911 call — ‘I’ve been kidnapped!’ — cops find 3 women missing for years
By Ed Payne and Matt Smith, (CNN) — Amanda Berry was last seen after finishing her shift at a Burger King in Cleveland in 2003. It was the eve of her 17th birthday.
Georgina “Gina” DeJesus disappeared nearly a year later, in April 2004. She was 14.
Michele Knight vanished in 2002, at age 19, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper.
But all three were found alive in a home in a Cleveland neighborhood Monday night, police announced in a development hailed as a miracle by their families.
“Help me, I am Amanda Berry,” the young woman told police in a frantic 911 call from a neighbor’s house. “I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m here, I’m free now.”
Police swiftly moved in on the house where the three women said they had been held and later arrested a 52-year-old man, identified as a former school bus driver. Two others, identified as his brothers, ages 50 and 54, also have been arrested, Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba told reporters late Monday. Police believe only the middle brother lived at the home, he said.
The men are being held in the city jail awaiting charges. An FBI team is collecting evidence in the house.
“This is a great, great outcome that we have them still with us,” Tomba said. “It’s just truly, truly amazing and it’s a blessing to the community and to the members of the police department and their families that they’re alive. I can’t tell you how happy we are.”
Those feelings were echoed at Cleveland’s Metro Health Medical Center where the three women and a fourth person were treated before being released Tuesday morning.
“This isn’t the ending we usually hear to these stories, so we’re very happy,” said Dr. Gerald Maloney, an emergency room physician there. “We’re very happy for them.”
A fourth person had been treated at the hospital. Maloney would not identify that person, but witnesses said Berry, who escaped from the house with the help of a neighbor, had a young child with her.
Neighbor Charles Ramsey was sitting down to a fast food meal Monday night when he heard screaming.
“I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house,” he told CNN affiliate WEWS. “I go on the porch and she says, ‘help me get out. I’ve been in here a long time.’”
Figuring it was a domestic dispute, Ramsey kicked in the bottom of the door and the woman came out with a little girl and said, “Call 911, my name is Amanda Berry,” according to Ramsey, who admitted he didn’t recognize the name or know she was missing.
Free from the house where they had been held captive, Berry pleaded for a phone.
“They were crazy, screaming, ‘Help, call police, please help.’ … They were desperate, crying, running,” said Angela Garcia, whose aunt provided the phone for them to call police.
Ramsey also called 911, less than a minute later.
“She’s like, ‘This (expletive) kidnapped me and my daughter,’” he told 911.
DeJesus’s mother, Nancy, met with her at the hospital, cousin Sylvia Colon told CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live.” She had never given up hope of finding her daughter alive.
“She has always said that she just could feel it, a link a mom can feel, but she always believed Gina was alive and well,” Colon said. “She always believed that. I just want to say what a phenomenal Mother’s Day gift she gets this Mother’s Day.”
Brian Cummins, a councilman who represents the area where the women were found, identified the suspect as Ariel Castro.
The Plain Dealer reported that Castro was arrested at a nearby McDonald’s.
His uncle, Julio Castro, told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360″ that his family had grown up in the same west Cleveland neighborhood and knew the DeJesus family.
Castro used to work as a bus driver for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, according to district spokeswoman Roseann Canfora. She did not have specifics Monday night on how long he was employed, when he left or whether he was fired or left voluntarily.
Ramsey told reporters the suspect wasn’t known for anything exciting — “until today.”
“We see this dude every day. I’ve been here a year. I barbecued with this dude. We eat ribs and listen to salsa music,” Ramsey said.
“We never saw the girls there, and we were always outside,” she said. “We only saw the guy.”
Neighbor Israel Lugo said his sister got a bad vibe from the house and asked him not to let the children play unsupervised nearby. He said he heard yelling in the house in November 2011 and called police to investigate, but they left after no one answered the door.
He said he saw Castro at the park Sunday with a little girl and asked who it was.
“He said it was his girlfriend’s daughter,” Lugo told CNN.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said there were “many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing.” But he added, “I am thankful that these three young ladies are found and alive.”
While amazing, such discoveries are more common now, said John D. Ryan, CEO of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.
“To us at the National Center, this is not something that we find shocking any more,” he said. “The fact is, we have seen more and more long term missing cases end up in the victim being rescued many years after their original abduction.”
The most widely reported such incident in recent years was that of Jaycee Dugard, who was freed in 2009 after 18 years of captivity behind the home of a California couple.
Last year, he said, a 43-year-old man was found and reunited with his mother after being abducted at the age of 2.
CNN’s Steve Almasy, Laura Ly and CNN’s Rande Iaboni contributed to this report.