Questions as decade old US kidnapping ends
07 May 2013, 17:28
Chicago - Spellbound by a horrible story with a happy ending, Americans hungrily awaited details on Tuesday on the ordeal of three women who went missing around a decade ago and suddenly escaped from their abductor.
All three were found on Monday in a house in Cleveland, not far from where they went missing. An arm sticking out of a door and screams from one of the kidnapped women, answered by a neighbour, are what got it all going.
But how the women were kept all these years, and why they escaped now and not earlier, were among myriad questions hanging over the dramatic story. It appeared that at least one of the girls had borne a child.
Freedom for the women ended years of anguished searching by their families.
Hundreds of cheering people flocked to a usually quiet, residential street in the state of Ohio where they were kept.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson expressed gratitude that the three women were found alive.
"We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing," Jackson said in a statement on Monday night.
Police said they have arrested three Hispanic men in their 50s but declined to provide further details. A press conference was scheduled for Tuesday at 9:00 am (1300 GMT).
The long nightmare ended when Amanda Berry - kidnapped 10 years ago at the age of 16 - reached her arm through a crack in the front door and called for help.
"I heard screaming... And I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside of the house," Charles Ramsey told the local ABC news affiliate.
"I go on the porch, and she said 'Help me get out. I've been here a long time'."
Ramsey, a bystander now hailed as a hero, said he tried to get her out through the door but could not pull it open, so he kicked out the bottom and she crawled through "carrying a little girl".
In good health
Berry went into a neighbouring home and called police, begging them to come as soon as they could, "before he gets back".
"I'm Amanda Berry. I've been kidnapped. I've been missing for 10 years. I'm free. I'm here now," a frantic Berry says in the recording of her call to 911. When police arrived, she said two other women were being held captive.
She told the dispatcher that the man who had held her was named Ariel Castro. Media reports identified the three suspects as Castro and his two brothers, but police provided no confirmation.
"All three women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, seem to be in good health," Cleveland police said in a statement.
Berry was last seen on 21 April 2003, when she left work at a fast food restaurant just a few blocks from her home around 19:40.
Her mother, Louwanna Miller, died of a "broken heart" in March 2006, Dona Brady, a family friend, told CNN.
Friendly school bus driver
DeJesus was 14 years old when she vanished while walking home from school on 2 April 2004. Knight, who was 21 years old at the time of her disappearance, was last seen at a cousin's house on 23 August 2002, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Neighbour Charlie Czorb said he was stunned by how long the women had lived at the house undetected, saying: "These girls were locked up in our own backyard."
Castro was described by neighbours as a friendly school bus driver and musician whose daughter would often come over with his grandchildren.
Details about Castro started to emerge.
Jannette Gomez, aged 50, who often visited family and friends on the street, said Castro would park his motorcycle and red pickup truck behind the house, lock the gate and enter the house through a back door, the Plain Dealer said.
Sometimes he would turn on a dim porch light, but the house was always dark, Gomez said. Windows were blocked by shades and at least one window was boarded up, she was quoted as saying.
Tasheena Mitchell, aged 26, said she didn't believe her brother at first when he called to tell her that their cousin Amanda had been found alive and said she raced to the hospital to confirm it with her own eyes.
"She was my best friend," Mitchell told the Plain Dealer.
A friend interrupted her, "She's alive. She is your best friend."
An emergency room doctor who treated the three women said they were in fair condition and were being evaluated.
"This isn't the ending we usually hear to these stories so we're very happy for them," the doctor, Gerald Maloney, told reporters.
The case immediately recalled some of the most notorious child kidnappings.
Jaycee Lee Dugard turned up 18 years after she was kidnapped at the age of 11 in the US state of California. She had been kept in a hidden backyard behind the house of her captor, Phillip Garrido, and had two children with him.
Elizabeth Smart was 14 when she was taken from the bedroom of her home in June 2002 and repeatedly raped by a self-styled prophet during nine months of captivity.
Smart was rescued in March 2003 less than 30km from her home. Her abductor, Brian David Mitchell, was jailed for life in 2011.
Austrian Natascha Kampusch was kidnapped at age 10 by Wolfgang Priklopil, who held her captive in a cellar for eight years before she managed to escape in 2006. He threw himself under a train the night she got away.