The news of three women – held for roughly a decade in captivity in a West Side home -- continues to stun and captivate the world. And no wonder – the story includes a dramatic escape, frantic calls for help, a citizen hero and survival of what appears to have been a horrific ordeal.
City and federal officials provided some additional details today but many questions remain. Ideastream’s Brian Bull joins us with this review of the last 24 hours in the lives of Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and Michele Knight.
BB: Here’s what we know. The three women are free and three men – brothers are in jail. Last night a neighbor, Charles Ramsey, was coming back from a local McDonalds in a hardscrabble neighborhood when he saw a young woman at the door of a house on the 2200 block of Seymour Avenue, desperately pleading for help. She said she was being held captive. So Ramsey helped pull off part of the locked door, and 27-year-old Amanda Berry who went missing as a teenager – escaped along with a 6-year-old child, that police say is Berry’s daughter.
A frantic call to 9-1-1 got the police over in just a couple minutes, and two other women at the house, Gina DeJesus, and Michele Knight, were found. The house’s owner, Ariel Castro, and his two brothers, Pedro and Onil, were taken into custody shortly afterwards.
MK: What do we know about the three Castro brothers?
BB: Not a great deal yet. One, Ariel lived in and is the listed owner of the house where the women were held. He worked as a bus driver and played bass in a band. His two brothers lived in the same area. They are all in their 50s.
Officials at today’s news conference stressed that the investigation is just beginning and there’s a lot they don’t know. Here’s Mayor Frank Jackson.
FJackson01: “We have several unanswered questions: Why were they taken? How were they taken? And how did they remain undetected in the City of Cleveland for this period of time?”
MK: And how could these women be held against their will so long and no one notice anything? How do we know who lives next door and what’s going on in their house. What about the police – had neighbors reported anything?
BB: There are accounts in one AP story, that say that in November 2011, a neighbor heard pounding on the doors of Ariel Castro’s house, say plastic bags on the windows, and called police. They arrived and no one answered. Another account says a naked woman was spotted on her hands and knees in the backyard a few years ago. That too led to police arriving and finding nothing.
MK: Now I understand that Cleveland officials detailed some previous contact with the house’s owner, Ariel Castro. What can you share about that?
BB: In March of 2000, Castro called about a disruptive fight in the street. But according to Cleveland’s Safety Director, Marty Flask, Castro himself was the focus of police when they knocked on his door in January 2004.
MFlask01: “That incident appears to have been related to his employment, Mr. Castro’s employment as a school bus driver. He either intentionally or inadvertently left a child on a bus when he returned to the depot. As a result, that came to our attention that from the Children and Family Services, that there may have been a crime. An investigation that was conducted by the Cleveland Division of Police indicated there was no criminal intent.”
BB: There was no response from Mr. Castro when they knocked on his door nine years ago. Neighbors say while generally low key, his windows were either drawn or boarded up, he locked up his gate routinely, and only entered from the back.
MK: All three women were taken to a local MetroHealth Hospital last night and released today? How are they?
BB: We haven’t heard from them yet and authorities are trying, as one official put it, to give them some space. A medical spokesman at Metrohealth said they were in good health. Not fully sure what that means in these circumstances but apparently not in need of physical treatment. Special trauma counselors are being brought in to assist them in recuperating. Officials are not saying anything about what went on in that house or what types of abuse the women might have endured – but you can imagine there’s a lot they have to deal with.
MK: There’s also a great deal of joy – by the women, I’m sure, and by friends, relatives and people across the city and beyond cheering for them.
BB: That’s right, Michelle. A great deal of love is being expressed on facebook pages, with the neighborhoods, across media of all types. That outpouring has also touched those involved with the investigation. Here’s Stephen Anthony, Special Agent in Charge of Cleveland FBI operations.
SAnthony02: “As you can imagine, words can’t describe the emotions being felt by all. Yes, law enforcement professionals do cry. We rejoice with those families, and the homecoming of Amanda, Gina, and Michele, where I’m sure they’ll be showered with much love and many, many hugs.”
MK: So where does the case stand now, Brian?
BB: The police say they believe they have caught the people responsible – the Castro brothers - and will file charges very soon. We don’t know what the charges will be but indications are at this point that would point to kidnapping. Perhaps assault, perhaps rape.
As for the families of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michele Knight, it’s a time to celebrate. While some relatives claim they never lost hope, other people say they’re astonished at the outcome….that this is a rare happy ending for this type of case. Here again is Special Agent Stephen Anthony:
SAnthony01: “These three young ladies…have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin.”
MK: Brian, thank you.
BB: Thank you, Michelle.
MK: Ideastream’s Brian Bull, on today’s press conference in Cleveland. Stay tuned for further coverage here on WCPN 90.3. I’m Michelle Kanu.