of the brothers who was arrested, a 52-year-old, lived at the home, and the others, ages 50 and 54, lived elsewhere.

Ramsey, the neighbor, said he’d barbecued with the home’s owner and never suspected anything was amiss.

“There was nothing exciting about him — well, until today,” he said.

Julio Castro, who runs a grocery store half a block from where the women were found, said the homeowner arrested is his nephew, Ariel Castro.

Berry also identified Ariel Castro by name in her 911 call.

Attempts to reach Ariel Castro in jail were unsuccessful Monday. Messages to the sheriff’s office and a jail spokesman went unanswered, and there was no public phone listing for the home, which was being searched by dozens of police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

The uncle said Ariel Castro had worked as a school bus driver. The Cleveland school district confirmed he was a former employee but wouldn’t release details.

The women’s loved ones said they hadn’t given up hope of seeing them again.

A childhood friend of DeJesus, Kayla Rogers, said she couldn’t wait to hug her.

“I’ve been praying, never forgot about her, ever,” Rogers told The Plain Dealer newspaper.

Berry’s cousin Tasheena Mitchell told the newspaper she couldn’t wait to have Berry in her arms.

“I’m going to hold her, and I’m going to squeeze her and I probably won’t let her go,” she said.

Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, who had been hospitalized for months with pancreatitis and other ailments, died in March 2006. She had spent the previous three years looking for her daughter, whose disappearance took a toll as her health steadily deteriorated, family and friends said.

Councilwoman Dona Brady said she had spent many hours with Miller, who never gave up hope that her daughter was alive.

“She literally died of a broken heart,” Brady said.

Mayor Frank Jackson expressed gratitude that the three women were found alive. He said there are many unanswered questions in the ongoing investigation.

At Metro Health Medical Center, Dr. Gerald Maloney wouldn’t discuss the women’s conditions in detail but said they were being evaluated by appropriate specialists.

“This is really good, because this isn’t the ending we usually hear in these stories,” he said. “So, we’re very happy.”

In January, a prison inmate was sentenced to 4 1/2 years after admitting he provided a false burial tip in the disappearance of Berry. A judge in Cleveland sentenced Robert Wolford on his guilty plea to obstruction of justice, making a false report and making a false alarm.

Last summer, Wolford tipped authorities to look for Berry’s remains in a Cleveland lot. He was taken to the location, which was dug up with backhoes.

Two men arrested for questioning in the disappearance of DeJesus in 2004 were released from the city jail in 2006 after officers didn’t find her body during a search of the men’s house.

In September 2006, police acting on a tip tore up the concrete floor of the garage and used a cadaver dog to search unsuccessfully for DeJesus’ body. Investigators confiscated 19 pieces of evidence during their search but declined to comment on the significance of the items then.

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Associated Press writer Kantele Franko in Columbus contributed to this report.

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