Three women who were abducted about a decade ago were found alive on Monday at a Cleveland house near where at least two of them were last seen and a school bus driver was arrested in connection with their disappearance, police said.
A neighbor in the community said he heard screams and rushed to the house where he found one of the women, Amanda Berry, who was reported missing a decade ago as a teenager. He lent her his cell phone to call police.
“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,” Berry is heard frantically telling a 911 emergency operator in a recording of the call, released by police and posted on the website of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
During the call, she gave the name of her alleged abductor and said he was “out of the house.” She urged police to come quickly and indicated that she knew her disappearance had been widely reported in the media.
The neighbor, Charles Ramsey, said in an interview broadcast by CNN that when he arrived Berry appeared desperate to get through the door, which did not open properly.
“I see this girl going nuts trying to get outside,” he said, adding that he was astonished when she identified herself.
“Then I realized I’m calling 911 for Amanda Berry. I thought that girl was dead,” he said. He said Berry had emerged from the house “with a little girl.”
All three women were taken to a local hospital, MetroHealth Medical Center, where Dr Gerald Maloney told a news conference they were all “safe” and “appear to be in fair condition.”
“This isn’t the ending we usually have to these stories, so we’re very happy. We’re very happy for them,” Maloney said.
He declined to comment on unconfirmed media reports that two children were found with the three women at the house.
Crowds on the street where the women were found cheered as police cars drove into the cordoned-off area around the house.
The two women found with Berry, now 26, were identified by authorities as Gina DeJesus, 23, who vanished in 2004 at age 14, and Michelle Knight, who was reported to be 20 when she disappeared more than a decade ago.
Berry was last seen leaving her job at a fast-food restaurant to go home on the day before her 17th birthday.
On the 10th anniversary of her disappearance, family members and activists held a vigil for Berry, and authorities recently reminded the public of a $25,000 reward for information about what had become of her, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
City Councilwoman Dona Brady, a friend of the family, told Reuters that Berry’s grief-stricken mother had died at age 47, essentially from a broken heart.
Police identified the suspect as Ariel Castro, 52, a bus driver for Cleveland public schools.
His uncle, Caesar Castro, who owns a grocery store on the same street, said his nephew owned the house where the women were found. He added that members of his family and the family of DeJesus “grew up together.”
“Everyone is shocked,” said the elder Castro. He said he had known his nephew to be “a good guy” and a musician who played the bass.
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson said, “I am thankful that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight have been found alive.”
“We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing. Again, I am thankful that these three young ladies are found and alive,” he added.
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