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Police facing questions in Cleveland rescue

By John Coyne & Thomas J. Sheeran

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 05:47 p.m. HST, May 07, 2013



CLEVELAND » One neighbor says a naked woman was seen crawling on her hands and knees in the backyard of the house a few years ago. Another heard pounding on the home's doors and noticed plastic bags over the windows.

Both times, police showed up but never went inside, neighbors say. Police also paid a visit to the house in 2004, but no one answered the door.

Now, after three women who vanished a decade ago were found captive Monday at the run-down house, Cleveland police are facing questions for the second time in four years about their handling of missing-person cases and are conducting an internal review to see if they overlooked anything.

City Safety Director Martin Flask said Tuesday that investigators had no record of anyone calling about criminal activity at the house but were still checking police, fire and emergency databases.

The three women were rescued after one of them kicked out the bottom portion of a locked screen door and used a neighbor's telephone to call 911.

"Help me. I'm Amanda Berry," she breathlessly told a dispatcher in a call that exhilarated and astonished much of the city. "I've been kidnapped, and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm, I'm here, I'm free now."

Berry, 27, Michelle Knight, 32, and Gina DeJesus, about 23, had apparently been held captive in the house since their teens or early 20s, police Chief Michael McGrath said.

Three brothers, ages 50 to 54, were arrested. One of them, former school bus driver Ariel Castro, owned the home, situated in a poor neighborhood dotted with boarded-up houses just south of downtown. No charges were filed.

A relative of the three brothers said their family was "totally shocked" after hearing about the missing women being found at the home.

Juan Alicea said the arrests of his wife's brothers had left relatives "as blindsided as anyone else" in their community. He said he hadn't been to the home of his brother-in-law Ariel Castro since the early 1990s but had eaten dinner with Castro at a different brother's house shortly before the arrests were made Monday.

A 6-year-old girl believed to be Berry's daughter also was found in the home, police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said. He would not say who the father was.

The women were reported by police to be in good health and were reunited with joyous family members but remained in seclusion.

In eastern Tennessee, Berry's father, Johnny Berry, told WJHL-TV that he spoke to her for the first time Monday night by phone at his home in Elizabethton.

"She said, 'Hi, Daddy, I'm alive,'" Johnny Berry said. "She said, 'I love you, I love you, I love you,' and then we both started crying."

Although Amanda Berry was born and raised in Cleveland, her father, grandparents and cousins live in Elizabethton. Before she disappeared, she often visited Tennessee during the summers. Family members said they visited her in Cleveland about three weeks before she went missing.

The head of the FBI in Cleveland, Stephen Anthony, said the families' prayers for the missing women had been answered.

"The nightmare is over," he said. "These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin."

He added: "Words can't describe the emotions being felt by all. Yes, law enforcement professionals do cry."

Police would not say how the women were taken captive or how they were hidden in the neighborhood where they had vanished. Investigators also would not say whether they were kept in restraints inside the house or sexually assaulted.

Four years ago, in another poverty-stricken part of town, police were heavily criticized following the discovery of 11 women's bodies in the home and backyard of Anthony Sowell, who was later convicted of murder and sentenced to death.

The families of Sowell's victims accused police of failing to properly investigate the disappearances because most of the women were addicted to drugs and poor. For months, the stench of death hung over the house, but it was blamed on a sausage factory next door.

In the wake of public outrage over the killings, a panel formed by the mayor recommended an overhaul of the city's handling of missing-person and sex crime investigations.

This time, two neighbors said they called police to the Castro house on separate occasions.

Elsie Cintron, who lives three houses away, said her daughter saw a naked woman crawling in the backyard several years ago and called police. "But they didn't take it seriously," she said.

Another neighbor, Israel Lugo, said he heard pounding on some of the doors of the house in November 2011. Lugo said officers knocked on the front door, but no one answered. "They walked to side of the house and then left," he said.

"Everyone in the neighborhood did what they had to do," said Lupe Collins, who is close to relatives of the women. "The police didn't do their job."

Police did go to the house twice in the past 15 years, but not in connection with the women's disappearance, officials said.

In 2000, before the women vanished, Castro reported a fight in the street, but no arrests were made, Flask said.

In 2004, officers went to the home after child welfare officials alerted them that Castro had apparently left a child unattended on a bus, Flask said. No one answered the door, according to Flask. Ultimately, police determined there was no criminal intent on his part, he said.

Castro, 52, was well known in the mainly Puerto Rican neighborhood. He played bass guitar in salsa and merengue bands. He gave children rides on his motorcycle and joined others at a candlelight vigil to remember two of the missing girls, neighbors said. They also said they would sometimes see him walking a little girl to a neighborhood playground.

