Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

May 7, 2013

'I'M FREE NOW!": Frantic 911 call leads to 3 missing women in Ohio

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 a decade ago were found Monday, elating family members and friends who had longed to see them again.

Authorities later arrested three brothers. They released no names and gave no information about them or what charges they might face. A relative said one of them is the homeowner, his nephew Ariel Castro.

City officials have scheduled a news conference for Tuesday morning.

Police Chief Michael McGrath said he thinks Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were tied up at the house and held there since they were in their teens or early 20s.

A 6-year-old also was found in the home, but police didn't disclose the child's identity or relationship to anyone in the home. The women appeared to be in good health and were taken to a hospital to be evaluated and be reunited with relatives.

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.

"I heard screaming," he said. "I'm eating my McDonald's. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house."

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 allowed 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 come to 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."

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. About a year later, DeJesus vanished at age 14 on her way home from school. Police said Knight disappeared in 2002 and is 32 now.

Berry is now 27, according to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Authorities didn't provide a current age DeJesus. They were found just a few miles from where they had vanished.

Police said one of the brothers who was arrested, a 52-year-old, lived at the home, and the others, ages 50 and 54, lived elsewhere.

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.

Julio Castro, who runs a grocery store half a block from where the women were found, said the homeowner arrested is his nephew, Ariel Castro.

Berry also identified Ariel Castro by name in her 911 call.

Attempts to reach Ariel Castro in jail were unsuccessful Monday. Messages to the sheriff's office and a jail spokesman went unanswered, and there was no public phone listing for the home, which was being searched by dozens of police officers and sheriff's deputies.

The uncle said Ariel Castro had worked as a school bus driver. The Cleveland school district confirmed he was a former employee but wouldn't release details.

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.

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 then.

 

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