“Help me, I’m Amanda Berry … I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m here, I’m free now.”
On May 6, 2013, three women from Cleveland, Ohio – Amanda Berry, Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, and Michelle Knight – were rescued from their nine- to eleven-year captivity after Berry escaped and contacted police. They were freed from a house owned by Ariel Castro, the suspect in their kidnappings. A six-year-old daughter of Berry, born while she was captive, was also rescued.
Knight disappeared in Cleveland in 2002 at age 21, Berry in 2003 at 16, and DeJesus in 2004 at 14. While captive, the women had multiple pregnancies, at least one live birth (Berry’s daughter), and multiple miscarriages. The women were at times bound with chains and rope.
Ariel Castro was arrested on May 6, 2013, shortly after the women were freed. On May 8, Castro was charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape, charges that carry prison sentences of 10 years to life. On May 9, Castro’s bail was set at $8 million. Additional charges are pending, including aggravated murder (for terminating the pregnancies), attempted murder, assault, a charge for each instance of rape, and a kidnapping charge for each day each victim was held captive. The case received front-page news coverage worldwide.
Michelle Knight was last seen on August 22, 2002, when she left her cousin’s house. She disappeared near West 116th Street and Lorain Avenue, on a day she was to appear in court for a child custody case concerning her son. She was 21 years old at the time of her disappearance. Police put far fewer resources into the Knight case than the Berry or DeJesus cases, partly because they had very few leads, and due in part to the fact that she was an adult, and was believed to have run away. Knight’s removal from the National Crime Information Center database, 15 months after she disappeared, has been criticized, although police and the FBI maintain that her inclusion or exclusion had no bearing on her rescue.
According to a report by officers who found Knight, she accepted a ride from Castro, but he instead drove her to his house. She was tied up in his basement and beaten, and was eventually moved upstairs to a locked room.
Before she escaped, police and family members came to believe that Knight may have left on her own, frustrated after losing custody of her son. Her mother thought she had once seen her with an older man at a shopping plaza on West 117th Street.
Amanda Marie Berry went missing on April 21, 2003, at age 16, one day before her 17th birthday. She was believed to have made it home from her job at a Burger King at West 110th Street and Lorain Avenue, and she changed from her uniform at her family’s apartment, but no one witnessed her there. She left money and all her clothes at home. She was known to have had plans to celebrate her birthday the next day. Berry has told police that after her shift a Burger King, she accepted a ride home from Castro, who said he had a son who worked there as well. She called her family to say she was getting a ride home, but instead was taken to Castro’s house and imprisoned.
Police initially considered Berry a runaway, until a man used her cell phone to call her mother, Louwanna Miller, claiming the teenager would return in a few days and that they were married. Miller searched for her daughter for three years, but died in 2006 of heart failure.
Berry was featured in a 2004 segment of America’s Most Wanted, which re-aired in 2005 and 2006 and linked her to Gina DeJesus, who at that point had subsequently also gone missing in Cleveland. They were profiled on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Montel Williams Show, where self-described psychic Sylvia Browne told Miller in 2004 that her daughter Amanda was dead, and that she was “in water.” Browne received significant media criticism for her prediction being “false and potentially damaging.”
Before her disappearance, Berry had been in a gifted program at John Marshall High School, but had switched to an online home school program in which she was on track for early graduation.
Georgina “Gina” Lynn DeJesus went missing at age 14. She was last seen at a pay phone at about 3 p.m. on April 2, 2004, as she headed home from her middle school at West 105th Street and Lorain Avenue. She and suspect Ariel Castro’s daughter Arlene Castro had called Ariel’s wife, Grimilda Figueroa, asking to have a sleepover at DeJesus’ house, but Figueroa said they could not. Berry and DeJesus disappeared within five blocks of each other, perhaps even on the same block.
DeJesus said Castro offered her a ride to his house to see his daughter, her friend. Instead she was taken captive.
No AMBER Alert was issued the day DeJesus disappeared, because no one had witnessed her being abducted. The lack of an AMBER Alert angered her father, Felix DeJesus, who said in 2006 that he believed the public would listen even if the alerts become routine.
A week after Gina’s disappearance, police released a sketch and description of an Hispanic man aged 25 to 35, 5 ft 10 in (1.78 m) tall, weighing 165 to 185 pounds (75 to 82 kg), with green eyes and a pencil-thin beard. The suspect had been seen near her school driving a light blue or white car, and asking for Gina.
DeJesus was featured on America’s Most Wanted in 2004, 2005, and 2006, and the television program also linked her to Berry. The disappearances received regular media attention over the years, as recently as 2012, while family and others held vigils and searched for DeJesus and Berry. Ariel Castro was identified by Gina’s family in video footage of two of these vigils and he reportedly participated in a search party and tried to get close to the family. Police kept an active investigation open, offering a $25,000 reward for information on their location.
On May 6, 2013, Knight, DeJesus, Berry, and a previously unknown 6-year-old female child of Berry were found in a home at 2207 Seymour Avenue, in the residential Tremont neighborhood 3 miles (4.8 km) from where the three young women had disappeared. Neighbor Angel Cordero responded to the noise of a woman screaming, but was apparently unable to communicate with the women inside the house, since he spoke little English.
Another neighbor, Charles Ramsey, joined Cordero at the door and said that a woman, later identified as Berry, told him that she was being kept in the house with her baby against her will. Because the door was locked, Ramsey and Cordero together kicked a hole in the bottom of it, and she crawled through, carrying her daughter. Berry was wearing a jumpsuit, white tank top, rings, and mascara.Upon being freed, she went to the house of another Spanish-speaking neighbor and called 9-1-1, saying, “Help me, I’m Amanda Berry … I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years. And I’m here, I’m free now.”
Several responding officers crawled in the broken bottom of the front door and searched the house with guns drawn. One of the officers saw a pair of eyes peeking through a slightly opened upstairs bedroom door. Michelle Knight fled the room and leapt into the arms of an officer, repeatedly saying “you saved me”. Soon DeJesus entered the hall from another room. The women were able to walk out of the home and all three women and the child were taken to MetroHealth Medical Center. They were all released from the hospital by the next morning, although Knight later returned for unspecified reasons.
A suspect, Ariel Castro, was arrested on May 6, 2013, and charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape on May 8. Two brothers of Castro’s were also initially taken into custody, but they were released a few days later after police announced that they had no involvement in the kidnappings.
Police said that, based on victim interviews, the women were initially kept in chains and ropes in the basement before being locked in upstairs rooms. They were only twice taken outside, in disguise, and only as far as the garage. An unnamed police source said the young women had multiple miscarriages and at least one live birth. WKYC reported that the women were raped repeatedly by their captor, and beaten severely when they became pregnant. According to The New York Post, one young woman had three miscarriages, and Knight may have suffered hearing loss from the beatings. According to a police report obtained by CBS News, Michelle Knight had five miscarriages caused by starvation and beatings by Castro to her stomach.
The suspect is believed by police to have fathered Berry’s 6-year-old daughter, and the suspect’s DNA has been obtained to compare against the girl’s DNA. The girl was at times taken from the home, and visited the suspect’s mother, calling her “grandmother”. Castro’s DNA is being tested on a high priority basis so it can be compared to unknown DNA in other crimes.
Various law enforcement officers searched Ariel Castro’s property collecting evidence. A cadaver dog was used, but no human remains were discovered. The criminal investigation is ongoing as the Cleveland Police Department faces public scrutiny and questions about how it handled the women’s abductions.
Reprint, primary source: Wikipedia (verified through other reliable news sources)
Related: Amanda Berry’s 9-1-1 Call (Audio)