"I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years"

"HELP me! I'm Amanda Berry," the frantic voice begins on the emergency call to a Cleveland police dispatcher.

"I've been kidnapped and I've been missing for 10 years and I'm here. I'm free now." The dispatcher is almost cold. Don't tell me your story, she says. Save for it for the police - they're on their way.

It was a bigger story than the dispatcher knew.

"I am Amanda Berry. I have been in the news for the last 10 years," the caller goes on.

She had reappeared, free and alive.

More than that, the world was about to learn that not only had she just escaped, with a neighbour's help, from a house where she had been held captive all that time, but that two other missing women had been in there with her. And a child.

Events at 2207 Seymour Avenue began unfolding in the late afternoon on Monday when the neighbour, Charles Ramsey, heard a commotion.

"I heard screaming," he said. "I'm eating my McDonald's. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house." He forced the door open and Ms Berry crawled out, followed by a six-year-old girl.

Mr Seymour, speaking to reporters yesterday, acknowledged that when he began dialling 911, he, too, had not quite cottoned on to the name of the young woman he was helping.

Then it struck him - this was Amanda Berry, the disappeared girl that most people long ago had given up for dead.

That was at 5.52pm. The police arrived two minutes later and forced their way in.

It may be days before all the grim secrets of 2207 Seymour are fully disclosed. Yet this has been a fast-moving drama.

Once inside, the police found two other women who also had been on their missing person's list for a decade or so.

They were Gina DeJesus, 23, who vanished in 2004 aged 14 while walking home from school, and Michelle Knight, who was 18 or 19 when she went missing in 2002.

Nor was it long before they had arrested not one but three men on suspicion of holding the three women captive for all those years - the owner of the house, identified as 52-year-old Ariel Castro, a former school bus driver for the city, and his two brothers, Pedro and Oneil Castro, also in their fifties, who seemingly lived close by.

All three men remained in custody, yet the questions only multiplied.

These two photographs obtained courtesy of the FBI show Amanda Berry (left) and Georgina DeJesus (right), both who went missing as teenagers about a decade ago and were found alive May 6, 2013 in a residential area of Cleveland, Ohio, not far from where they were last seen. A third woman, Michelle Knight, was also found in the same house
These two photographs obtained courtesy of the FBI show Amanda Berry (left) and Georgina DeJesus (right), both who went missing as teenagers about a decade ago and were found alive May 6, 2013 in a residential area of Cleveland, Ohio, not far from where they were last seen. A third woman, Michelle Knight, was also found in the same house

What exactly had happened to those women at the address - a detached house with a small garden - during all those years? How had none of them managed to break out until Monday? In a tight neighbourhood with many other Latin immigrant residents, did no one ever have any suspicions? And did the police fall down on their original investigation?

It appears that Ariel Castro and the police weren't strangers.

In 2000, Mr Castro himself called officers about a fight that had erupted outside his home.

Then in January 2004, he came briefly under investigation for leaving his bus at the depot after a shift with a child still inside.

Police came to his home but left when no one answered.

He was eventually interviewed by the authorities who accepted it had been an "inadvertent" mistake on his part and the case was dropped.

Michelle Knight went missing in 2002, Amanda Berry in April 2003; both were almost certainly in the property at the time. Georgina DeJesus vanished three months after the police came knocking.

A general view of the exterior of the house where three women who had disappeared as teenagers, approximately 10 years ago, were found alive.
A general view of the exterior of the house where three women who had disappeared as teenagers, approximately 10 years ago, were found alive. Getty Images

What we will learn from the women of Seymour Avenue may be slow to materialise.

Last night the local TV station Channel 3 News, quoting unnamed police sources, claimed they were forced to have sex with their captors and that there may have been multiple pregnancies in the house, some of which did not reach full term.

The same sources also reported that the women were beaten, and that investigators found patches of "disturbed" dirt in the property's back yard.

No police spokesman was available to comment on the reports.

At a first press conference yesterday, Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath described the women as "the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance", but said his officers would take their inquiries slowly.

"Some questions may impact their emotions, their state of mind right now," he said. "You are going to have to be patient with us."

He did indicate, however, that he believed the women had been tied up in the home, while witnesses claimed to have seen chains hanging from the ceiling.

Police also said that the six-year-old girl inside was Ms Berry's daughter. Who the father might be, they would not say, but she was clearly born in captivity.

Neighbours reported seeing Ariel Castro often walking with a girl through the neighbourhood.

Yesterday Amanda Berry was photographed in hospital with her daughter and her older sister Beth Serrano, who has continued to search for her since their mother died in 2006.

Beth's husband Ted Serrano told local station WOIO: "She said (Amanda)'s OK, she's got a daughter. She said she looks good."

Amanda Berry (C) reunited with her sister (L) in Cleveland, Ohio after Berry and two other women, who had been missing for a decade were found alive in a house not far from where they were last seen.
Amanda Berry (C) reunited with her sister (L) in Cleveland, Ohio after Berry and two other women, who had been missing for a decade were found alive in a house not far from where they were last seen. Getty Images

The other victims' families were equally delighted and disbelieving.

Michelle Knight's mother told the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "So much has happened in these 10 years. She has a younger sister she still has not met."

Michelle's cousin Tesheena added: "I'm going to hold her, and I'm going to squeeze her and I probably won't let her go."

Last night, as FBI specialists were scouring the house, officials insisted that they had never stopped looking for new leads.

"Not a year went by ... when we didn't have some lead generated by the public of by the families," FBI agent Stephen Anthony said.

"Rest assured the FBI will bring every resource to bear ... to bring full weight of justice for those responsible in this horrific, horrific case."

There was shock in the neighbourhood, expressed even by Julio Castro, an uncle of the three men who owns a grocery shop on a nearby corner.

"Stunned, stunned," he said about his reaction to the news, adding that he had mostly lost touch with Ariel and hadn't been to the house for five years or so.

"None whatsoever," he said when asked if he had been given any reason to think something was wrong inside.

When more police began arriving on the block on Monday evening, locals who had heard the startling news lined the streets to cheer.

"This isn't the ending we usually have to these stories," Gerald Maloney, a doctor at Metro Health Medical Centre where the three women were first taken, commented.

"We're very happy for them."

Among those reflecting on the trauma the victims will now face was Jaycee Lee Dugard, who was abducted near her California home in 1991 aged 11 and held captive in the back garden of Phillip and Nancy Garrido in Antioch for 18 years.

"These individuals need the opportunity to heal," she said in a statement.

"This isn't who they are. It is only what happened to them. The human spirit is incredibly resilient. More than ever this reaffirms we should never give up hope."

In a bizarre twist, it emerged that a son of Ariel Castro - Ariel "Anthony" Castro - wrote a news article about one of Cleveland's vanished young women in 2004 as part of a journalism course.

It was published by the local Plain Press news organisation and focused on Ms DeJesus, who now, it seems, was being held at the time by his own father.

In it he describes a neighbourhood traumatised by the disappearances. "Almost everyone feels a connection with the [DeJesus] family," he wrote,  "and Gina's disappearance has the whole area talking.

Last night he insisted that he, too, was unaware of the secrets of 2207 Seymour Avenue.

"This is beyond comprehension," he told a local television station. "I'm truly stunned right now."


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