Police face tough questions despite happy ending at horror house

As America began to ask how three women could be held captive in a suburban home for a decade, police revealed they had called to the house twice.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson confirmed this yesterday.

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.

The women vanished separately as teenagers. After they were found in Cleveland on Monday, police arrested three brothers, including a school bus driver.

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 on Monday.

Officials say three brothers, ages 50 to 54, are in custody. They are Ariel Castro, Pedro, and Onil. Ariel is the only one of the three believed to live at the house.

Ariel Castro has a son, also named Ariel, who in 2004 wrote an article for the daily Cleveland Plain Dealer about the disappearance of Gina DeJesus.

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

The women’s escape and rescue began with a frenzied cry for help.

A neighbour, Charles Ramsey, told WEWS-TV he heard screaming on Monday and saw Berry, whom he didn’t recognise, 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.”

Neighbour 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 pyjamas 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.

Neighbour Juan Perez told NBC 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 okay,” said Perez. “I didn’t even know anybody lived there.”

On a recorded 911 call on 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 westside 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 Apr 21, 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a lift 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, who had a troubled childhood, disappeared in 2002 and is 32 now. Her mother Barbara, who lives in Florida, told local media she could scarcely believe her daughter had been found, having had her hopes dashed in the search so many times.

They were found just a few miles from where they had vanished.

Ramsey, the neighbour, 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 shop 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.

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.

One of Ariel Castro’s Facebook friends is Tito de Jesus who has a link to a site entitled: ‘PLEASE HELP FIND MISSING Gina DeJesus’.

Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, who had been hospitalised for months with pancreatitis and other ailments, died in Mar 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 Centre, Dr Gerald Maloney said women were being evaluated by appropriate specialists.

In January, a prison inmate was sentenced to 4½ 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.

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

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

Making contact

A sheriff deputy stands outside a house where three women escaped in Cleveland.

A transcript of the 911 call placed on Monday by Amanda Berry, missing since 2003, when she was 16.

*Amanda: Help me. I’m Amanda Berry.

*Dispatcher: You need police, fire, ambulance?

*Amanda: I need police.

*Dispatcher: Okay, and what’s going on there?

*Amanda: I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years, and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.

*Dispatcher: Okay, and what’s your address?

*Amanda: 2207 Seymour Avenue.

*Dispatcher: 2207 Seymour. Looks like you’re calling me from 2210.

*Amanda: Huh?

*Dispatcher: Looks like you’re calling me from 2210.

*Amanda: I can’t hear you.

*Dispatcher: Looks like you’re calling me from 2210 Seymour.

*Amanda: I’m across the street; I’m using the phone.

*Dispatcher: Okay, stay there with those neighbours. Talk to police when they get there.

*Amanda: [Crying]

*Dispatcher: Okay, talk to police when they get there.

*Amanda: Okay. Hello?

*Dispatcher: Okay, talk to the police when they get there.

*Caller: Okay [unintelligible].

*Dispatcher: We’re going to send them as soon as we get a car open.

*Amanda: No, I need them now before he gets back.

*Dispatcher: All right; we’re sending them, okay?

*Amanda: Okay, I mean, like ...

*Dispatcher: Who’s the guy you’re trying — who’s the guy who went out?

*Amanda: Um, his name is Ariel Castro.

*Dispatcher: Okay. How old is he?

*Amanda: He’s like 52.

*Dispatcher: And, uh —

*Amanda: I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been on the news for the last 10 years.

*Dispatcher: I got, I got that, dear. [Unintelligible] And, you say, what was his name again?

*Amanda: Uh, Ariel Castro.

*Dispatcher: And is he white, black or Hispanic?

*Amanda: Uh, Hispanic.

*Dispatcher: What’s he wearing?

*Amanda (agitated): I don’t know, ‘cause he’s not here right now. That’s why I ran away.

*Dispatcher: When he left, what was he wearing?

*Amanda: Who knows [unintelligible].

*Dispatcher: The police are on their way; talk to them when they get there.

*Amanda: Huh? I... okay.

*Dispatcher: I told you they’re on their way; talk to them when they get there, okay.

*Caller: All right, okay. Bye.

*Source: Cleveland Law Department

When young victims survive to tell a gruesome tale

Notorious abductions that have recently come to light in which the victims survived:

*Jaycee Dugard was kidnapped in June 1991 in South Lake Tahoe, California at age 11 and remained missing for more than 18 years. She was discovered in August 2009 after her abductor, Phillip Craig Garrido, a convicted sex offender, brought her to a parole office in Concord, California along with two daughters fathered by him, aged 11 and 15 at the time. Authorities believe Dugard was held for most of the time in an enclosed area behind Garrido’s house in Antioch, California. Garrido and his wife Nancy pleaded guilty to kidnapping and other charges. In Jun 2011 he was sentenced to 431 years imprisonment. Nancy Garrido received a sentence of 36 years to life.

*Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom in an affluent suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah, in Mar 2003, at age 14. She was found nine months later in Sandy, Utah, only a few miles from her home. Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee were indicted for her kidnapping. They were initially found unfit to stand trial but were later convicted, and Mitchell was sentenced in 2011 to life in prison. The abduction and recovery were the subject of a made-for-TV movie and a book.

*Shawn Hornbeck was 11 years old when he was abducted near his home in Richwoods, Missouri, while riding his bicycle and remained missing for more than four years. He was found, along with Ben Ownby, 13, who had been abducted more recently, in the Kirkwood, Missouri, apartment of Michael J Devlin, in Jan 2007. Devlin pleaded guilty to abduction and child sex abuse and was sentenced to life in prison.

*Natascha Kampusch was abducted at the age of 10 in March 1998 on her way to school in Vienna, Austria, and held for more than eight years in a secret cellar in the small town of Strasshof until she escaped in Aug 2006.

Her kidnapper, Wolfgang Priklopil, committed suicide the same day after a police chase by stepping in front of a moving train, aged 44.

Kampusch later wrote a book about her experience.

— Eric Walsh


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