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Three women missing for years rescued from Cleveland home

Three women who vanished separately up to 11 years ago are found in a Cleveland home. Three men are arrested.

May 06, 2013|By Matt Pearce, Los Angeles Times

Three women who vanished separately up to 11 years ago were rescued from a Cleveland home Monday, police said, and three men were arrested. The announcement rocked the city and prompted celebrations in the street.

Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight seemed to be "in good health" after their surprise discovery in a residential area near downtown, police said.

The men under arrest were not identified but were described as being ages 50, 52 and 54 and reportedly were brothers.

PHOTOS: Three missing women found in Cleveland

Cheering crowds gathered Monday night on a street near the home, which police were searching.

A 911 recording obtained by local media captured the dramatic moment when a breathless Berry told authorities who she was: "Help me, I'm Amanda Berry.… I need police.… I've been kidnapped. I've been missing for 10 years; I'm here, I'm free now."

She added of her captor: "I need them [the police] now, before he gets back.... I'm Amanda Berry. I've been in the news for the past 10 years."

PHOTOS: Long-term abductions

Berry was 16 when she disappeared on April 21, 2003, after calling her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King. DeJesus was 14 when she disappeared a year later. Knight vanished on Aug. 23, 2002, when she was 21, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

Charles Ramsey told WKYC-TV that he had just gotten home from McDonald's when he heard screaming next door, so he and another neighbor ran to help.

"This girl's kicking the door and screaming, and so I go over there with my Big Mac, and I say, 'Well, can I help you, what's going on?' and she says, 'I've been kidnapped, and I've been in this house a long time. I want to leave right now!'"

The door wouldn't open, so the men began kicking it at the bottom so she could get out, Ramsey said. The woman identified herself as Berry.

"I thought she was the only one" in the house, Ramsey said. "She grabbed some little girl ... and said, 'This is his daughter'" — an apparent reference to a man living in the home.

When officers arrived, an even more dramatic story unfolded.

"That girl, Amanda, told the police, 'I ain't the only one in there,'" Ramsey told WEWS-TV.

Police went inside and discovered the two other women.

"When they came out, it was astonishing," Ramsey said.

Neighbors told reporters they had no idea any women lived in the house and had never seen them outside. The owner blacked out his windows and entered his home through the back door, Jannette Gomez, 50, told the Plain Dealer.

"I ate barbecue with this dude," Ramsey told WEWS-TV.

The women were taken to a hospital, where a doctor said they were in fair condition.

"This isn't the ending we usually hear to these stories, so we're very happy," said Dr. Gerald Maloney of the MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland. Maloney said the women could communicate, but he refused to go into details.

Police said they would hold a news conference Tuesday morning.

Relatives and friends said they hadn't given up hope of seeing the women again. Among them was Kayla Rogers, a childhood friend of DeJesus.

"I've been praying; never forgot about her, ever," Rogers told the Plain Dealer. "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."

Berry's cousin Tasheena Mitchell told the newspaper she couldn't wait to have Berry 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.

Berry's mother, Louwana Miller, died in March 2006 after being hospitalized for months with pancreatitis and other illnesses. Friends said the search for her daughter took a toll on her health.

Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson expressed gratitude that the women were found alive.

"We have many unanswered questions regarding this case, and the investigation will be ongoing," he said in a statement.

The bizarre incident evoked other long-term kidnapping cases, including Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped at age 11 near her South Lake Tahoe home and held for 18 years. She had two children during her captivity, both fathered by her kidnapper.

Other cases include Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home when she was 14 and held for nine months as her captor's "plural wife," and Steven Stayner of Merced, taken at age 7 and held until age 14. Stayner fled when his captor kidnapped a 5-year-old boy; Stayner took the child with him to safety.

matt.pearce@latimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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