Screaming woman ‘going nuts to get out of a house’ brings 10-year Ohio kidnap ordeal to an end
Three women and child found alive in house within minutes of emergency call
Amanda Berry (right) hugs her sister Beth Serrano after being reunited in a Cleveland hospital on Monday. Photograph: AP Photo Amber Berry hugs her sister Beth Serrano after being reunited in a Cleveland hospital Monday May 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Family Handout courtesy WOIO-TV)
Charles Ramsey speaks to media near the home on Seymour Avenue in Clevland, Ohio, where three missing women were rescued on Monday. Photograph: AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, Scott Shaw
Sheriff deputies stand outside a house in Cleveland, Ohio, following the discovery there of three women who vanished a decade ago. Photograph: AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Berry’s short call on Monday evening marked the end of a decade-long mystery about her vanishing and the separate disappearances of two other young women, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, in a neighbourhood in Cleveland, Ohio.
“I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m . . . I’m here, I’m free now,” Berry told emergency services during the brief but frantic phone call.
Now 27 years old, she was kidnapped on April 21st, 2003, a day before her 17th birthday when she called her sister to say that she was getting a lift home at the end of her shift at Burger King.
DeJesus, now 23, disappeared on her way home from school about a year after Berry vanished. Knight, now 30, was abducted before Berry; she went missing in 2002.
The women were found alive in a house on Seymour Avenue in a mostly Hispanic neighbourhood, three miles south of Cleveland, within minutes of the 911 call before 6pm on Monday.
A six-year-old girl, believed by police to be Berry’s daughter born to her while in captivity, was also found at the house.
Police arrested the owner of the house, former Cleveland bus driver Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old Hispanic man, and his two brothers – Pedro (54) and Onil (50) – over the abductions, though investigators believe that only the middle brother lived at the house.
The remarkable story of the three women’s disappearance and discovery years later follows those of other famous abductions to have come to light in recent years – Elisabeth Fritzl, who was held captive by her father, Josef Fritzl, for 24 years until 2008 and Californian girl Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was discovered in 2009 after being kidnapped by Philip Garrido in 1991 when she was 11.
Charles Ramsey was in his house on Seymour Avenue on Monday when he heard screaming from a house on the road.
He ran outside to see a woman “going nuts trying to get out of a house”, he told a local television news station. The door to the house was open only wide enough to fit her hand through.
Ramsey kicked the door in, thinking that there was a domestic dispute going on inside. Berry emerged from the house with a little girl, he said. A recording of Ramsey’s call with the 911 dispatcher captures his shock on the discovery of the kidnap victim.
Cheers from locals
The discovery of the women by police following up on the call was greeted with cheers from locals in Cleveland and with elation among relatives and friends of the three.
Berry’s cousin Tasheena Mitchell told the Plain Dealer , the local Cleveland newspaper: “I’m going to hold her, and I’m going to squeeze her and I probably won’t let go.”
The emergence of the women from captivity came too late for some. Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, died in 2006 after spending the previous three years looking for her daughter. Miller suffered from pancreatitis and other illnesses and her daughter’s disappearance is said to have taken its toll.
There had been several false leads in the decade-long investigation into the women’s disappearances. A prison inmate was sentenced to 4½ years in prison after he admitted obstructing justice by providing a false tip on a place he claimed Berry had been buried.
In 2006 Felix DeJesus, father of Gina, had criticised the failure of police to issue a child abduction emergency announcement known as an “amber alert”, on the disappearance of his daughter in April 2004. No alert was issued because there were no witnesses to her abduction.
Cleveland police and the FBI are trying to find out how the women remained undetected so long. Local media reported that police discovered chains in the basement.
Cleveland police chief Michael McGrath said officers had been called to the house at 2207 Seymour Avenue twice before, in 2000 and 2004.
Police had investigated a complaint in January 2004 concerning Ariel Castro’s job as a bus driver for the Cleveland Municipal School District. A child had been left on a bus at a depot but officials said there was no criminal intent behind it. Castro was arrested previously, in December 1993, for domestic violence, but the case was later dismissed.
He pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct that same month.
Neighbours described Castro as an ordinary man who let children ride up and down the street on a four-wheel vehicle he owned. He was not shy and attended neighbourhood parties or barbeques.
One neighbour, Israel Lugo, told a local news station affiliated to CNN that he heard yelling in the house in November 2011 and called police to investigate. But they left after no one answered the door.
Ramsey said he had barbequed with Castro – they had eaten ribs and listened to salsa music together. But he never suspected anything untoward about him.
“There was nothing exciting about him,” he told local news reporters, “well, until today.”