CLEVELAND - An Ohio school bus driver and his two brothers have been arrested after three women who vanished separately as teenagers about a decade ago were found alive at a Cleveland house.
Authorities were alerted to the missing women's whereabouts on Monday evening by a frantic emergency call from one of them, Amanda Berry, moments after she was freed from the house by a neighbor who said he heard screaming and came to her aid.
"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, now 26, is heard telling a 911 operator in a recording of the call released by police and posted on the Internet.
Berry had last been seen leaving her job at a fast-food restaurant the day before her 17th birthday in April 2003. The two women found with her were identified by authorities as Gina DeJesus, 23, who vanished in 2004 aged 14 while walking home from school, and Michelle Knight, who was reported to have been 18 or 19 when she went missing in 2002.
A physician at MetroHealth Medical Center, where the three women were taken for evaluation, said all were safe and appeared to be in "fair condition."
"This isn't the ending we usually have to these stories," Dr. Gerald Maloney said. "We're very happy for them."
The house is close to where each woman was last seen, and police believe they were in the home for the entire time they were missing. The circumstances of their apparent abductions and captivity remained murky, but officials said further details would be disclosed at a news conference early on Tuesday.
During her 911 call, Berry gave the name of her alleged abductor, said he had left the house and urged police to come quickly before he returned. She indicated that she knew her disappearance had been widely reported in the media.
The neighbor who came to her assistance, Charles Ramsey, said that after he helped Berry force open the door, she emerged from the dwelling "with a little girl," but authorities said nothing about the presence of any children in the house.
All three women were from the west-side section of Cleveland where they ultimately resurfaced.
There was no word on the fate of a fourth missing girl, Ashley Summers, who disappeared from the same vicinity in July of 2007 aged 14 and who police investigated as possibly linked to the Berry and DeJesus cases, according to the Charley Project website, which documents more than 9,000 missing-persons cases.
MOTHER KEPT SEARCHING
The disappearance of Knight did not attract the local media attention of the suspected abductions of Berry and DeJesus. Her grandmother, Deborah Knight, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper that some family members had concluded, based in part on suggestions by police and social workers at the time, that she had run away.
But her mother Barbara Knight, who now lives in Florida, told the newspaper she never believed her daughter would have vanished without a trace on her own and that she kept searching long after police gave up looking for her.
The suspects, aged 50, 52 and 54, were arrested based on information given to investigators by the three women after their rescue, according to Deputy Cleveland Police Chief Ed Tomba. One of the men was identified as Ariel Castro, 52, who has worked as a bus driver for Cleveland public schools and whose uncle said he owned the house in question.
A mood of jubilation pervaded the city as word spread that the women had been found alive, especially in the blue-collar, heavily Latino neighborhood where dozens of residents clustered near the house from which they were rescued.
A Puerto Rican flag hung from the porch of the modest, two-story dwelling, cordoned off with crime-scene tape. Cheers from the crowd erupted periodically as police cars entered the area.
City Councilwoman Dona Brady, a friend of the Berry family, told Reuters that Berry's grief-stricken mother had not survived to see her daughter rescued. "She literally died of a broken heart," Brady said, adding that the mother died aged 47.
A cousin of DeJesus, Sheila Figaro, told CNN that the girl's mother, Nancy, "never gave up faith knowing that her daughter would one day be found." "What a phenomenal Mother's Day gift she gets this Mother's Day," she said.
The suspects' uncle, Caesar Castro, who owns a grocery store on the same street, said Ariel Castro owned the house where the women were found. He expressed shock and said members of his family and the family of DeJesus "grew up together."
The discovery of the three women was reminiscent of the case of Jaycee Dugard, who was snatched from her northern California home at age 11 by a convicted sex offender, Phillip Garrido, and kept in captivity for 18 years before being rescued in 2009.
During that time she was repeatedly raped by her abductor and gave birth to two girls fathered by him.
(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Los Angeles; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Christopher Wilson and Pravin Char)