Details began emerging Tuesday about the horrors endured by three Cleveland women who were kidnapped and held for a decade in a run-down house with plastic bags over the windows, but researchers on abductions and sexual assault say there will be a lot of help for them and their families.
As the sensational story developed, police encounters with the house in a poor neighborhood also began coming to light. They included separate calls from neighbors about seeing a nude woman crawling in the backyard and hearing pounding from inside the home’s doors.
The women, who reached freedom Monday night, “are now embarking on their next journey, and that’s the journey to heal,” said John Ryan, chief executive of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which supported the hunt for two of the missing women, Amanda Berry and Georgina DeJesus, who vanished as teens. The third woman, Michelle Knight, was reported as missing as an adult.
Mr. Ryan, whose group offers resources for family counseling for such traumas, called the escape “a day of celebration.”
“Prayers have finally been answered. The nightmare is over,” said Stephen Anthony, head of the FBI office in Cleveland. “These three young ladies have provided us with the ultimate definition of survival and perseverance. The healing can now begin.”
Cleveland police have arrested three brothers — Ariel Castro, 52, Pedro Castro, 54, and Onil Castro, 50 — in the case. Criminal charges were expected to be filed by Wednesday.
According to NewsChannel 5 in Ohio, the three women endured multiple pregnancies during their years of captivity. At least five babies were born inside the home, and one victim had at least two miscarriages because she was so malnourished, reporters said. The house was boarded up in parts, some doors did not have knobs, and chains and tape were found inside.
Melissa Bermudez, a licensed clinical social worker at the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, the nation’s largest organization against sexual violence, said she couldn’t speak to the specifics of the Cleveland case but that victims of trauma and sexual violence generally need to “feel physically safe” as an important first step.
Next steps are commonly getting back into basic self-care — brushing one’s teeth, for instance — eating a good meal, reconnecting with loved ones, and re-establishing a sense of safety and stability, Ms. Bermudez said.
“Then they can really start working towards [addressing] the more complex parts of the trauma,” she said, noting that it’s not uncommon for certain sounds, smells and lighting in a room to trigger unpleasant memories.
The women were rescued Monday evening after Ms. Berry, 27, cried out for help to a neighbor, Charles Ramsey, from behind a nearly closed front door. When Mr. Ramsey saw her fighting to get through the door, he and another man came to her aid by kicking in the door. Ms. Berry and a little girl — believed to be her 6-year-old daughter — scrambled out.
They ran to a safe place, and Ms. Berry frantically called a 911 dispatcher and said, “Help me. I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”
Authorities arrested homeowner Ariel Castro and his two brothers.
The three women and the girl were taken to a hospital and released Tuesday morning. Cleveland police Commander Keith Sulzer said they were with law enforcement specialists and family members.