‘I’m Free Now’
Cleveland Kidnapping: What We Know So Far- by Caroline Linton
On Monday night, Amanda Berry, 27, ran out of a house in Cleveland and into the arms of a passing man and told him who she was and that she had been missing for 10 years. On a chilling 911 call, Berry told the dispatcher, “Help me, I am Amanda Berry … I have been kidnapped and I have been missing for 10 years and I’m here. I’m free now.” She identified her captor as Ariel Castro, and when police arrived they found two other women, Gina DeJesus, now 23, and Michele Knight, now 32. Here’s what we know so far about the case.
Who Was Rescued
Berry disappeared on April 21, 2003, at the age of 17. She had called her sister to tell her that she had gotten a ride home from her job at a Burger King, and her family had long kept the search for her alive. DeJesus was just 14 when she vanished on April 2, 2004, while she was walking home from school. Earlier this year, a prison inmate was sentenced for telling police Berry’s remains were buried under a Cleveland lot. The DeJesus family had held a vigil in April, with her mother telling WKYC “she’s still out there, and we need to bring her home.” DeJesus’s family had long believed their daughter had been kidnapped as part of a trafficking ring. Knight, 32, disappeared in 2000, but because she was 20 at the time of her disappearance, police believed that she had run away. It had been assumed that she ran away because she was angry at losing custody of her son, Knight’s grandmother said. Also found in the house was a 6-year-old girl, whom Berry gave birth to while in captivity. It is unknown who the father is or where she was born. All three women and the girl are listed as in good health, and were released from the hospital Tuesday morning.
How They Were Found
Police said that Berry somehow decided that May 6 would be her last day living in captivity. The women were found at a house on Seymour Avenue, which is only a few miles from where they disappeared. According to police, Berry broke the lock on the door at Seymour Avenue. A neighbor said she saw an arm break through the door and someone yelled for help.
Neighbor Charles Ramsey, who lived across the street, said he heard screaming and “saw this girl going nuts trying to get out of this house.” The girl said, “Help me get out, I’ve been here a long time” and that the door was rigged to trap people inside. Eventually Ramsey was able to free her, and he saw Berry with a little girl. At first, Ramsey though it was a domestic violence incident. He couldn’t believe it when he saw what was actually going on at this house.
“We saw this dude every day,” Ramsey said. He said there was “no clue that girl—or anyone else—was in that house against their will.” Ramsey took Berry and her daughter to his house to call 911, where she revealed who she was—and that there were two other women at the house. Ramsey said that a man, later identified as Ariel Castro, ran away after Ramsey helped Berry escape.
Who Are the Suspects?
In her 911 call, Berry identified her captor as Ariel Castro, 52, a former bus driver. She also begged the dispatcher to send someone fast “before he comes back.” Records show that Castro has lived there since 1992, and a Ohio school district confirmed he worked as a bus driver for the district. Police confirmed on Tuesday that they had arrested Castro at a local McDonald’s, and that they had also arrested two of his brothers, Pedro, 54, and Oneil, 50. The brothers’ involvement in the case is unclear. Castro had previously been accused of attacking his former wife, Grimilda Figueroa. According to a filing in Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court, Figueroa suffered two broken noses, broken ribs, a blood clot on the brain, dislocated two shoulders and had two teeth knocked out. Castro did not have visitation rights to their children, but Figueroa’s attorney noted that Castro “frequently abducts the daughters and keeps them from their mother.”
In a strange twist, Ariel Castro's son, also named Ariel but who goes by Anthony, wrote a piece as a journalism student for Bowling Green State University for the Cleveland Plain Press on DeJesus's kidnapping in 2004. Anthony Castro, now 31, told WKYC-TV that he is "truly stunned" by his father's alleged involvement. On Tuesday, Anthony Castro said he feels “unspeakably horrible for this,” saying he last saw his father two weeks ago, but they only spoke in the yard. “That I wrote about this nearly 10 years ago—to find out it is now so close to my family—it’s unspeakable.”
Neighbors on Seymour Avenue also expressed disbelief that this could happen on their block. “This is our backyard,” said Charlie Czorba, who lives on Seymour and is also a customer of Caribe, a store owned by the Castros’ uncle. “These girls were locked up in our backyard.”
What We Don’t Know
Police admitted at a press conference on Tuesday that they still had many questions about the case, but their primary concern on Monday night had been reuniting the women with their families. Cleveland Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba told reporters the scene at the hospital was “chaotic.” While Berry’s and DeJesus’s disappearances were in the news, police said they are unsure why Knight was not so well covered. Police said it is also unclear who the father of Berry’s daughter is, and where the girl was born. In addition to Berry’s daughter, sources told WKYC that the women were raped during their time in captivity, with up to five pregnancies between them. The sources said it’s unclear what happened to the pregnancies, although one source indicated that the women were beaten when they were pregnant and the babies didn’t survive. Police said they had responded twice since 2000 to the house on Seymour Avenue where the women were found, but they have no record of any suspicious activity there. Police said they are also considering that the case may be connected to Ashley Summers, a 14-year-old girl who vanished in 2007 in the same neighborhood as Berry and DeJesus.