Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Missing a decade, 3 women are free

CLEVELAND

One by one, three young women disappeared in Cleveland about a decade ago.

First was Michele Knight, who was 21 when she was lost in 2002.

Amanda Berry was 16. She disappeared in 2003, after calling her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King.

Gina DeJesus vanished about a year later. She was 14.

No one heard from them until Monday, when three women were found in a house just a few miles from where they had disappeared.

On a recorded 911 call Monday, Berry said she had been taken by someone and begged for police to arrive at the home on Cleveland's west side before he 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."

Cheering crowds gathered on the street near the home just south of downtown.

Knight is 32 now, Berry is 27, and DeJesus is 23, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

Police said they appeared to be in good health, even though they had been tied up.

Three brothers were arrested, police said. The owner of the house, Ariel Castro, 52, had lived there since 1992, according to the Plain Dealer.

There was no immediate word on the charges against him Monday.

"I heard screaming . . . and I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside," said Charles Ramsey, a neighbor who told WEWS-TV that he found the women. "I go on the porch and she said, 'Help me get out. I've been here a long time.' I figure it was domestic violence dispute.

The door wouldn't open, so Ramsey and another neighbor began kicking the bottom of it, Ramsey said. The woman identified herself as Berry.

"I thought she was the only one," Ramsey told WKYC-TV. "She grabbed some little girl . . . and said, 'This is his daughter' " — an apparent reference to the man living in the home.

Ramsey said that when emergency officials arrived, a more dramatic story unfolded.

"That girl, Amanda, told the police, 'I ain't the only one in there,' " Ramsey told WEWS-TV.

Police went into the house and discovered the other women.

"When they came out, it was astonishing," Ramsey said.

Neighbors told reporters they had no idea women lived in the house. The owner blacked out his windows and entered his home through the back door, Jannette Gomez, 50, told the Plain Dealer.

"I ate barbecue with this dude," Ramsey told WEWS-TV.

Dozens of law officers remained at the scene late Monday awaiting a search warrant.

Loved ones said they hadn't given up hope of seeing Berry and DeJesus again. Among them was Kayla Rogers, a childhood friend of DeJesus.

"I've been praying, never forgot about her, ever," Rogers told the Plain Dealer. "This is amazing. This is a celebration. I'm so happy. I just want to see her walk out of those doors so I can hug her."

Berry's cousin Tasheena Mitchell told the newspaper she couldn't wait to have Berry 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.

Mayor Frank Jackson expressed gratitude that the three women were found alive.

"We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing," he said in a statement.

At Metro Health Medical Center, Dr. Gerald Maloney declined to go into details about the women's conditions.

"We're assessing their needs, and the appropriate specialists are evaluating them as well," he said at a news conference, which concluded with a round of applause from a large gathering of area residents.

In January, a prison inmate was sentenced to 41/2 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. He was taken to the location, which was dug up with backhoes.

While Berry was missing, her mother, Louwana Miller, who had been hospitalized 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.

Two men arrested for questioning in the disappearance of DeJesus in 2004 were released from the city jail in 2006 after officers did not find her body during a search of the men's house.

No Amber Alert was issued the day DeJesus failed to return home from school in April 2004 because no one witnessed her abduction. The lack of an Amber Alert angered her father, Felix DeJesus.

Her mother, Nancy Ruiz, had said she believed DeJesus was sold into human trafficking.

"I always said it from the beginning; she was sold to the highest bidder," Ruiz said last April.

Information from the Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

     
 
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