TODAY'S PAPER
52° Good Morning
52° Good Morning
NewsNation

Nightmare ends for 3 in Ohio kidnappings

CLEVELAND -- The families of three women who spent years in apparent captivity inside a Cleveland home celebrated their remarkable rescue on Tuesday as questions emerged about why police were called to the house at least twice yet never went inside.

The women -- Amanda Berry, Georgina "Gina" DeJesus and Michelle Knight -- vanished separately a decade ago while in their teens and early 20s only blocks from the 1,400-square-foot house where they were found Monday night.

The women were reported by police to be in good health and were reunited with joyous family members but remained in seclusion.

Their rescue came almost by accident, when Berry, now 27, hailed a neighbor while her alleged captor was out, slipped through an obstructed front door with the neighbor's help and frantically called 911.

Yet there had been signs that something was amiss inside the faded two-story house, which was far from isolated and just steps away from a gas station and Caribbean grocery. Neighbors told The Associated Press that in recent years, a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard, and pounding was heard on the doors. Police showed up each time but stayed outside, they said.

"Everyone in the neighborhood did what they had to do," said Lupe Collins, who is close to relatives of the women. "The police didn't do their job."

The home, in a heavily Latino neighborhood, was owned by Ariel Castro, 52, a former school bus driver who was arrested along with his brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50. Authorities said children and family services investigators went to the home in January 2004, after all three girls had gone missing, because Ariel Castro had left a child on a school bus.

Investigators "knocked on the door but were unsuccessful in connection with making any contact with anyone inside that home," Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said at a news conference, adding that officials "have no indication that any of the neighbors, bystanders, witnesses or anyone else has ever called regarding any information, regarding activity that occurred at that house on Seymour Avenue."

The three women -- Berry, Knight, who is about 32; and DeJesus, about 23 -- were rescued after Berry used neighbor Charles Ramsey's phone to call 911.

"Help me. I'm Amanda Berry," she breathlessly told a dispatcher in a call that exhilarated and astonished much of the city. "I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."

A 6-year-old girl believed to be Berry's daughter also was found in the home, police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said. He would not say who the father was.

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

Knight vanished at age 20 in 2002. Berry disappeared at 16 in 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 14 on her way home from school.

Police would not say how the women were taken captive. Investigators also would not say whether they were kept in restraints inside the house or sexually assaulted.

Ariel Castro, 52, was well-known in the neighborhood. He played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands. He gave children rides on his motorcycle and joined others at a candlelight vigil to remember two of the missing girls, neighbors said. They also said they would sometimes see him walking a little girl to a neighborhood playground.

Tito DeJesus, an uncle of Gina DeJesus, played in bands with Castro over the last 20 years. He recalled visiting Castro's house but never noticed anything out of the ordinary, saying it had very little furniture and was filled with musical instruments.

"I had no clue, no clue whatsoever that this happened," he said.

The women and girls were reunited with their family members and assessed at Metro Health Medical Center, officials said. Sandra Ruiz, who identified herself as the aunt of Gina DeJesus, told reporters that all three rescued women were in remarkably good spirits.

"Those girls, those women are so strong," Ruiz said. "What we've done in 10 years is nothing compared to what those women have done in 10 years to survive."

News Photos and Videos