Kidnapped women return home in Cleveland
Two of the three women rescued from a Cleveland home where they’d been held for about a decade or more returned home Wednesday while police readied charges against the men accused of keeping them captive.
Well-wishers from the neighborhood cheered as a gray van carrying Amanda Berry and the 6-year-old daughter she gave birth to during her captivity pulled up. The porch was decorated with balloons and stuffed animals and draped with a red banner that read, “Welcome home Amanda.”
“We are so happy to have Amanda and her daughter home,” her sister, Beth Serrano, told reporters. “I want to thank the public and media for their support and courage over the years.”
A similar scene played out at the home of Gina DeJesus a few hours later. Family members embraced as DeJesus, wearing a neon-green hooded sweatshirt, was escorted into the home she hadn’t seen since 2004.
DeJesus, Berry and a third woman, Michelle Knight, were rescued Monday evening from the Cleveland home of 52-year-old Ariel Castro, police said. Knight was in good condition in a Cleveland hospital Wednesday.
“There are not enough words to say or express the joy that we feel for the return of our family member Gina, and now Amanda Berry, the daughter, and Michelle Knight, who is our family also,” DeJesus’ aunt, Sandra Ruiz, told reporters.
Authorities expect to file charges Wednesday against Castro and his two brothers, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50, a police spokeswoman said.
City officials said ropes and chains have been found inside the home. While Public Safety Director Martin Flask said investigators haven’t confirmed how the ropes and chains were used, police Chief Michael McGrath told NBC’s “Today” that they were used to restrain the missing women.
“We have confirmation that they were bound,” he told NBC.
Investigators began questioning the brothers Tuesday night, FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson said Wednesday.
They were arrested Monday night after Berry, 27, staged a daring escape with the aid of neighbors.
The three women disappeared from the same Cleveland street — Lorain Avenue — between 2002 and 2004. Police say they were held just three miles from where they disappeared.
They escaped after Berry broke out the bottom of a screen door and called for help Monday evening. Neighbors Charles Ramsey and Angel Cordero say they responded to her cries and helped kick in the door to help her escape.
“I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years,” Berry said in a frantic 911 call. “And I’m here. I’m free now.”
In a telephone call recorded Tuesday, by CNN affiliate WJHL, Berry sounded upbeat — telling her grandmother Fern Gentry that she felt “fine” and that the 6-year-old girl also rescued Monday from the Cleveland home is indeed her own.
“I love you honey, thank God,” Berry’s tearful grandmother Fern Gentry could be heard telling her granddaughter. “I’ve thought about you all this time. I never forgot about you.”
Knight remained at Metro Health Hospital Wednesday, spokeswoman Tina Shaerban-Arundel said. She declined to say what Knight was being treated for, but said she was in good condition.
The hospital had said Tuesday that all three women had been sent home after evaluations. Shaerban-Arundel said the hospital stood by that statement, but she did not elaborate.
News of her discovery came as a shock to brother Freddie Knight, who didn’t know she was missing until he saw the story on TV. He said the family thought Knight might be with the brother of a brother-in-law, but had no phone number to contact him.
“I was freaking happy as hell, because I didn’t know my sister was kidnapped,” he said. “My mom never tells me anything.”
Knight said their mom, who now lives in Naples, Florida, kicked him out of the house when he was 14 and they remain estranged.
CNN not could immediately confirm the details of Knight’s account.
Knight said he met with his sister at the hospital and gave her a hug, saying the ordeal had left her traumatized.
“I hugged her because she wanted a hug,” he said. “My sister is going to move on, forget the past … , leave it behind, start anew.”
Her mother, Barbara Knight, told NBC Wednesday that she had not yet spoken to her daughter.
“She’s probably angry at the world because she thought she would never be found but thank God that somebody did,” she told NBC.
When asked what she would say to her daughter, she said, “I love you and I missed you all this time.”
FBI evidence technicians spent a second day at the home Tuesday. An exhaustive search of the grounds turned up no evidence of human remains, Flask said.
While charges are likely Wednesday, investigators still have much work ahead of them, said Ciaccia.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday. “This investigation will take a very long time.”
McGrath told NBC’s “Today” Wednesday that investigators believed the women were allowed out of the house only rarely. He didn’t know how often they were bound.
“We’ll have a better feel for that question once the interviews with the victims (are) completed later today,” he told NBC.
