(CLEVELAND) — Police on Tuesday lauded Amanda Berry as a “real hero” for breaking free after 10 years of captivity and rescuing herself and two other women held as prisoners in a Cleveland house.
Berry’s bolt for freedom Monday night revealed a shocking case of three women abducted as long as 11 years ago and held in a modest house where neighbors and relatives never suspected anything was wrong.
“The real hero here is Amanda. She’s the one that got this rolling. We’re following her lead,” said Cleveland Police Deputy Chief Ed Tumba at a press conference Tuesday morning. “Without her we wouldn’t be here today.”
Berry broke through a door with the help of a neighbor and called police Monday evening. Within minutes, police were at the two-story home on Seymour Avenue. There, authorities found two other missing woman, Gina DeJesus, 27, and Michele Knight, 32, who were also abducted in separate cases years ago, just miles from where they had each disappeared.
A baby, who police said was Berry’s daughter, was also discovered.
Neighbors said they heard cries for help coming from a house just before 6 p.m., and when they went to investigate, helped kick open the door of the home to get the women out.
Berry, police said, “broke out of the lower part of screen door” to freedom. Frantically, she called 911.
“I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years,” Berry told a 911 operator. “And I’m here. I’m free now.”
“Due to Amanda’s brave actions, these three women are alive today,” Tumba said.
All three women were taken to Metro Health Medical Center Monday night, where they were examined and reunited with their families. They were discharged Tuesday morning.
“This is the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stephen Anthony. “Our prayers have been answered. The nightmare is over.”
Police arrested three brothers in connection with the women’s alleged kidnappings: Ariel Castro, 52, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50.
The house where the women were held belongs to Ariel Castro, a retired school bus driver. Police said they had twice been called to the house, once in 2000 and again in 2004, after the women had vanished.
Cops said Ariel Castro was questioned in 2004 about leaving a child on a school bus after completing his route and taking a lunch break. The incident was declared an accident and he was not charged with any crime.
In recent years, they had dug up two yards in Cleveland looking for the women’s remains.
Authorities said they had routinely received tips about Berry and DeJesus who disappeared as teenagers, but none had led them to the Castros. Berry went missing at 16 in 2003 while on her way home from a job at Burger King. DeJesus went missing when she was 14, a year later, while walking home from school.
Knight vanished first in 2002, when she was 20 years old. She was considered a runaway and her case received less media attention than the other women.
Police said they were giving the women time with their families before beginning to question them about their time in captivity. A special team of investigators from the FBI has been brought in to question them on Tuesday.
Police said they “had not yet determined” whether the women were sexually abused while in captivity.
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