‘Those girls, those women, are so strong,’ relative says of Ohio captives

The Globe and Mail

Amanda Marie Berry, left, and Georgina Lynn Dejesus are seen in an undated combination photograph released by the FBI on May 6, 2013. (REUTERS)

Three missing Ohio women who were held captive in a house in Cleveland were last seen within a few blocks of each other in a busy commercial area in the city’s West Side.

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight – who separately vanished several years ago – were rescued Monday after Ms. Berry escaped and a neighbour called 911.

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“Those girls, those women, are so strong. What we do out here, what we’ve done in 10 years, is nothing compared to what those women have done together to survive,” Sandra Ruiz, who is Gina’s aunt, told reporters.

The women were found a house belonging to Ariel Castro, 52, who is under arrest. Police also arrested two of his brothers, Pedro, 54, and Oneil Castro, who is 50. The house is six kilometres from where the women were last seen.

Investigators have not said how the women were abducted or described the conditions in which they were held. However, police said a six-year-old girl also found in the home is Ms. Berry’s daughter.

But a commonality in the three women’s abductions appears to be the location where they were last seen, a diverse retail strip along Lorain Avenue in Cleveland’s West Side. The area has a mall, fast-food restaurants and other businesses.

The oldest of the three women, Ms. Knight was the first to disappear. She was last seen when she was 20 years old on Aug. 22, 2002, at West 106th Street and Lorain Avenue.

Ms. Knight was reported missing the following day by a family member. However, investigators believed she had disappeared on her own because she was angry her son had been removed from her custody, her grandmother told the Plain Dealer.

“She was the focus of very few tips and leads,” Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba told a press conference on Tuesday.

Eight months later, on April 21, 2003, Ms. Berry left her part-time job at a Burger King - which she took to earn extra money for shopping - at West 110th Street and Lorain Avenue around 7:30 p.m. and was never seen again. The teen with a pierced eyebrow was heading home to celebrate her birthday: She was turning 17 the following day.

Ms. Berry spoke to her sister on the phone and told her she was getting a ride from someone.

“My one question is why I didn’t ask who was giving you the ride,” her sister, Beth Serrano, told NewsChannel5 on the eighth anniversary of her disappearance.

A week after the teenager disappeared, a man used her cellphone to call her mother, according to the FBI. The caller said: “I have Amanda. She’s fine and will be coming home in a couple of days,” FBI agent Robert Hawk told the Plain Dealer.

However, that didn’t happen and Ms. Berry’s mother died in 2006 without knowing her daughter was still alive.

Almost one year after Ms. Berry was kidnapped, Ms. DeJesus, then just 14 years old, vanished after leaving her middle school with a friend and walking to West 105th Street and Lorain Avenue on April 2, 2004. The seventh grader attended special education classes at Wilbur Wright Middle School. She wore glasses, but had left them behind.

Her mother, Nancy Ruiz, long said that she believed Gina had been kidnapped and sold to human traffickers.

Over the years, police investigated a large volume of tips related to Ms. Berry and Ms. DeJesus’s disappearances.

Last year, a prisoner said Ms. Berry may have been buried in a vacant lot and provided a location to investigators. However, after several days, police determined the lead was not credible and the inmate was sentenced to time in jail after admitting he provided false information.

In 2006, police unsuccessfully searched the house of a sexual predator after receiving a tip that Ms. DeJesus’s body was buried under a concrete floor in the garage.

With reports from Tu Thanh Ha and The Associated Press

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