Tito DeJesus, an uncle of Gina DeJesus, played in bands with Castro over the last 20 years. He recalled visiting Castro's house but never noticed anything out of the ordinary, saying it had very little furniture and was filled with musical instruments.

"I had no clue, no clue whatsoever that this happened," he said.

Also arrested were Castro's brothers Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50. Calls to the jail went unanswered, and there was no response to interview requests sent to police, the jail and city officials.

Ariel Castro's son, Anthony Castro, said in an interview with London's Daily Mail newspaper that he now speaks with his father just a few times a year and seldom visited his house. He said on his last visit, two weeks ago, his father wouldn't let him inside.

"The house was always locked," he said. "There were places we could never go. There were locks on the basement. Locks on the attic. Locks on the garage."

Anthony Castro, who lives in Columbus, also wrote an article for a community newspaper in Cleveland about the disappearance of Gina DeJesus just weeks after she went missing, when he was a college journalism student.

"That I wrote about this nearly 10 years ago — to find out that it is now so close to my family — it's unspeakable," he told The Plain Dealer newspaper.

On Tuesday, a sign hung on a fence decorated with dozens of balloons outside the home of DeJesus' parents read "Welcome Home Gina." Her aunt Sandra Ruiz said her niece had an emotional reunion with family members.

"Those girls, those women are so strong," Ruiz said. "What we've done in 10 years is nothing compared to what those women have done in 10 years to survive."

Many of the women's loved ones and friends had held out hope of seeing them again,

For years, Berry's mother kept her room exactly as it was, said Tina Miller, a cousin. When magazines addressed to Berry arrived, they were piled in the room alongside presents for birthdays and Christmases she missed. Berry's mother died in 2006.

Just over a month ago, Miller attended a vigil marking the 10th anniversary of Berry's disappearance.

Over the past decade or so, investigators twice dug up backyards looking for Berry and continued to receive tips about her and DeJesus every few months, even in recent years. The disappearance of the two girls was profiled on TV's "America's Most Wanted" in 2005. Few leads ever came in about Knight.

Knight vanished at age 20 in 2002. Berry disappeared at 16 in 2003, when she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. About a year later, DeJesus vanished at 14 on her way home from school.

Jessica Aponce said she walked home with DeJesus the day the teenager disappeared.

"She called her mom and told her mom she was on her way home and that's the last time I seen her," Aponce said. "I just can't wait to see her. I'm just so happy she's alive. It's been so many years that everybody thinking she was dead."

Elizabeth Smart and Jaycee Dugard, who were held captive by abductors at a young age, said they were elated by the women's rescue.

"We need to have constant vigilance, constantly keep our eyes open and ears open because miracles do happen," Smart said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's CEO, John Ryan, said Berry, DeJesus and Knight likely would be honored by his group.

"I think they're going to be at the top of the list," he said.

___

Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Jesse Washington in Cleveland, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati, John Seewer in Toledo, Mitch Stacy in Columbus and Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.







