Update on Tuesday, May 7th, 2013CLEVELAND (WKRC/CBS News/AP)
Cleveland Police may have missed several opportunities to rescue three Cleveland women held hostage for 10 years inside a home. One of the women escaped Monday night and called 9-1-1, leading to the rescue of her fellow captors and a six year old daughter.
The voice on the phone was frantic and breathless, choking back tears. "Help me. I'm Amanda Berry," she told a 911 dispatcher. "I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."
Those words led police to a house near downtown Cleveland where Berry and two other women who went missing a decade ago were found on Monday, elating family members and friends who'd longed to see them again. Authorities later arrested three brothers. 52 year old Ariel Castro, and two of his brothers, Pedro and Onil Castro ages 54 and 50 years.
Police say neighbors never made any calls to the home where Police Chief Michael McGrath thinks Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were tied up. A 6-year-old also was found in the home. Police say they believe the child belongs to Amanda Berry, but did not say who the girl's father may be or where she was born.
Officials said Ariel Castro had drawn little attention from authorities prior to Monday. 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 January 2004, police went to the home where the women were apparently held and knocked on the door, according to Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba. The police did not approach Castro's home to ask about missing girls, however.
Castro was a school bus driver, and had left a child on his bus when he returned it to the depot. Officials wanted to know why. "He was interviewed extensively for this complaint," Tomba said. "He was a bus driver who left a kid on a bus, went to a lunch break and found the young man."
When pressed at a news conference Tuesday as to why little came of the incident, Tomba said there had never been a hint of suspicion about Castro until after the women were freed. There were no other complaints against him or the house, no city code violations. "Our policies have been revamped over the few years," Tomba said. "I can tell you as part of this division for 28 years the amount of effort (around these missing persons cases), I've never seen it before. Every lead was followed up. We had vigils, we dug up backyards."
However, two neighbors said they were alarmed enough by what they saw at the house to call police on two occasions. Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter once saw a naked woman crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard several years ago and called police. "But they didn't take it seriously," she said.
Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of Castro's house, which had plastic bags on the windows, in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. "They walked to side of the house and then left," he said. Neighbors also said they would see Castro sometimes walking a little girl to a neighborhood playground. And Cintron said she once saw a little girl looking out of the attic window of the house.
Reporters have found an article that was reportedly written by the suspect’s son about the disappearance of one of the girls. The article, written by Ariel Castro for a community newspaper, talks about the extra security measures parents in one neighborhood were taken after DeJesus disappearance. It mentions Amanda Berry. You can read the article by clicking here
The women appeared to be in good health and were taken to a hospital to be evaluated and be reunited with relatives. They were released on Tuesday morning.
CBS Cleveland affiliate WOIO-TV says police told them two women were kept in the basement of the home and one upstairs. One room reportedly had chains attached to the ceilings which may have been used to imprison the women. Neighbors also say the windows were boarded up and loud music often could be heard coming from the home. One woman allegedly told police she had gotten pregnant more than once, but her captor beat her and she ended up losing the babies.
WOIO interviewed neighbor Charles Ramsey, the man who helped Berry escape, telling reporters he "didn't know who she was. She said her last name was Berry." Berry reportedly broke out of the lower part of a screen door to escape the home. Ramsey says, "I barbecued with this dude. We eat ribs and what not and listened to salsa music. You see where I'm coming from? You had no indication?
Bro, not a clue that that girl was in that house or anybody else was in there against their will."
Neighbor 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 enabled 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 pajamas 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.
On a recorded 911 call 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 arrive at the home on Cleveland's west side 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."
Police say DeJesus and Knight came out of the house after police arrived on the scene.
Berry disappeared at age 16 on April 21, 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. DeJesus went missing at age 14 on her way home from school about a year later. They were found just a few miles from where they had gone missing. Police said Knight went missing in 2002 and is 32 now. They didn't provide current ages for Berry or DeJesus.
Ramsey, the neighbor, 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.
The women's loved ones said they hadn't given up hope of seeing them again. A childhood friend of DeJesus, Kayla Rogers, said she couldn't wait to hug her. "I've been praying, never forgot about her, ever," Rogers told The Plain Dealer newspaper.
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. Berry's 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. 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 Center, Dr. Gerald Maloney wouldn't discuss the women's conditions in detail but said they were being evaluated by appropriate specialists. "This is really good, because this isn't the ending we usually hear in these stories," he said. "So, we're very happy."
In January, a prison inmate was sentenced to 4-1/2 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.
Two men arrested for questioning in the disappearance of DeJesus in 2004 were released from the city jail in 2006 after officers didn't find her body during a search of the men's house. One of the men was transferred to the Cuyahoga County Jail on unrelated charges, while the other was allowed to go free, police said. In September 2006, police acting on a tip tore up the concrete floor of the garage and used a cadaver dog to search unsuccessfully for DeJesus' body. Investigators confiscated 19 pieces of evidence during their search but declined to comment on the significance of the items at the time.