Some neighbors of Ariel Castro second-guessed themselves Tuesday, questioning why they hadn’t noticed signs earlier and if they could have prevented the horrors.
Neighbor Daniel Marti, for one, wonders why he didn’t question why Castro frequently brought bags of McDonald’s food into the house, or how Castro steered conversation away from his house.
“Now that I think of it, he didn’t want nobody back there,” said Marti, who said he has known Ariel Castro since junior high school and lived near him for some 22 years.
“This is a heartbreaking moment for us, because I’m always out there (and) I’ve heard nothing,” he said.
Relatives of the suspects were also troubled by the developments.
Maria Castro Montes, a cousin of the suspects, told CNN Wednesday if other family members had any inkling or suspicion of wrongdoing, they would have spoken up.
New details on homeowner
According to court documents, Ariel Castro’s former common-law wife accused him of repeatedly abusing her, including breaking her nose twice, breaking two ribs, dislocating her shoulder twice and knocking out a tooth.
Grimilda Figueroa also accused Castro of causing a blood clot on her brain, according to the 2005 documents. A judge granted a protection order, but lifted it three months later after repeated court delays and hearings Castro did not attend, according to the documents.
She died last year.
Figueroa’s father, Ishmael Figueroa, said Ariel Castro was abusive toward his late daughter. He said he and his wife once shared a house with Castro and Grimilda, and Castro would not let family members upstairs to the second floor where the couple lived. When they moved to the Seymour Avenue house, Castro would not let family members inside, Figueroa said.
Castro was a school bus driver until November, when he was fired, according to school district records released Tuesday night.
His firing came after he had left his bus unattended outside a school after his preschool routes had been canceled, without notifying his dispatcher or depot.
“He previously had been suspended for 60 days for leaving a child on a bus; 60 days for making an illegal U-turn in rush hour traffic with a bus load of students, and last school year for using the bus to do his grocery shopping,” the letter recommending his dismissal states.
Tito DeJesus, a sometimes bandmate of Castro’s, said he had been inside of Castro’s home once, about two years ago, to help deliver a washer and dryer he’d sold to the suspect and saw “a normal environment.”
DeJesus said he isn’t related to the rescued Gina DeJesus but had known the family for years.
“It didn’t seem to be a place where women were being held against their will,” he said. “Of course, mind you, I didn’t go throughout the entire house. I was just at the beginning of the house, in the living room, but it seemed normal.”
No previous suspicions
Cleveland officials insistently batted down claims by neighbors that they called police to report suspicious activity at the home.
“Media reports of multiple calls to the Cleveland Police reporting suspicious activity and the mistreatment of women at 2207 Seymour are false,” spokeswoman Maureen Harper said in an e-mailed statement.
Other officials said call records contained no evidence that neighbors ever called police to report unusual activity at the home.
On Tuesday, neighbor Israel Lugo and another neighbor, Nina Samoylicz, told CNN that they had called police in recent years to report separate incidents at the home.
Samoylicz said she and others saw a naked woman in the backyard of the home and called police.
Faliceonna Lopez, Samoylicz’ sister, told a slightly different version Tuesday night on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live.” She said after seeing the woman, they told their mother, not police.
The mother, Annita Lugo, told Morgan that she didn’t call police, either, saying, “I definitely would have called then but it was hours later and I really — I really didn’t — you know, I was just stuck. I was dumbfounded, didn’t know how to take it, you know?”
Police had visited the home twice, authorities said Tuesday, once after Castro called about a fight in the street and again in 2004 to investigate the bus incident.
‘We’re hoping for a miracle’
Investigators had previously speculated that the disappearances of Berry, DeJesus and another girl, 14-year-old Ashley Summers, may have been connected. Summers’ family last saw her in July 2007, when she was 14.
“We did in fact believe there was an association between the Berry case and the DeJesus case as well as the Summers case,” said former FBI agent Jennifer Eakin. Eakin is now a case manager at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which in 2008 held a comprehensive review of the cases with the FBI and Cleveland police.
Now the Summers family is hoping that the Cleveland investigation will yield information about Ashley, her aunt, Debra Summers, said.
“We’re hoping for a miracle,” she said.
Anderson, the FBI spokeswoman, said investigators will question the three women found Monday in the hope that they know something about Summers’ disappearance.
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