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Thursday 18 September 2014

Emotional return home for kidnap victims as they are reunited with families

Kim Palmer and Kevin Gray

Published 08/05/2013 | 18:03

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TWO newly freed Cleveland women had family homecomings this evening after a decade of captivity in a house where police said chains and ropes had been used to hold them prisoner.

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Neither Amanda Berry nor Gina DeJesus spoke publicly as they were hustled inside their family's homes, and relatives emerged instead to speak to the waiting crowds of spectators and media.

Friends and family celebrate as Gina DeJesus arrives at her home in Cleveland, Ohio, May 8, 2013. DeJesus, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Berry's 6-year-old daughter escaped a Cleveland home where they were held captive.
Friends and family celebrate as Gina DeJesus arrives at her home in Cleveland, Ohio, May 8, 2013. DeJesus, Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Berry's 6-year-old daughter escaped a Cleveland home where they were held captive.

The three brothers identified as suspects in the case were expected to be charged by the end of the day, police said. The suspects were arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and rape, police said.

Berry, 27, and her 6-year-old daughter, who was conceived and born in captivity, could be seen from an aerial television camera arriving in a convoy of vehicles at her sister's house and going in the back door.

DeJesus, 23, was rushed into the home she had not seen in nine years, clenched in a tight embrace by her sister Mayra. DeJesus hid her face in a yellow hooded sweat-shirt but raised her hand in a thumbs-up sign to the crowd that was chanting "Gina. Gina."

Her mother Nancy DeJesus came outside after a little while.

"I want to thank everybody that believed," she said. "Even the ones that doubted, I still want to thank them the most because they're the ones that made me stronger, the ones that made me feel the most that my daughter was out there."

Police released some details about the search of the house where the women had been held, including the discovery of chains and ropes police said had been used to tie up the victims. Police said no human remains had been found.

Further details were expected to be released at a news conference by Cleveland police scheduled for 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

The suspects were arrested within hours of the women's escape. They were Ariel Castro, 52, who was fired from his school bus driving job in November for "lack of judgment," and his brothers Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50.

Police have not said what role each man is suspected of playing, but Berry named Ariel Castro in an emergency call to 911 on Monday as the man from whom she was trying to escape.

Before Monday evening, Berry had last been seen leaving her job at a fast-food restaurant the day before her 17th birthday in April 2003. Her disappearance as a teenager was widely publicized in the local media.

Her sister's two-story bungalow was festooned with dozens of colorful balloons, yellow ribbons and a huge sign reading "Welcome Home Amanda."

The bungalow is in an ethnically mixed, working-class neighborhood about six miles from the house where Berry broke through a door with the assistance of a neighbor who heard her screaming and helped her call police.

Appearing on the lawn of the house, Berry's sister, Beth Serrano, asked the public for privacy "so my sister and niece and I can have time to recover."

"We appreciate all you have done for us for the past ten years," she said, her voice quaking and appearing to choke back tears. "Please respect our privacy until we are ready to make our statement. And thank you."

Berry was found with DeJesus, who vanished while walking home from school at age 14 in 2004, and Michelle Knight, 32, who was 20 when she disappeared in 2002.

Berry told her grandmother in a telephone call played on local television that her daughter was born on Christmas Day.

At DeJesus's home, also decorated with flowers, balloons, welcoming signs and an array of stuffed animals, Felix DeJesus pumped his fist in the air as his daughter went inside.

"There are not enough words to say or express the joy that we feel for the return of our family member Gina, and now Amanda Berry, her daughter and Michelle Knight who is our family also," DeJesus' aunt Sandra Ruiz said outside the house.

She too pleaded for privacy, saying: "Give us time and privacy to heal. When we're ready, I promise every single one of you guys that we'll talk to you."

The three women had been hospitalized and released following their rescue. Knight was re-admitted to the hospital on Wednesday in good condition, a spokesman said.

Euphoria over the rescue of the women on Monday was giving way to mounting questions about how their imprisonment in a house on a residential street had gone undetected for so long.

Several neighbors said they had called police to report suspicious activity at the house in a dilapidated neighborhood on Cleveland's West Side, but police denied those calls had been made.

"We have no record of those calls coming in over the last ten years," Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath said on Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show.

McGrath said he was confident police did not miss opportunities to find the missing women. "Absolutely, there's no question about it," he said.

Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation were searching through the house where the women were believed to have been held since vanishing, McGrath said.

"We have confirmation that they were bound, and there (were) chains and ropes in the home," he said.

No human remains were found, Cleveland Safety Director Martin Flask said in a statement.

McGrath said the women had been allowed outside "very rarely" during their captivity. "They were released out in the backyard once in a while," he said.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Johnson said yesterday that child welfare officials had paid a visit to the house in January 2004 because Castro was reported to have left a child on a school bus while he stopped for lunch at a fast-food restaurant. But no one answered the door and the ensuing inquiry found no criminal intent, officials said.

 

NEIGHBORS REPORT SUSPICIOUS INCIDENTS

Questions have mounted about why the women's captivity escaped notice.

"We didn't search hard enough. She was right under our nose the whole time," said Angel Arroyo, a church pastor who had handed out flyers of DeJesus in the neighborhood.

Aside from the school bus incident in 2004, city officials said a database search found no records of calls to the house or reports of anything amiss during the years in question.

"We have no indication that any of the neighbors, bystanders, witnesses or anyone else has ever called regarding any information, regarding activity that occurred at that house on Seymour Avenue," the mayor said.

Israel Lugo, a neighbor, said he called police in November 2011 after his sister saw a girl at the house holding a baby and crying for help. He said police came and banged on the door several times but left when no one answered.

About eight months ago, Lugo said, his sister saw Ariel Castro park his school bus outside and take a large bag of fast food and several drinks inside.

"My sister said something's wrong ... That's when my mom called the police," he said. Lugo said police came and warned Castro not to park the bus in front of his house.

Another neighbor said a little girl could often be seen peering from the attic window of the Castro house.

Born in Puerto Rico, Ariel Castro played bass in Latin music bands in the area. Records show he was divorced more than a decade ago and his ex-wife had since died. He is known to have at least one adult daughter and son

Reuters

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