A truly amazing story began to emerge late Monday in Cleveland, where three women who went missing separately roughly a decade ago—and who their family and friends had naturally feared dead—were found alive, according to local police.
Authorities identified the women as: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, all of whom were either in their teens or early 20s when they disappeared. All three were taken to an area hospital Monday night and later released. A police spokesman briefing reporters this morning said that the women “seemed to be in fairly good health” and displayed “no outward signs” of trauma—although authorities are still concerned about their emotional and physical well-being given the many questions that remain about what occurred over the past decade.
“This was a traumatic experience of them,” said Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. “We need to give them room on this.”
Police say that they also rescued a 6-year-old child, believed to be Berry’s child, although they would not comment on who the father was. Authorities did, however, say that have arrested three brothers—ages 50, 52, and 54—in connection with the case. Police said Tuesday morning that they have not yet decided on what charges the three men will face. The middle brother, Ariel Castro, appears to be the main suspect. He is a former Cleveland school bus driver who had lived in the two-story house since 1992.
According to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, which appears to have the clearest picture of what is still a very cloudy and confusing story, the women were “apparently kidnapped and held for years as prisoners inside a house on Cleveland’s near West Side.”
Still, FBI special agent in charge Steve Anthony stressed that “many questions” remain. “Until we have the answers to those questions based on facts and evidence we won’t be able to speculate as to the how and why,” he said Tuesday morning.
Here’s the New York Times with a rough sketch of how the rescue unfolded Monday evening:
A neighbor, Charles Ramsey, told local television reporters that a woman’s screams drew him to a house on his block. “This girl is kicking the door and screaming,” he said. “I said, ‘Can I help? What’s going on?’ And she said, ‘I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been in this house a long time. And I want to leave right now’.”
Mr. Ramsey said he and his neighbors broke through the door and Ms. Berry came out with a young child. It was not immediately clear if it was her child. He said the police then went in and brought out the other two women.
After escaping the house, Berry called 911, during which she declared: “I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been on the news for the last 10 years.”
According to the date of births listed in the FBI missing-person files, Berry is now 27 and DeJesus is 23. Authorities say that Knight is now 32, although there were originally conflicting reports, some of which suggested she was 30. Knight was the first of the three to go missing, in August of 2002, although she was assumed to have run away.
Berry went missing in April 2003 after last being seen leaving her job at a Cleveland-area Burger King. She disappeared the day before her 17th birthday. One year later, Dejesus, then 14, went missing while walking home from her middle school in the same part of the city. “Both these girls, Amanda and Gina, went missing when the sun was out,” FBI special agent Phil Torsney said in a 2009 podcast asking the public for help. “Amanda was about 7 at night; Gina about 3 in the afternoon.” The home where they were found Monday was in a residential neighborhood not far from where all three were last seen.
“These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance,” Anthony said. “The healing can now begin.”
Dr. Gerald Maloney, an emergency room doctor at the hospital where all three women were taken, said Monday night that they were all in fair condition. “They are able to speak, they are safe, and hospital staff are assessing their needs and evaluating if they will spend the night,” he said at a press conference. “This is good. This is not the ending we usually see from these stories.”
We’ll have more on this story as it develops. But in the meantime, here’s Ramsey, the neighbor who found the women, talking to local news last night about the rescue:
And here’s Amanda Berry’s 911 call:
This post has been updated with additional information, and for clarity.