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Filler: Hope endures even after children drop out of sight

A man shows page one of The Plain

A man shows page one of The Plain Dealer newspaper to a friend while people gather along Seymour Avenue near the house where three women, who disappeared as teens about a decade ago, were found alive in Cleveland, Ohio. (May 7, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

When the news broke about the three women held hostage in Cleveland for a decade and set free Monday, the revulsion and anger I felt were so strong that, emotionally, it seemed I was learning of a tragedy.

But this is good news, the best possible outcome, unexpected and unlikely, and for some, perhaps, no longer even dreamed of at this late date: Alive, they are alive. And how many parents or siblings or friends would have ever still hoped for it, really?

Amanda Berry, now 27, disappeared after a shift at a Cleveland Burger King in April 2003. On Monday, a neighbor -- Charles Ramsey, heard Berry crying for help and along with another neighbor, Angel Cordero, assisted in kicking out the door, then called 911.

Soon the police arrived, went into the house, and emerged with Gina DeJesus, 23, who disappeared in 2004, and Michelle Knight, not seen since 2002, 20 years old when she vanished. A 6-year-old girl, believed to be Berry's daughter, is also safe.

There is something universal in Ramsey's shock at learning there were captive women in the "normal" neighbor's home, and his attempt to explain it: "I barbecued with this dude. We eat ribs and whatnot, and listened to salsa music."

The ogres who stalk our children aren't noticeably monstrous. They barbecue, eat ribs, listen to salsa and are expert in hiding twisted proclivities.

I don't remember, even growing up with the standard maniacally paranoid mother, the phobia that me or my sister might be taken captive and held as slaves. I recall the fear that we would be killed, by anything from a speeding car to lightning to a razor hidden in an apple. But the trend of kidnapping young women and keeping them endlessly, like Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard and now, these three, feels like it has suddenly mushroomed.

All these women being found alive makes a strong argument for not losing hope, and DeJesus' mother claims she never did, but my instinct has always been that, at some point, people ought to give up.

In Columbia, S.C., when I was in my 20s, Dail Dinwiddie was the poster child for disappearing women, and endless hope. Dinwiddie was 23 on Sept. 24, 1992, when she attended a U2 concert with 30,000 other people, went to a bar afterward, then vanished.

Her parents' tireless aggression in trying to find Dail was inspiring, and exhausting. After five years, and 10, still there were the vigils and fliers: "Have you seen this girl?" Eventually, I started thinking, "I respect their pain, but her parents might be better off if they let it go. The girl's dead, and buried somewhere."

But the Dinwiddies have never quit. Last year, police and the Dinwiddies released an age-adjusted photo, showing what Dail might look like at 43, still hoping against hope.

Tuesday I called her dad, Dan Dinwiddie, just to get a little insight. "I'm so glad for those girls," he said. "I'm so glad for their families."

Does he think Dail is alive? "I really . . I don't know. My wife and I don't talk about that. I honestly don't have a sense if she's alive or not."

Dan Dinwiddie understands why some people think they should have given up, but said, "It's different when it's your child. We've discussed it and we feel like we can't give up. Dail wouldn't give up on us."

How could she be alive, yet not found, after all these years?

"It's on the off chance that . . . she got hit in the head and has amnesia, or . . . you can imagine all sorts of things that could have happened."

I once thought him deranged by grief. Two decades later, with a child of my own, I think he was right all along, whether his daughter's alive or not.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.