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Ohio kidnappings: police visited house in 2004

© AFP

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-05-08

Authorities had been called to the house in Cleveland, Ohio where three missing young women were found alive after disappearing nearly a decade ago back in January 2004, police said on Tuesday.

As more details in the case of three young women who were found alive in a house in Cleveland, Ohio nearly a decade after vanishing began to emerge on Tuesday, police said that authorities had been called to the residence in January 2004 where they had been held.

Three brothers, one of them a school bus driver who owns the home where the three women and a child were rescued on Monday, are under arrest, police said at a news conference.

A relative of one of the women, who were just teenagers when they disappeared, described their survival as “a miracle,” while authorities in Cleveland and residents struggled to understand how they went unnoticed for so long.

Police said a 6-year-old girl rescued with the three women is believed to be the child of Amanda Berry, now 27, whose screams for help alerted a neighbour and led to their release following a frantic 911 call on Monday evening.

“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 can be heard telling a 911 operator in a recording of the call released by police.

Police arrived to find Berry along with Gina DeJesus, now 23, who vanished in 2004, and Michelle Knight, now 32, who went missing in 2002, police said.

They also discovered the child, who is believed to have been conceived and born during Berry’s captivity, police said.

Berry was last seen leaving her job at a fast-food restaurant the day before her 17th birthday in April 2003, while DeJesus was last seen walking home from school.

A ‘miracle’

After their rescue, the three women were taken to hospital, where they were reunited with family and loved ones, before they were released Tuesday.

Kidnap victim's 911 call

“If you don’t believe in miracles, I suggest you think again,” DeJesus’ aunt Sandra Ruiz said to reporters on Tuesday in Cleveland. Her comments were televised by local station WJW.

“This is a miracle,” Ruiz said. On a more cautionary note she added, “Watch who your neighbour is because you never know.”

Ariel Castro, 52, a school bus driver, was arrested, as were his brothers Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, police said.

“We believe we have the people responsible,” Cleveland Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba said.

Cleveland officials said they were investigating how the young women could have gone unnoticed in the neighborhood where houses sit close together, typically separated only by a driveway.

Authorities visited house in 2004

Children and Family Services authorities went to the house in January 2004 after Castro had left a child on a school bus, Mayor Frank Jackson said at the news conference.

They “knocked on the door but were unsuccessful in connection with making any contact with anyone inside that home,” he said.

The deputy police chief Tomba said that Castro was “interviewed extensively” during that investigation and no criminal intent was found regarding the child left on the bus.

That visit to the house was more than a year after Knight disappeared and a few months after Berry went missing.

“We have no indication that any of the neighbours, bystanders, witnesses or anyone else has ever called regarding any information, regarding activity that occurred at that house on Seymour Avenue,” the mayor said.

FBI and other law enforcement officials were searching the house on the west side of Cleveland, close to where each woman was last seen. Tomba said police were also investigating other properties but did not elaborate.

A mood of jubilation grew as word spread that the women had been found alive in the blue-collar, Latino neighborhood where the two-story house was cordoned off with crime-scene tape.

But residents said too that they were perplexed by the case.

A man who helped to look for DeJesus, Pastor Angel Arroyo, said he and her family members had handed out flyers years ago in the neighborhood where she was found.

“We didn’t search hard enough. She was right under our nose the whole time,” Arroyo said.

Before the disappearances, in March 2000, police said they responded to a call from Ariel Castro reporting a fight in the street.

During her 911 call, Berry can be heard giving the dispatcher Castro’s name and urging police to come quickly. She indicated that she knew her disappearance had been widely reported in the media.

The neighbor who came to her aid told police he heard Berry trying to get out of the house and helped her kick out the bottom of a locked screen door.

“The real hero is Amanda,” Tomba said. “She’s the one that got this rolling.”

There was no word on the fate of a fourth missing girl, Ashley Summers, who disappeared from the same vicinity in July 2007 at age 14.

City Councilwoman Dona Brady, a friend of the Berry family, told Reuters that Berry’s grief-stricken mother had not survived to see her daughter rescued. “She literally died of a broken heart,” Brady said, adding that the mother died aged 47.

The discovery of the three women was reminiscent of the case of Jaycee Dugard, who was snatched from her northern California home at age 11 by a convicted sex offender, Phillip Garrido, and kept in captivity for 18 years before being rescued in 2009.

During that time she was repeatedly raped by her abductor and gave birth to two girls fathered by him. Similar cases of abduction and incarceration have been reported during the past decade in Austria and Italy.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-05-07

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