US police have searched an unremarkable home in a working-class neighbourhood of Cleveland after three women who had been missing for around a decade were rescued from kidnappers.
“We have evidence response teams there, we have victims specialists working with the families, with the Cleveland police, trying to determine how it did happen,” said FBI spokesman Paul Bresson on Tuesday.
Cleveland Director of Public Safety Martin Flask said police had not been alerted to anything untoward happening at the house on Seymour Avenue.
Deputy police chief Ed Tomba said: “Obviously, there was a long period of time where nobody saw them. So we have to wait until we interview them and hopefully they are going to tell us exactly what went on in there.”
The three women who were missing for years, two of whom disappeared as teenagers, have been found alive in a house in Cleveland.
Police in the US state of Ohio said on Monday the three were found just south of town centre, within a few kilometres of where they disappeared.
The nightmare is over. Yes, law enforcement professionals do cry.
Three brothers have been arrested in connection to the case. Authorities said the three suspects will be charged.
The three women were identified by police as Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michelle Knight. Police said the three were “alive, talking, appeared to be OK”.
Reports said a six-year-old child was also found with the women. The girl is believed to be Berry’s daughter.
“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.
A neighbour was alerted to their presence by screams from the house and rushed to the dwelling where he found the women, one of whom used his cell phone to call emergency-911, according to Cleveland police.
“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,” Berry is heard frantically telling a 911 emergency operator in a recording of the call, released by police and posted on the website of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
During the call, she gave the name of her alleged abductor and said he was “out of the house”.
When police arrived she told them there were two other captives in the home. Police said it was likely the three women were tied up during their decade of captivity.
All three women were taken to a hospital, where they were reported to be in good medical condition, police said.
Neighbours said on Tuesday they had called police on at least two occasions over the years to check on the house where the three women were being held.
One neighbour said she called police after her daughter saw a naked woman crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard of the house a few years ago.
Another said he called after hearing pounding on the doors and noticed plastic bags over the windows.
According to the neighbours, police arrived at the house after both reports, but never went inside.
People also said they had seen Castro walking a young girl to a nearby playground on several occasions.
“Everyone in the neighbourhood did what they had to do,” Lupe Collins, a a friend of the women’s relatives, said.
“The police didn’t do their job.”
Suspects under arrest
Among the three brothers arrested by police was Ariel Castro, 52, a bus driver for Cleveland public schools.
Police mug shots revealed Castro and his brothers — Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50 — to be thick-set men with gray beards.
Their uncle, Caesar Castro, who owns a grocery store on the same street, said his nephew Ariel 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 his nephew 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.”
He added, “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.”
Berry was last seen at approximately 7:40pm on April 21, 2003, after leaving work at a fast food restaurant that was just a few blocks from her home. She was 16 when she disappeared, according to the FBI.
Her mother, Louwanna Miller, passed away in March of 2006, according to US media reports.
DeJesus was 14 when she disappeared while walking home from school on April 2, 2004.
She was last seen at a pay telephone booth, sometime between 2:45pm and 3:00pm that day, according to the FBI.
The third woman, Michelle Knight, disappeared in 2002 at age 20, according to US media. She was last seen at a cousin’s house on August 23, 2002, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)