Thursday 23 October 2014

Three women abducted a decade ago found alive and well in US house

Published 07/05/2013 | 07:35

Three women who were abducted about a decade ago in the US have been found at a house in Cleveland.

It is believed they were tied up and kept captive in a basement of the property for the last 9-13 years.

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were found after a neighbour heard screaming and called 911.

Berry disappeared at age 16 on April 21, 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a lift home from her job at a Burger King. DeJesus went missing at age 14 on her way home from school about a year later.

Knight disappeared about 10 years ago when she was 21.

Children were also found at the property. Police have arrested a 52-year-old man and his two brothers in relation to the abductions.

Cleveland's police chief Ed Tomba said he thinks the women were tied up in the house and had been there since they disappeared.

The women were discovered when a neighbour was alerted to their presence by screams from the house. He rushed to the property, where one of the women used his mobile phone to call 911, according to Cleveland police.

"I heard screaming - I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside," Charles Ramsey, the man who found them, told WEWS.

"I go on the porch and she said 'Help me get out. I've been here a long time.' - She comes out with a little girl ... 'Call 911, my name is Amanda Berry'... When she told me it didn't register."

Amanda Berry (L) and Georgina DeJesus (R), both who went missing as teenagers about a decade ago
Cleveland Police stand outside the home where they say missing women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight were found (AP)
Members of the FBI evidence team remove items from a house on in Cleveland Monday, May 6, 2013. Three women who went missing separately about a decade ago, when they were in their teens or early 20s, were found alive in the house, and a man was arrested. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
Members of the FBI evidence team remove items from a house on in Cleveland.

He said he kicked the bottom of the door open so Ms Berry could crawl out as the man ran from the house. She emerged with a young child, he said.

On the phone to police, Ms Berry begged them to come as soon as they could "before he gets back."

"I'm Amanda Berry. I've been kidnapped. I've been missing for 10 years. I'm free. I'm here now," she said, according to the recording of her frantic call to 911.

She told the dispatcher that the man who had held her captive was called Ariel Castro. When police arrived she told them there were two other captives in the home. At least one of the women is reported to have a baby.

Local news stations said Mr Castro is the man in police custody.

All three women were taken to a hospital, where they were reported to be in good medical condition, police said. They were to be reunited with the remaining members of their families at the hospital, Cleveland's Channel 5 News reported.

"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. Again, I am thankful that these three young ladies are found and alive," Mayor Frank Jackson said.

Loved ones said they hadn't given up hope of seeing Ms Berry and Ms DeJesus again. Among them was Kayla Rogers, a childhood friend of Ms DeJesus.

"I've been praying, never forgot about her, ever," she said. "This is amazing. This is a celebration. I'm so happy. I just want to see her walk out of those doors so I can hug her."

Ms Berry's cousin Tasheena Mitchell told the newspaper she couldn't wait to hug her.

"I'm going to hold her, and I'm going to squeeze her and I probably won't let her go," she said.

Mr Castro was described by neighbours as a friendly school bus driver and musician whose daughter would often come over with his grandchildren. Mr Ramsey said he had lived in the neighbourhood for a year and saw the man in the house where the women were found "every day".

Neighbour Charlie Czorb said he was stunned by how long the women had lived at the house undetected.

"This is our own backyard," he said. "These girls were locked up in our own backyard."

The case was back in the spotlight in January when a prison inmate was sentenced to four and a half years after admitting he provided a false burial tip in the disappearance of Ms 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 year, Wolford told authorities to look for Ms Berry's remains in a Cleveland lot. He was taken to the location, which was dug up.

Ms Berry's mother, Louwana Miller, who had been hospitalised 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.

Two men arrested for questioning in the disappearance of Ms DeJesus in 2004 were released from the city jail in 2006 after officers did not find her body during a search of the men's house.

One of the men was transferred to the Cuyahoga County Jail on unrelated charges, while the other was allowed to go free, police said.

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 Ms DeJesus' body.


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