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Frantic 911 call leads to 3 missing women in Ohio (+video)

By Thomas J. Sheeran

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, May 7 2013 1:43 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Friday, March 3, 2004 file photos shows Felix DeJesus, holding a banner showing his daughter's photograph, standing by a memorial in his living room in Cleveland. Cleveland police say two women who went missing as teenagers about a decade ago have been found alive in a residential area about two miles south of downtown. Cheering crowds gathered Monday night on the street near the home where police say Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and a third woman were found earlier in the day. The identity of the third woman hasn't been confirmed.

Tony Dejak, File, Associated Press

CLEVELAND — The woman's voice was frantic and breathless, and she was 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 vanished about a decade ago were found Monday, exhilarating law enforcement authorities, family members and friends who had longed to see them again.

Police Chief Michael McGrath said Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were apparently held captive in the house since they were in their teens or early 20s.

Authorities later arrested three brothers, ages 50 to 54. One of them, former school bus driver Ariel Castro, owned the home, situated in a neighborhood dotted with boarded-up older homes. No immediate charges were brought against them.

A 6-year-old girl also was found in the home, and Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba said Tuesday that the child is believed to be Berry's daughter. He declined to say who the father was or where the child was born.

Authorities would not whether the women were restrained inside the house or if any of them had been sexually assaulted. Police said they were trying to be delicate in their questioning of the women, given the trauma they endured.

Investigators also said they had no records of any tips or calls about criminal activity at the house in the years after the victims vanished. They said they had no records of code violations or fire department calls either.

The women appeared to be in good health and were taken to a hospital to be evaluated and reunited with relatives. A photo released by Berry's family showed her smiling with an arm around her sister. All three were released from Metro Health Medical Center on Tuesday morning. Police said they were taken to an undisclosed location in the suburbs.

A sign outside the home of DeJesus' parents read "Welcome Home Gina."

Her aunt Sandra Ruiz told reporters that she was able to see all three. She asked that the family be given space.

"Those girls, those women are so strong," she said. "What we've done in 10 years is nothing compared to what those women have done in 10 years to survive."

Investigators celebrated the news almost as much as the families.

"For Amanda's family, for Gina's family, for Michelle's family, prayers have finally been answered. The nightmare is over," said Stephen Anthony, head of the FBI office in Cleveland. "These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin."

He added: "Words can't describe the emotions being felt by all. Yes, law enforcement professionals do cry."

The disappearances of Berry and DeJesus never left the minds of police. Investigators twice dug up backyards looking for Berry and continued to receive tips about the two every few months, even in recent years. But few leads ever came in about Knight, who was the first of the three to disappear, in August 2002.

Neighbor Juan Perez told NBC's "Today" show that he rarely saw Castro or anyone else at the house.

"I thought the home was vacant. I thought he probably had another property and he would just come and check and see if everything is OK," Perez said. "I didn't even know anybody lived there."

The women's escape and rescue began with a frenzied cry for help.

A neighbor, Charles Ramsey, told WEWS-TV he heard screaming Monday and saw Berry, whom he didn't recognize, at a door that would open only enough to fit a hand through. He said she was trying desperately to get outside and pleaded for help to reach police.

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