NEIGHBOURS of one of the brothers suspected of abducting three women and holding them prisoner for a decade have described the dramatic moment one victim broke free from her captor’s clutches.
Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight were found alive and well, having been held in a surburban home just a few miles from where they vanished in Cleveland, Ohio, in separate incidents between 2002 and 2004.
Miss Berry was freed from the house by neighbours who heard her screaming and she then made a frantic 911 call summoning rescuers to the aid of Miss DeJesus and Miss Knight.
Neighbours said they had no idea the women were in the house until they heard someone kicking at a door, yelling for help and desperately trying to get out.
Charles Ramsey, who has been hailed as a hero for helping Miss Berry to escape, described how he heard her “going nuts” and went to her rescue.
“I go on the porch and she says: ‘Help me get out. I’ve been in here a long time’,” he said.
The door would only open far enough for a hand to fit through, he said, so he kicked through it.
He then described how Miss Berry crawled out with a little girl – believed to be a daughter she gave birth to during her 10-year ordeal – and identified herself.
“It didn’t register until I got the call to 911 and I thought: ‘I’m calling 911 for Amanda Berry? I thought this girl was dead’,” he said.
Miss Berry is audibly distressed on her recorded emergency call, on which she can be heard begging: “Help me – I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been missing for the last 10 years and I’m here, I’m free now.”
She later adds “I’ve been on the news for the last 10 years” before naming Ariel Castro as her captor and pleading with the operator to send help before the 52-year-old returned home.
Castro and two of his brothers, Pedro, 54, and Onil, 50, have been arrested on suspicion of abducting the three women.
News of the men’s apparent involvement has sent shockwaves through the neighbourhood.
Mr Ramsey said he had socialised with Ariel Castro and had never suspected anything was amiss.
“I barbecued with this dude. We eat ribs and whatnot and listen to salsa music,” he said.
“[I had] no clue that that girl was in that house or anybody else was in there against their will, because of how he is.
“He just comes out to his backyard, plays with the dogs, tinkers with his cars and motorcycles, goes back in the house.
“There’s nothing exciting about him. Well, until today.”
The women were taken to hospital to be checked over and reunited with their families, and authorities said they seemed to be in good health.
Their loved ones said they had never given up hope of seeing them again. Miss Berry’s cousin Tasheena Mitchell said she could not wait to have her in her arms.
“I’m going to hold her, and I’m going to squeeze her and I probably won’t let her go,” she said.
Kayla Rogers, a childhood friend of Miss DeJesus, said: “I’ve been praying, never forgot about her, ever. This is amazing. This is a celebration. I’m so happy. I just want to see her walk out of those doors so I can hug her.”
Miss Berry, now 27, disappeared the day before her 17th birthday in April 2003 on her way home from work at Burger King.
Miss DeJesus, who is now 23, went missing aged 14 on her way home from school a year later.
Miss Knight was 20 when she vanished in 2002 and is 32 now.
Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson said the investigation into women’s abductions had only just begun and there were several key unanswered questions: “Why were they taken, who took them and how did they remain undetected for so long?”
Police Chief Michael McGrath said he believed the women had been tied up at the house and held there since they were taken.
Authorities declined to say whether the women were restrained or if any of them had been sexually assaulted, nor would they confirm which, if any, of the arrested men was the father of the six-year-old girl believed to be Miss Berry’s daughter.
Stephen Anthony, head of the FBI in Cleveland, said: “Prayers have finally been answered. The nightmare is over.
“These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance.
“The healing can now begin.”