Three Cleveland women held in captivity for a decade in a working-class neighborhood were not only sexually and physically abused, but they were also tied up and chained, police have announced.
But one victim, in a bold move, was able to break free and notify police. The escape is nothing short of miraculous.
The victims — Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight — were reported missing in Cleveland between 2002 and 2004. All of the women, who were 14, 16 and 20 years old when they were taken, were kidnapped just three or four miles from the suspect's house and imprisoned, beaten and treated as sex slaves.
Berry, to save herself, as well as a daughter born in captivity, and the other two women, broke out of the house and ran to safety, despite being threatened by her captor over the years with harsh punishment should any of the women attempt to escape. Police have called her the hero in this case. She cried out for help and risked her life, while her captor was away from the house and not not knowing how long he would be gone. It appeared to be her one shot at freedom.
After interviewing the victims, police confirmed it was Berry's only window of opportunity escape in all the years she was help captive. The women apparently had no ability to leave the house or interact with anyone outside the home throughout their imprisonment.
"For Amanda, for whatever reason, something must have clicked," Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tomba said during a news conference. "She saw an opportunity, and she took that opportunity. She is the true hero. She is the one who started this. It's the first time they attempted to escape."
As a parent, I can only think that it was maternal instinct that also clicked, to save her 6-year-old daughter, born in captivity, from the horrors of life inside that house.
Berry, now 27 years old, made the break Monday evening after she forced open a small space in the front door, waved her hand and screamed for help. She caught the attention of two neighbors, who kicked in the panels at the bottom of the door. Berry then made her run to freedom by squeezing through the bottom panel. She then frantically flew across the street, carrying her young daughter, to another neighbor's house and called 911.
Ariel Castro, a 52-year-old former school bus driver, is in custody and charged with four counts of kidnapping and three counts of rape, all first-degree felonies.
The FBI has completed a search of Castro's house as a crime scene. What they learn will not only help them in prosecuting the suspect in this case, but assist them in solving similar crimes from signs that may have been missed in the years'-long search for the victims.
All three victims were reportedly forced to have sex with their captor, which resulted in at least five pregnancies during the length of their captivity. One of the pregnant women was reportedly beaten until she lost the babies. Berry, however, went to full term and her daughter, Jocelyn, survived. Her daugher was "born on Christmas," Berry told her grandmother, Fern Gentry, in an emotional televised phone call.
Two of the victims are now home. On Wednesday, Berry and her daughter arrived at her sister's house on Wednesday to a crush of media and a group of about 100 neighbors, who welcomed her home for the first time in more than a decade. Her sister addressed the crowd, thanked them and said Berry would release a statement when she was ready.
A few hours later, Gina DeJesus returned to her parents' home, also to a waiting crowd of well-wishers and neighbors. The third victim, Michele Knight, was still in the hospital but in good condition. She had been held the longest, since 2002, after vanishing at 20 years old.
About Berry's brave actions, America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh told Global News, "You very rarely hear of a missing child, missing adult, being brought back alive."
Indeed. Amanda Berry's brave move is a lesson in survival of never giving up, even after a decade.