x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Three women missing for a decade found in house of 'friendly neighbour Mr C'

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight are likely to have been held in the same Cleveland home since they disappeared, police say.

Amanda Marie Berry (L), missing since April 2003, and Georgina Lynn Dejesus, missing since April 2004, have been reported found in Cleveland, Ohio, not far from where they were abducted. A third girl, Michelle Knight, was found at the same house. FBI handout / Reuters
Amanda Marie Berry (L), missing since April 2003, and Georgina Lynn Dejesus, missing since April 2004, have been reported found in Cleveland, Ohio, not far from where they were abducted. A third girl, Michelle Knight, was found at the same house. FBI handout / Reuters
CLEVELAND, US // 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, Ohio,  where they found Ms Berry and two other women who vanished about a decade ago. The home's owner and his two brothers were arrested, police said yesterday.
Ms Berry, 27, made the emergency call moments after she was freed from the house by a neighbour who said he heard screaming and came to her aid.
Police descended upon the house within minutes to find Ms Berry along with Gina DeJesus, who vanished in 2004, and Michelle Knight, who went missing in 2002 at age 20 and is now 32.
They also discovered a six-year-old girl believed to be Ms Berry's daughter, police said at a news conference.
Ms Berry had last been seen leaving her job at a fast-food restaurant the day before her 17th birthday in April 2003, and DeJesus, now 23, was last seen walking home from school.
The three women were taken to a hospital, where they were reunited with family and friends, and released, a spokeswoman said.
The owner of the house, Ariel Castro, 52, a school bus driver was arrested, as were his brothers Pedro, 54, and another brother, Onil, age 50, police said.
"We believe we have the people responsible," Cleveland deputy police chief Ed Tomba said at the news conference.
The house is close to where each woman was last seen and police believe they were in the home for the entire time they were missing.
"The nightmare is over. These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance," said FBI special agent Steve Anthony. "Yes, law enforcement professionals do cry," he said.
The neighbour told police he helped Ms Berry kick out the bottom of a screen door that was locked.
"The real hero is Amanda," Mr Tomba said.
During her 911 call, Ms Berry gave the name of a man she said had abducted her. She said he had left the house and urged police to come quickly. She indicated that she knew her disappearance had been widely reported in the media.
All three women were from the west-side section of Cleveland where they ultimately resurfaced.
There was no word on the fate of a fourth missing girl, Ashley Summers, who disappeared from the same vicinity in July of 2007 aged 14 and who police investigated as possibly linked to the disappearances of Ms Berry and Ms DeJesus.
The disappearance of Ms Knight did not attract the local media attention of the suspected abductions of Ms Berry and Ms DeJesus.
Her grandmother, Deborah Knight, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper that some family members had concluded, based in part on suggestions by police and social workers at the time, that she had run away.
A woman who lived on the same street but asked not to be identified said Mr Castro lived alone in the house. She said he drove her two daughters to school and would drop them off in front of her house.
"I'm totally in shock. He seems like a normal guy. He was a gentleman. We all call him Mr C," she said.
A man who helped to look for Ms DeJesus, Pastor Angel Arroyo, said he and her family members had handed out flyers in the neighbourhood where she was found.
"We didn't search hard enough. She was right under our nose the whole time," Mr Arroyo said.
A mood of jubilation pervaded the city as word spread that the women had been found alive, especially in the blue-collar, heavily Latino neighbourhood where dozens of residents clustered near the house from which they were rescued.
City councilwoman Dona Brady, a friend of the Berry family, said that Ms Berry's grief-stricken mother had not survived to see her daughter rescued. "She literally died of a broken heart," Ms Brady said, adding that the mother died aged 47.