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Kidnap girls found after 10 years

MIRACLE: Three snatched as teenagers found alive at home in Cleveland, USA

ONE was a 16-year-old girl who vanished without trace in 2003.

Another was just 14 when she disappeared on her way home from school in 2004.

And a third was a woman of almost 20 who lost contact with her family and friends in 2002.

But early today all three women were found in a suburban home in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, in the USA.

An emergency call by the now 26-year-old Amanda Berry alerted the world to an extraordinary story of three young women who appear to have been kept in captivity for over a decade.

A little girl, aged six, was also found in the home. Police declined to identify the child.

 

Free

As tearful family reunions were taking place in a local hospital, investigators were beginning the task of trying to piece together the missing years of the three women.

Three brothers have been arrested.

The three women had been tied up and held in a home in Cleveland, Ohio, before being found alive, police said.

One of the women frantically told a police emergency dispatcher that the person who had taken her was gone and pleaded for police to come and get her, saying: "I'm free now."

Cheering crowds gathered in the street near the home where police said Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight had been held since they went missing.

Police did not immediately provide any details of how the women were found, but said they appeared to be in good health and had been taken to a hospital to be reunited with relatives and to be evaluated.

They said a six-year-old was also found in the home.

On a recorded emergency call, Ms Berry declared: "I'm Amanda Berry. I've been on the news for the last 10 years."

She said she had been taken by someone and begged for police officers to arrive at the home on Cleveland's west side before he returned.

"I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years," she told the dispatcher.

"And I'm here. I'm free now."

Ms Berry disappeared, aged 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.

Ms DeJesus went missing at the age of 14 on her way home from school about a year later.

They were found just a few miles from where they disappeared.

Police said Ms Knight (now 32) went missing in 2002.

They said one of the brothers (52) lived at the home.

Dozens of police officers and sheriff's deputies gathered at the scene awaiting a warrant to search the building where the women and child were found.

Family members said they had not given up hope of seeing the women again. Among them was Kayla Rogers, a childhood friend of Ms DeJesus.

"I've been praying, never forgot about her, ever," Ms Rogers 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 reporters that she could not wait to have her in her arms.

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

 

Burial

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

Mayor Frank Jackson expressed gratitude that the three women were found alive.

"We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing," he said.

At Metro Health Medical Centre, Dr Gerald Maloney declined to go into details about the women's conditions.

"We're assessing their needs, and the appropriate specialists are evaluating them as well," he said at a news conference, which concluded with a round of applause from a large gathering of residents.

In January, 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, who had last been seen the day before her 17th birthday.

A judge in Cleveland sentenced Robert Wolford after his guilty plea to obstruction of justice, making a false report and making a false alarm.

Last summer Wolford tipped authorities to look for Berry's remains on a Cleveland site.

He was taken to the location, which was dug up.

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 for Ms DeJesus' body.

No special alert was issued the day Ms DeJesus failed to return home from school in April 2004 because no one witnessed her abduction.

The lack of an alert angered her father, Felix DeJesus, who said in 2006 he believed the public would listen even if the alerts became routine.

hnews@herald.ie


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