The girl on the left is Amanda Berry. She was last heard from 10 years ago when – on the 21st of April, 2003 – when she called her sister from the Burger King restaurant where she worked in Cleveland, Ohio, and told her she was on her way home.
At the time, Amanda was 17.
The girl on the right is Georgina “Gina” DeJesus. Gina disappeared around a year after Amanda did. She was 14. She was last seen walking home from school on August 2, 2004, also in Cleveland, Ohio.
Yesterday both girls were found. And they are alive.
They were found in a house in Cleveland, along with Michelle Knight, 32, who was only 20 when she disappeared.
The three women’s whereabouts was finally identified, when Amanda made a frantic call to 911 shortly after 6pm on Monday night. Amanda told the operator: ” Help me, I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped. I’ve been missing for 10 years. I’m here. I’m free now.”
Amanda reportedly broke out of the bottom of a screen door and called out to a neighbour for help.
Police swiftly moved in on the house where the three of them said they had been and 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.”
The three men are reportedly 52-year-old Ariel Castro (who owned the house where the women were held) and his brothers 54-year-old Pedro Castro and 50-year-old Onil Castro. The son of Onil Castro says his uncle never let anyone in his home.
Amanda Berry is now 27 – and early news reports suggest she has a 6-year-old child. Gina DeJesus is 23. And Michelle Knight is 32.
Overnight, it’s now emerged that the women may have been held as sex slaves by the men. There are also been reports that up to five pregnancies may have occurred during their period in capture and that investigators are looking for the remains of fetuses that may have been aborted.
This from Fox 8 Cleveland:
Sources also say that the victims, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, all appear to be malnourished, and that Knight may have suffered hearing loss. She has reportedly told police she was hit in the head. She may also have structural damage to her face.
A source further noted that Knight told police that there was another woman in the home when she got there, but one day she woke up and the woman was gone. There is writing on the wall in the basement which includes the name of a female and says, “Rest In Peace,” but police do not know if that is related to the case at this time.
Their families’ reactions have been widely reported, since they were found 48 hours ago. Gina’s cousin, Sylvia Colon told the media that Gina’s mother Nancy had raced to the hospital to be by her daughter’s side.
“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… She always believed that. I just want to say what a phenomenal Mother’s Day gift she gets this Mother’s Day,” Sylcvia said.
Amanda’s mother Louwana Miller tragically passed away three years after her daughter went missing. The ordeal of looking for her daughter reportedly took a toll on Miller, and many people say she died of a broken heart.
Amanda’s aunt Gale Williams said: “I can’t wait to talk to her, I can’t wait to hold her, to see her.”
“You never give up. You just pray and pray and pray,” she said. “It’s crazy. I always knew that Amanda was a strong-willed person and eventually I knew she would get out of there. I just knew it. I just wondered ‘Why not sooner?’”
The case is reminiscent of other American teenagers who have gone missing only to be found years later. In 2009, Jaycee Duggard was found 18 years after she was abducted as an 11 year old girl. She was held in backyard tents in the US town of South Lake Tahoe by a registered sex offender and gave birth to two kids during the 18 years.
In 2002, Elizabeth Smart was found 9 months after she was kidnapped at knife-point at the age of 14.
Both Smart and Duggar have released statements in the wake of the Amanda, Gina and Michelle’s stories.
This is from the LA Times:
“These individuals need the opportunity to heal and connect back into the world,” Dugard said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times. “This isn’t who they are. It is only what happened to them. The human spirit is incredibly resilient. More then ever this reaffirms we should never give up hope.”
Smart, in an interview from Salt Lake City with ABC’s Good Morning America, grinned at the news.
“I am just so overjoyed, so happy to hear another happy ending,” she said. “I think it’s just proof there are more happy endings out there, and that it just means we need to have constant vigilance, constantly keep our eyes open and our ears open, because miracles do happen and there are happy endings out there waiting to happen.”
UPDATE: There are now reports that in the past 10 years, neighbours of Ariel Castro called police numerous times when they saw naked women being led around Castro’s backyard on leashes. They also called after they heard pounding on doors and noticed plastic bags placed over windows.
Relatives of Castro told police there were locks on the 52-year-old’s basement door and that they were never allowed down there. This interview with Casto’s son is from the Business Insider:
Anthony Castro, 31, told the Daily Mail that his father asked him a few weeks ago whether he thought anyone would ever find Amanda Berry. “The house was always locked,” he told the Daily Mail in an exclusive interview. “There were places we could never go.”
“I haven’t been at that house for longer than 20 minutes for longer than I can remember,” he said. “And we’re talking since high school. Late 90s.”
It’s also been reported that Gina DeJesus was a good friend of Castro’s daughter Arlene. Anthony told the Daily Mail Gina may have got in the car with his father because she knew him. “That’s one of the thoughts that went through my head because Gina disappeared in broad daylight on a very busy street. It’s probably the busiest street on the west side of Cleveland,” Anthony said.