The world discovered Monday that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, teens reported missing a decade ago from Cleveland, were being held captive all this time in a local home (shown at left). The women, no longer teens, escaped their dungeon due to the initiative and courage of Amanda Berry, now 26 and mother of a six-year-old girl, who escaped and called 911.
The discovery came on May 6, 2013, when, as he later told reporters, Charles Ramsey (shown in the video below) saw a woman screaming to get out of a house. “I heard screaming, I’m eating at MacDonald’s, I come outside and I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house.” Ramsey told a reporter, “So I go on the porch and she says ‘help me get out. I’ve been in here a long time.’ So you know; I figured it was a domestic violence dispute. So I open the door and we can’t get in that way ’cause of how the door is; it’s so much that a body can’t fit through, only your hand. So we kick the bottom, and she comes out with a little girl and she says ‘Call 911. My name is Amanda Berry.’” At the time, Ramsey said, he did not make the connection to the missing teen from years ago, but concluded, smiling knowingly, “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl go ran into a black man’s arms; something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”
Ramsey’s 911 call. Warning: Contains expletives.
When Ramsey passed the phone to Amanda she said to the 911 operator, “Hello it’s me, help me I’m Amanda Berry! … I need police … I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for ten years and I’m here, I’m free now.”
Amanda Berry’s 911 call.
Once police arrived, Amanda directed their attention back to the house, saying that there were more girls inside. Within minutes Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight emerged with police. They too were free.
While on the phone with 911, Amanda told the operator that she was held captive by Ariel Castro, the owner of the home, who had left. Castro, 52, and his two brothers Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, have been arrested, though Castro seems to have been the only one of the brothers living in the house on Seymour Avenue. Ariel Castro, who did not have a history as a sex offender, was a school bus driver for the local district before being fired over a U-turn. He was friends with the DeJesus family, and did not have the type of police record that would turn heads. He was never a suspect.
In 2004 his son, Anthony Castro, wrote an article about the disappearance of Gina DeJesus for the Plain Press, the text of which is shown on the next page. In the article Castro Jr. discusses the impact of Gina’s disappearance on the community. He quoted Gina’s mother, Nancy Ruiz, “You can tell the difference,” Ruiz said. “People are watching out for each other’s kids. It’s a shame that a tragedy had to happen for me to really know my neighbors. Bless their hearts, they’ve been great.” WKYC in Clevelnad was able to reach Castro’s son for comment. He reportedly said, “This is beyond comprehension … I’m truly stunned right now.”
As far as the public knew at the time, this sad story began with the 2004 abduction of Gina Dejesus, but her abduction was part of a larger pattern. Gina was last seen walking home from school on April 2, 2004. She and a friend stopped to use a payphone and then went their separate ways. That was the last anyone saw of Gina until she emerged into the light from Ariel Castro’s house yesterday. Since 2004, her family has believed that Gina was abducted, but without a witness police were unwilling to issue an Amber Alert. Later in the investigation two of Gina’s classmates told investigators that they had seen her speaking with an older man the day she disappeared. A year later, the FBI released a sketch of the suspect, but despite the family’s efforts, the case was cold.
People soon realized that Amanda Berry, 16, had disappeared near the same spot a year before Gina, on April 21, 2003, one day shy of her 17th birthday. Police tried to convince her mother, Louwana Miller, that the girl had run away. A week after she went missing, however, Miller received a call from a man using Amanda’s cell phone. At the time Cleveland.com reported that the caller told Miller, “I have Amanda. She’s fine and will be coming home in a couple of days.” When she asked to speak with her daughter, the man hung up. The FBI, having confirmed that the call came from Amanda’s cell phone, realized that the girl had in fact been abducted. “This leads us to believe she was not a runaway,” announced FBI agent Robert Hawk. “Someone had control of her cell phone.” Despite media attention, and investigator’s renewed efforts, the case went cold.
Though people made the connection to the Berry case, no one realized that a 2002 case, that of Michele Knight, then 18, was also connected. Michele disappeared on August 2, 2002. Her family reported her missing, but again, because no one knew what had happened to her, police refused to issue an amber alert. Investigators soon discovered that she had been seen at a mall in a van with an older man and concluded, along with some family members, that Michele probably ran away out of frustration over losing custody of her son. Her mother never believed it. Deborah Knight said that she and her daughter were close, and as a result she could never accept the idea that Michele would simply leave, with no warning, no note, and not a single call over the years. She continued the search for her daughter unaided. Now, after years of searching alone, Deborah Knight told Cleveland.com that she is bracing for heartbreak, fearing that this rescued woman will turn out to be someone else, and that Michele will still be gone.
The fact that Amanda escaped with a child immediately raised red flags for investigators, who feared that the women had been kept as sex slaves. Police today confirmed that they were kept separated, and bound with tape and chains. They also confirmed, sadly, that over the years there were several pregnancies, as well as several miscarriages due to the mothers’ malnourishment.
Soon Amanda, Gina and Michele will most likely tell the story of what is starting to look like a horrific ordeal, but for now they have named their captors, which is enough for most.
Meanwhile investigators are trying to figure out how, in a case strikingly similar to that of Jaycee Dugard, abducted and kept prisoner for 18 years in Antioch, California, the three captives went undetected for so long.