BY DIANA BIERMAN
Three brave women are finally free in Cleveland, Ohio after being held against their will for an entire decade.
The women—Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight—were teens and in their early 20s at the time of their kidnapping. They went missing at separate times, but in close vicinity of one another, and are believed to have been trapped in a house for the last 10 years.
Amanda Berry, now 27, who had vanished in 2003 at the age of 16, was the one who made the 911 call on Monday after hailing a neighbor when her alleged kidnapper left the house. With the neighbor’s help, she was able to slip through a door and escape in time to make the call.
“Help me! I’m Amanda Berry,” Berry had said, frantically. “I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years, and I’m here, I’m free now.”
DeJesus, now 23, and Knight, now 31, were later freed from the property as well. A 6-year-old girl, believed to be Berry’s child, was also rescued.
The owner of the home, Ariel Castro, 52, a former school bus driver, was taken into custody, along with his brothers Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50. The house, located at 2207 Seymour Avenue, was a mere five miles from where the girls were abducted years ago.
While most neighbors had never had any suspicion, one had said a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard several years ago, and another heard pounding on the doors. Each time, police had showed up at the house, but never went inside. In 2004, children and family services investigators had gone to the house when Ariel Castro had left a child on his bus, but after knocking on the door, they were also unsuccessful in entering.
The Castro brothers’ brother-in-law, Juan Alicea, was taken completely for a loop, and said he and other relatives were “as blindsided as anyone else” to learn of the news.
Over the years, it was assumed by many that the girls were dead. Berry’s mother, Louwana, had even talked to a psychic on the Montel Williams show in 2004, who had told her Amanda was not alive. Louwana passed away two years later from heart disease—a “broken heart,” a local politician had called it.
The families of the three women celebrated the remarkable return of their loved ones on Tuesday. The women, including the little girl, all were in relatively good health.
“The nightmare is over,” said FBI Special Agent Stephen Anthony. “These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin.”