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COMMENTS
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allie wrote:
scary out there
on May 6,2013 | 03:45PM
aomohoa wrote:
Scary out where allie? The world. Go home to your Mandan tribe where you will be safe.
on May 6,2013 | 04:05PM
hanalei395 wrote:
Maybe this is the year that "kolea" will be leaving. (Kolea.....A Pacific golder plover. Comes to Hawa'i really thin, then it fattens up. After that, it leaves Hawai'i.......and leaving back..... while it was here..... all that bird........you know what).
on May 7,2013 | 11:16AM
mikethenovice wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on May 7,2013 | 11:39AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Kolea = allie........Get it?
on May 7,2013 | 11:51AM
mitt_grund wrote:
Scary is that the police gave basically no attention, only lip service, to missing young girls in a poor neighborhood of Cleveland. Berry's and DeJesus's disappearances received media attention and some follow-up by public volunteers. Knight being an adult, 21, received no such attention, but dismissed as a runaway. Wonder if she is a black American, which would probably be cause for the indifference. Probably not much different than our own HPD. Crime in China Town and Little Seoul (Keeaumoku) are given little follow up, just lip service. Upscale neighborhoods like Hawaii Loa and Waialae Iki, and Kahala get more attention.
on May 7,2013 | 02:11PM
DA_HANDSOME_CHINAMAN wrote:
WOW, can I say what da heck is going on! Kidnapped for 10 years, what is wrong with these people? Are they nuts! We need to do something about this. They need to be taught a lesson. Ruinning someone life is out of this world.
on May 6,2013 | 07:51PM
808warriorfan wrote:
That is one sick family.....if the parents of these 3 guys are still alive hold them accountable for bringing these 3 clowns into the world and raising them properly
on May 7,2013 | 12:11AM
peanutgallery wrote:
Thank God these women are home.
on May 7,2013 | 04:45AM
Hawaiians wrote:
Talk about freaky weird.
on May 7,2013 | 01:55PM
aomohoa wrote:
Thank the guy who had the courage to go to the door and get them out. Thank God for him.
on May 7,2013 | 05:14PM
DABLACK wrote:
Put them (3) guys in the general population while waiting their court date. Tie them together so they know how it feels !!
on May 7,2013 | 08:24AM
environmental_lady wrote:
Might they have gotten the idea from the old time musical "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers?" In that story, seven brothers kidnapped seven women to become their brides. Only difference is that the women stood strong and stayed away from them in a separate cabin and the men didn't force themselves on them. It was winter and no one could rescue them. But then the women thawed and fell in love with the brothers and did not want to go back to their former suitors. I always thought it was odd that Hollywood would be on the side of the kidnappers in this one, even though they weren't as warped as these three brothers were. Still, kidnapping is kidnapping even if the seven brothers were wronged in logging competitions.
on May 7,2013 | 10:37AM
lee1957 wrote:
Wasn't kidnapping considered a capital crime a few decades ago? No more free air for this trio.
on May 7,2013 | 11:38AM
mikethenovice wrote:
This happens everyday on the Dr. Phil show.
on May 7,2013 | 11:38AM
mikethenovice wrote:
Is everyone so busy with their own life to notice something out of place.
on May 7,2013 | 11:40AM
aomohoa wrote:
Hey, the neighbor had bar b q's with him.
on May 7,2013 | 05:15PM
hanalei395 wrote:
EVIL, EVIL brothers. Unfortunately, I don't think they wiil be put to death. HOWEVER, when they're in prison, there ARE inmates with daughters.......and.......(They WILL get what's coming to them).
on May 7,2013 | 12:31PM
AmbienDaze wrote:
while you're up there on that soapbox, why don't you say all that in hawaiian, then you can throw in a few expletives, too.
on May 7,2013 | 01:23PM
hanalei395 wrote:
This evil fool is hurt because of what I said about those evil brothers. Too bad.
on May 7,2013 | 01:47PM
aomohoa wrote:
Stupid comment AmbienDaze. You have some sympathy for these animals??
on May 7,2013 | 05:17PM
hanalei395 wrote:
No, please, not animals... I love animals. They are EVIL HUMANS.
on May 7,2013 | 05:44PM
aomohoa wrote:
You are so right. I love animals too. Monstrous sub human creatures.
on May 7,2013 | 09:37PM
hanalei395 wrote:
You're right, a stupid comment by that fool.. HAVING SYMPATHY for those evil brothers. An evil weirdo.
on May 7,2013 | 08:05PM
AmbienDaze wrote:
aomohoa, the response was to an earlier tirade by this soapbox orator and i admit it is out of context:
i think we're allowed our own opinions, hers and mine.

http://www.staradvertiser.com/sports/breaking/20130504_Soccer_referee_punched_by_player_in_Utah_dies.html?id=206177601
on May 7,2013 | 07:41PM
aomohoa wrote:
I get a little over the top sometimes too. Being a mother like a lion I want to just rip creatures like this apart if they did this to one of my daughters.
on May 7,2013 | 09:41PM
romei wrote:
wow, what an amazing out come~ thank goodness they are alive, but yes, these women will certainly need therapy for years to come... the article is right that these woman have endured for the last 10 years will be more than most of us will endure... they truly are strong women! as far as the police- they certainly need to be scrutinized more... & yes an over-haul is in desperate need, times have changed and more of this crap happens all over America and in the world .
on May 7,2013 | 03:48PM
aomohoa wrote:
Police not doing there job in situations like this have happened before. I remember a case a couple of years ago, on the Mainland, where the cops went out because neighbors called about a girl in distress and they didn't even check the property. The girl was held captive in a tent in the back yard. They don't seem to really care. Just going through the motions. If I remember it was some religious fanatic. Any body remember that one?
on May 7,2013 | 05:13PM
hanalei395 wrote:
I think that girl is Elizabeth Smart.
on May 7,2013 | 05:37PM
aomohoa wrote:
Thank you. Now I can sleep tonight . It would have driven me crazy trying to think of her name.
on May 7,2013 | 09:39PM
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