Three women who had been missing as long as 11 years were rescued from a Cleveland home on Monday, police said, an announcement that rocked the city and prompted celebrations in the street.
Cleveland police said Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight seemed to be “in good health” after their surprise discovery at a Seymour Avenue home, and an unidentified man had been arrested.
A 911 recording obtained by local media captured the dramatic moment when 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,” a breathless, emotional Berry told a dispatcher.
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.”
Berry was 16 when she disappeared on April 21, 2003, after she called her sister to say she was getting a ride home from her job at a Burger King, The Associated Press reported. DeJesus was 14 when she disappeared a year later. Knight vanished Aug. 23, 2002, when she was 21, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported.
Charles Ramsey told WKYC-TV he’d just gotten home from McDonald’s when he started to hear screaming inside the home next door, and 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 the bottom of it to allow the woman to get out, Ramsey said. She identified herself as Berry.
“I thought she was the only one,” Ramsey told WKYC-TV. “She grabbed some little girl … and said, ‘This is his daughter’ ” – an apparent reference to the man living in the home.
He said emergency officials didn’t at first believe that they’d discovered Berry, and when they arrived, a more dramatic story unfolded.
“That girl, Amanda, told the police, ‘I ain’t the only one in there,’ ” Ramsey told WEWS-TV.
Police went into the house and discovered the other women.
“When they came out, it was astonishing,” Ramsey said.
Neighbors told reporters they had no idea 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 Cleveland 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 wouldn’t go into further details.
Police said they would hold a news conference about the case Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
Berry’s mother, Louwana Miller, died in March 2006 after being hospitalized for months with pancreatitis and other illnesses, the AP reported. Friends said the search for her daughter had taken a toll on her health.
The incident evoked the cases of Jaycee Dugard, kidnapped at age 11 near her South Lake Tahoe, Calif., home and held for 18 years until her rescue, and of Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home when she was 14 and held for nine months as her captor’s “plural wife” until someone recognized the man who was a suspect in her disappearance.
Dugard was kidnapped in 1991 and rescued in 2009; she had two children during her captivity, both fathered by her kidnapper.
Another case involved Steven Stayner of Merced, Calif., kidnapped at age 7 and held until age 14, when he escaped with another young kidnapping victim. He told authorities he wanted to free the second victim, then himself.