A BUS driver and his two brothers have been arrested after three women were found in a house in Cleveland, Ohio, 10 years after they were abducted and presumed dead.
A six-year-old girl also found in the house is believed to be the daughter of one of the missing women, Amanda Berry.
At a briefing outlining the initial details of the case, police said they had twice contacted the owner of the house, Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old bus driver, who was arrested along with his two brothers Pedro, 54, and Oneil, 50.
The first instance occurred in 2000, when Ariel Castro called police about a street fight. The second came in 2004, after Mr Castro left a child on a school bus. But not thought that anyone had raised suspicions about the abducted women who where in the house.
The arrests came after the discovery of one of the women, Amanda Berry, on Monday. Police were alerted to the missing women’s whereabouts by a frantic emergency call from Amanda Berry after she was freed from the house by a neighbour who said he heard screaming and came to her aid.
In a recording of the emergency call, which has since been released by police, the 26-year-old can be heard screaming: “Help me! I'm Amanda Berry... I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm here. I'm free now“.
Miss Berry had last been seen leaving her job at a fast-food restaurant the day before her 17th birthday in April 2003.
The two women found with her were identified by authorities as Gina DeJesus, 23, who vanished in 2004, aged 14, while walking home from school, and Michelle Knight, who was reported to have been 18 or 19 when she went missing in 2002.
A physician at MetroHealth Medical Center, where the three women were taken for evaluation, said all were safe and appeared to be in “fair condition.”
“This isn't the ending we usually have to these stories,” Dr Gerald Maloney said. “We're very happy for them.”
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 circumstances of their apparent abductions and captivity remained murky, but officials said further details would be disclosed at a news conference earlier today.
During her 911 call, Berry gave the name of her alleged abductor, said he had left the house and urged police to come quickly before he returned. She indicated that she knew her disappearance had been widely reported in the media.
The neighbour who came to her assistance, Charles Ramsey, said that after he helped Berry force open the door, she emerged from the dwelling “with a little girl,” but authorities said nothing about the presence of any children in the house.
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 Berry and DeJesus cases, according to the Charley Project website, which documents more than 9,000 missing-persons cases.
In an interview broadcast by CNN, the neighbour who came to Ms Berry’s rescue said that, when he arrived, Berry appeared desperate to get through the door, which did not open properly.
“I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside,” Charles Ramsey said, adding that he was astonished when she identified herself.
“Then I realized I'm calling 911 for Amanda Berry. I thought that girl was dead,” he said. He said Berry had emerged from the house “with a little girl.”
Crowds on the street where the women were found cheered as police cars drove into the cordoned-off area around the house.
City councilwoman Dona Brady, a friend of the family, told Reuters that Berry's grief-stricken mother had died at age 47, essentially from a broken heart.
A cousin of DeJesus, Sheila Figaro, told CNN that the girl's mother, Nancy, “never gave up faith knowing that her daughter would one day be found. What a phenomenal Mother's Day gift she gets this Mother's Day.”
The suspects' uncle, Caesar Castro, who owns a grocery store on the same street, said Ariel Castro owned the house where the women were found. He added that members of his family and the family of DeJesus “grew up together.”
“Everyone is shocked,” said the elder Castro. He said he had known Ariel Castro to be “a good guy” and a musician who played the bass.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said, “I am thankful that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight have been found alive.”
“We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing,” he added.