Three women who went missing separately about a decade ago in Cleveland, Ohio, have been found alive in a house a few miles away from where they disappeared.
A neighbour said he let one of the women out of the house just south of downtown after he heard her screaming on Monday. In a recorded emergency call the freed woman told the dispatcher: “I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been on the news for the last 10 years.”
She said the person who had taken her had gone out. “I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years,” she said. “And I’m here. I’m free now.”
Police found two other missing women in the house – Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight – as well as a six-year-old child. They have not revealed the child’s identity or relationship to anyone in the house. The women appeared to be in good health and were taken to a hospital to be assessed and to be reunited with relatives. Three brothers have been arrested.
Berry was 16 when she disappeared on 21 April 2003 after calling her sister to say she was getting a ride home from the Burger King fast-food restaurant where she worked. DeJesus was 14 when she went missing on her way home from school about a year later. Police said Knight went missing in 2002 and is 32 now.
The three women had probably been tied up while in captivity, police said.
Crowds gathered on Monday night near the home where the city’s police chief said the women had been held since they went missing.
Neighbour Charles Ramsey told WEWS-TV he heard screaming and saw Berry, whom he did not recognise, at a door that would open just enough to fit a hand through. He said she was trying desperately to get outside and pleaded for help to reach police, so he kicked down the door to free her. Ramsey said he had had a barbecue with the property’s owner and never suspected anything was amiss.
Police said one of the brothers arrested, a 52-year-old, lived at the home, while the others, aged 50 and 54, lived elsewhere. They did not release any names.
Julio Castro, who runs a store half a block from where the women were found, said the arrested homeowner was his nephew, Ariel Castro, who had worked as a schoolbus driver. Berry also identified Ariel Castro by name in her emergency call, according to the Associated Press.
The women’s friends and relatives said they had not given up hope of seeing them again. A childhood friend of DeJesus, Kayla Rogers, told the Plain Dealer newspaper: “I’ve been praying, never forgot about her, ever.” Berry’s cousin Tasheena Mitchell told the newspaper she could not wait to have her 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 in hospital 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.
City councillor 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.
In January, a prisoner was sentenced to four-and-a-half years after admitting he provided a false burial tip in the disappearance of Berry. Last summer, Robert Wolford told authorities to look for Berry’s remains in a Cleveland location, which was dug up.
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. One of the men was transferred to the Cuyahoga county jail on unrelated charges, while the other was allowed to go free, police said.
In September 2006, police acting on a tip tore up the concrete floor of the garage and used a dog to search unsuccessfully for DeJesus’ body.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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