Three brothers have been arrested after women who went missing as girls in separate incidents 10 years ago were found alive and well after being held prisoner.
The women, and a six-year-old girl apparently born to one of them while in captivity, were in a suburban house in Cleveland, Ohio, just a few miles from where they vanished. All were able to return to their tearful families after being checked in hospital.
The house owner, Ariel Castro ,52, and two of his brothers Pedro 54, and Onil ,50, have been arrested suspected of abducting Amanda Berry, thought to be the six-year-old’s mother, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight.
Ms Berry disappeared aged 16 on April 21, 2003, on her way home from work at a burger restaurant. Ms DeJesus went missing aged 14 on her way home from school about a year later. Ms Knight went missing in 2002 aged 20 and is 32 now.
Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson said the investigation into their abductions had only just begun and there were several key unanswered questions. “Why were they taken, who took them and how did they remain undetected for so long?”
They were rescued after Amanda Berry was freed from the house by neighbours who heard her screaming. She made a frantic telephone call to emergency services and told them that she had been abducted. Neighbours said they previously had no idea the women were in the house and were first alerted when they heard someone kicking at a door, yelling for help and trying desperately to get outside the house.
Neighbours said Ms Berry was nervous, crying and appeared dressed in pyjamas and old sandals. On the recorded emergency call she frantically 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 arrive at the home on Cleveland’s west side before he returned.
At first neighbour Anna Tejeda said she did not want to believe who the young woman was. “You’re not Amanda Berry,” she insisted. “Amanda Berry is dead.”
But when Ms Berry told her she had been kidnapped and held captive, Mrs Tejeda said she gave her the phone to call police, who arrived within minutes and then took the other women from the house.
One neighbour said he had eaten barbecues with the home’s owner Castro and never suspected something was amiss. “There was nothing exciting about him - well, until today,” he said.
Officials said they had no record of anyone calling about criminal activity at the house. They also had no records of fire department or civic nuisance calls.
Police did go to the house twice in the past 15 years.
In 2000, before the women vanished, Ariel Castro reported a fight in the street, but no arrests were made, Public Safety Director Martin Flask said. In 2004, officers went to the home after child welfare officials alerted them that Ariel Castro, a school bus driver, apparently left a child unattended on a bus. No one answered the door at Castro’s house, and police later decided there was no criminal intent.
Felix DeJesus holds a picture of Gina DeJesus in 2004.
Police Chief Michael McGrath said he thinks the women were tied up at the house and held there since they were taken.
Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba declined to say who was the father of the girl believed to be Ms Berry’s daughter.
Authorities declined to say whether the women were restrained or if any of them had been sexually assaulted.
Neighbour 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.” he said. “I didn’t even know anybody lived there.”
The women’s relatives said they had not given up hope of seeing them again. Ms Berry’s cousin Tasheena Mitchell said 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.
Ms Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, who had been hospitalised for months, 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.