News Column

Amanda Berry Hailed as Hero for Leading Women's Escape

May 7, 2013

A woman apparently abducted and held against her will for a decade was celebrated Tuesday in Cleveland, Ohio, after escaping the captors who imprisoned her and two other women.

The three women - Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight - escaped late Monday when Berry broke out of the house after a neighbour heard her scream for help.

"The real hero here is Amanda," Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba told reporters. "She's the one that got this rolling. We're following her lead. Without her we wouldn't be here today."

Three brothers suspected of imprisoning the women were arrested Monday and facing charges, police said.

Steven Anthony, chief of the FBI's Cleveland office, vowed to bring the "full weight of justice" against "those responsible for this horrific, horrific case."

For the women's families, "prayers have finally been answered," he said. "The nightmare is over. ... The healing can now begin."

Emerging with a little girl from the house - after the man from next door had kicked in the partly barred front door - Berry used a mobile phone to call for police.

"I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years. And I'm here - I'm free now!" she said in a recording of the call, pleading with an emergency operator to send officers "before he gets back."

In the call, she identified her captor as Ariel Castro, 52.

Castro, a former schoolbus driver and string bass player in Latino music bands, owns the house where the women were held. He and his two brothers, Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, were arrested late Monday.

Berry, now 27, vanished in April 2003 as a 16-year-old on her way home from work at a Burger King. DeJesus, now 23, was missing since April 2004, when she was 14, and Knight, now 32, since August 2002, when she was 20.

DeJesus and Knight emerged, apparently unrestrained inside the house, after officers arrived, police said.

The 6-year-old girl was Berry's daughter, authorities said. Police would not say who fathered the child and declined to say whether the women were sexually assualted.

Charles Ramsey, the neighbour who helped Berry escape, told a police dispatcher in a separate phone call that the child "looks Hispanic."

"We were very, very careful with the interview process (Monday) night," Tomba said. "As time goes by there'll be more information provided from those young ladies as to exactly what took place."

Anthony said that FBI victim and witness specialists, who assist traumatized people during police investigations, would help the three women in law enforcement interviews.

The women appeared to be in good condition but were hospitalized overnight for medical examinations, and were reunited with relatives, police said.

All three were released Tuesday from Cleveland's Metro Health Medical Centre, The Plain Dealer, the major Cleveland daily newspaper, reported online.

Berry's and DeJesus' disappearances were heavily covered for years in Cleveland. Police said they still regularly received tips about the women.

"Everything was done. We dug up backyards," Tomba said.

Knight was reported missing one day after she vanished, but her case as a missing adult was lower profile.

"We have several unanswered questions," Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said. "Why were they taken, how were they taken and how they remained undetected in the city of Cleveland for this period of time?"

Authorities said records showed a police visit to Castro's house in 2004 when he was investigated after leaving a child on the bus he was driving. No one answered the door, police interviewed Castro elsewhere, and a probe of the bus incident found no crime, Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath said.

Local police and FBI investigators "remained committed" to the missing person cases over the years, he said.

"We have continued to investigate any and all leads in these cases. These leads came in over the years and were investigated time and again. Possible suspects were interviewed. Search warrants were executed," McGrath said.

"Thankfully, due to Amanda's brave actions, these three women are alive today."

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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